This is reposted from my new site The Freelance Life, where freelancers share stories about their daily rituals.
One of the things I like best about freelancing is being in control of my schedule: Accept an assignment or don’t. I can choose to edit pictures as the sun rises or take a random Tuesday off. But when business is a bit slow, as it has been since I moved to South Africa from Rwanda two months ago, then it becomes important for me to have a strict schedule. This prevents me from going crazy worrying about my business – though I do still worry. It also keeps me from wasting time and keeps me accountable, so when I get to the end of the day I know I’ve accomplished at least a couple work-related tasks.
When I’m not on a shoot, I wake up around 6:30, wash up, then stretch and do some yoga. Afterwards I check the news and my emails on my phone. Then I pour myself a glass of water and work for about an hour until my husband wakes up. We like eating breakfast together, whereafter he leaves to go to class and I go sit at my desk again.
As noon creeps closer, my focus drifts. This is when I’m most likely to hit Facebook or fall down the rabbit hole of Wikipedia. Who doesn’t end up reading about the Kardashians when they started out researching vaccination rates in Ethiopia, right?
I’m most alert in the morning, so I do most of my brain-intensive work before noon. I edit videos, caption photos, transcribe interviews, research story ideas, send out estimates, email clients and pitch stories. Lately I haven’t had much paid photography or video work, so a friend and I have been working on a couple projects we hope will bloom into small businesses. I’ve also been writing stories or blog posts for clients. For the most part, I’d rather be working with pictures or videos, but I’m a decent writer and I like writing; I’m grateful to have multiple skillsets. I definitely have no qualms taking on non-photo or video work to pay my bills. Some of the jobs I’ve done in the past include handing out diet supplements at a food and music festival, scheduling patients at an oral surgery clinic and substitute teaching in public schools.
As noon creeps closer, my focus drifts. This is when I’m most likely to hit Facebook or fall down the rabbit hole of Wikipedia. Who doesn’t end up reading about the Kardashians when they started out researching vaccination rates in Ethiopia, right? This is also when I’m most likely to worry about my business: Why aren’t editors answering my pitches? Will I make enough money this year? How can I run my business better? Something that helps is sharing my worries via email with fellow freelancing friends. I also remind myself that life is not work. I work until between noon and 1 p.m., when I break for lunch.
After eating, if I haven’t left the apartment by now, then I seriously need to get out. I go to the gym, run errands or just walk around the neighborhood. I enjoy the library down the street from my apartment. Being a South African library, there are a ton of books I’d never find in the United States, where I’m from. Even if I don’t check out a book, browsing around lets my mind wander into areas that have nothing to do with work or my business. It’s a nice break.
Of course, all breaks must eventually come to an end. When I don’t have evening plans, my second shift begins around 3 p.m. or 4 p.m., usually on the sofa with a bag of raisins or some cookies. I answer emails from the U.S., where people are just starting their work days while I’m downshifting into less brain-intensive work, like color correcting photos, organizing and archiving photos and videos, or listening to podcasts about things I want to learn. I’m a fan of “Coffee Break French” for learning French and “This American Life” for learning how to structure stories. (Of course I also just listen because their stories are amazing).
My husband and I usually eat dinner together between 6:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. We have a rule that when one of us cooks, the other one cleans. Oftentimes he’s nice enough to do both. If I’m really into my work, like when I’m editing a video, I’ll jump back on the computer after dinner. Otherwise nights are reserved for watching a movie, writing for myself or reading a book. I just finished “A Case of Exploding Mangoes.” I go to bed between 9:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. and read before sleeping.
When I started freelancing, I wondered if I’d have enough work and make enough money. Thankfully, I’ve been busy these past two years and I’ve earned a solid (though sometimes erratic) income. My husband worked the last two years before going back to school. But even if he hadn’t, I would have been able to support our little family and save for retirement. I know that sounds boring. But I feel it’s a huge accomplishment given how uncertain the freelance life can be. I’m grateful I’ve had some amazing clients and been able to make this life work so far.