Notes on freelancing: It’s not all about output


Today I was incredibly productive – although to an outsider, it probably looked like I was a lady of leisure. I didn’t get up until noon, with the exception of a mid-morning break for pancakes. I spent the entire morning writing in my journal, from the comfort of my bed, in my pyjamas. Some 30 handwritten pages later (yes, my wrist is feeling the pain), I went for a long walk in the sunshine. Then I came home for a late lunch (leftover pancakes), did some housework, replied to an email or two, and decided to call it a day. Living up to the freelancing stereotype (please don’t hate me).

If it makes you feel better, I didn’t earn a cent.

Absolutely nothing I did today counted as billable hours. When people ask me how I motivate myself to work from home, I never have trouble answering. It’s simple: if I don’t work, I don’t get paid. Making millions has never been my main motivation in life (although I’m seriously reconsidering my stance on this now I have a mortgage), but the thought of being broke is most definitely a good incentive to put in the hours.

What I’m trying to say is, I don’t take days like this lightly. I’m aware they are one of the many awesome fringe benefits of being your own boss, but I’m also aware that if I give into them too often then I’ll be living off tuna and rice until further notice.

Fortunately, eating pancakes for breakfast and lunch is actually pretty cost-effective!

Anyway – I digress. What I achieved today has no immediate financial benefit. But I’m hopeful it will lead to greater returns in the future. Today I decided to work on my ‘brand’. Good old-fashioned marketing and strategy. Pages and pages of ideas, goals, far-fetched dreams. On the surface, I was scribbling indecipherable notes in a pink journal; in reality, I was making leaps and bounds towards understanding who I want to be and where I want to go. It was hugely productive and I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders, simply because I made a start.

This got me thinking about my obsession with output and productivity and ticking things off a list – and ironically, how often this gets in the way of pure, unadulterated thinking. Don’t get me wrong – I think all the time, I think too much. But – here’s a real paradox for you – I don’t think productively. Most of the time, I’m running around, flitting from task to task, and thinking is what goes on in the background. It’s like having the television on all day but never stopping to watch. You know what’s on, you’ve got a vague idea of the plotline, but you’re not really listening.

Other times, I think out loud (usually by offloading to ever-patient Tom), or I think by getting stressed/anxious about things. I actually journal most mornings, but usually I offload whatever I’m anxious about and then forget about it – it’s therapeutic, but it’s not always productive.

This morning was different. I opened my journal with intention, purpose. I followed this basic journaling structure and answered key questions about myself and my business. I set no time or word limit. I had all day if I wanted it. And I set to work.

The results of this intense journaling session feel more satisfying than anything else I’ve completed this week. I have a to-do list of actionable tasks that I feel excited about – I no longer feel daunted. I feel reenergised, refocused and once again clear on what my ‘why’ is, rather than lost in a flurry of deadlines.

If you don’t already journal, I’d highly recommend starting. It feels a bit weird at first, talking to yourself – but actually, I think that’s something we all need to do more of. Instead of just watching our thoughts unfold like a crazy television show, we need to stop and have a non-judgemental conversation with ourselves. I think we all owe our sanity that much.