Articles - 15th January 2021

How freelancers can detach from billable time

Words by Amanda Smith
Illustration by Jon McCormack

It’s Saturday morning. After kicking back on Friday night, I thought I had signalled ‘weekend mode’ to my mind. Sadly, and I’m not proud to admit it, but before my eyes opened on Saturtday morning, I was thinking work.

Get a couple of cheeky hours in, before my partner wakes up…

Nothing’s planned, I might as well…

An extra a couple hundred onto my week…

I looked for any excuse. My mind rewinds my week to reach for moments I finished early, or worse – the cardinal capitalist sin – not getting enough work done. So, the natural reflex kicks in: looking, feeling, reaching for my phone, before I even stretch my body.

While freelancing comes with plenty of ‘this-is-the-life’ benefits, there’s also a risk that your time becomes the commodity. Here I am, weighing the pros and cons of ‘should I work’ before saying good morning or the sweet solace of the sacred morning.

There’s more to life than work. After all, you have a cool ‘boss’ that gives you permission to prioritise what makes you happy.

While they can, your business doesn’t need to swallow every weekend. It doesn’t need to suck time from your family and friends. It can, and should be, just an add-on to the good stuff – those intimacies of life – it just takes a little rewiring.


Pop your ‘billable’ bubble

Check the relationship with your time. Do you feel like you have to be ‘on’ all the time? Does taking an afternoon, day or week off feel stifling or uplifting? Spend some time getting familiar with your thoughts, emotions, behaviours and values around time. Do you never have enough of it? How much are you thinking about work? Are you fixated on the time itself and how long things will take, rather than immersing yourself in the present?

Bursting your ‘billable’ bubble won’t just free you from the trappings of ‘how much will I earn’, ‘how fast can I finish this’ type of thinking. It also lends itself to deeper, more enriching creative thinking.


Understand your default

Is your default to sneak into the room with your laptop and clock an hour ‘because you can’? We all have our tendencies that we need to be wary of. They’re not innately bad. In fact, these traits can actually be beneficial, if controlled and channelled.

Lean into the strengths of your default mode and learn how to tame the rest.


What’s more important than work?

You ‘tame’ the temptation to always think in billable time by identifying and celebrating what’s most important to you. This is a good time to return to your WHY.

Why did you become a freelancer? Why do you work and what does your money go to? What’s meaningful to you and how do you spend your time, outside of work? Once you understand what really gets you up in the morning, focus on that when you’re stewing over ‘lost’ hours or time off.

Ask yourself, what’s more important: getting a few more hours in or slowing waking up, only to be pulled out of bed by a pot of coffee; going out of your way to see an old friend for lunch, dropping by your parents for dinner, planning a hike with your partner, or even volunteering.

It’s that special flowy state, free from ‘shoulds’, ‘woulds’ and ‘coulds’, where the world of work doesn’t occupy your mind.


Time off is good for business

Trying to work 365 days of the year while finding creativity will feel like getting the last bit of toothpaste from the tube. No amount of twisting, folding or pushing will give you enough. The same goes for every aspect of your business.

You can’t expect yourself to be ‘on’ all the time. Nor do you want to be. That’s probably not why you got into freelancing. There’s nothing fun or cool about working every day. Have you ever returned from holidays only to find your productivity and motivation has taken a shot of caffeine? You’re faster, more creative, and find work more enjoyable.

That’s the power of time away from the screen. It’s smart business and the antidote to years of work ahead of you.


Is this a front for something unconscious?

#RealTalk for a moment. This requires absolute honesty, and no one can do it for you. If you’re constantly trying to fill every hour with work, there might be something unconsciously driving this.

Sit with it in whatever way you can. Ponder, journal, talk to someone or use any other tool that might work to identify the root cause of this need. You might find there’s something in your life that needs attention but you’re not yet willing to address it. Maybe it’s got nothing to do with appeasing clients or earning more.

It could be personal (like keeping yourself busy to distract from bad news) or external (the feast or famine fear with the rumour of a recession) that’s affecting you. Take your time exploring this. It requires delicacy, honesty, and space to do so.


Start thinking about your ideal weekend

What activities make a greaaat weekend? When you’re stabbed by pangs of guilt for not working, divert your attention to all things you can do. letting yourself sleep in, walking to your favourite coffee shop, reading outside, trying a new recipe, camping or disappearing on a road trip.

All the memory-creating events that you’ll look back on. Fun days and weeks peppered throughout your years, a refuelling-refuge away from what you do for a living. Start small, simply by listening to yourself. Are you fighting work one afternoon, with your attention starting to stray? Finish early. Is a close friend in need of your help? Take the day off. Planning an adventure? Don’t bring your laptop.


In time, detaching from the obsession with billable time dissolves into something more valuable; actually creating value with your time. You’ll come to learn, what you get done is enough and end the day saying: I did the best I could. This was a good day.

We champion the freelancers and every entrepreneur who took a leap of faith with their idea.

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