Maintaining motivation as a freelancer

by Rheanna Chou
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When the subject of careers (and inevitably, salaries) comes up among my friends, I always joke that I’m a writer — I don’t make money. It’s the kind of self-deprecating humor that I’m known for and I use it to steer the conversation away from money. The fact is, I’m not freelancing to get rich, I’m doing it because I want to. Getting paid is a bonus, though.

Sometimes, though, I lose sight of the whys in favor of the hows. And the hows can be damned discouraging. Right now, despite my carefree attitude, I’m hungry. I’m hungry for more clients. I’m hungry for more interesting work. I’m hungry for fulfillment. And sometimes, the light at the end of the tunnel seems so dim. I ask myself whether this was the right decision. Maybe I should have just gone to law school, instead. Lawyers don’t struggle like this, right?

Luckily, I’m nothing if not persistent — I quickly recover from my own self-pity and forge on with renewed faith in my ability, and desire, to build something more. Here’s how I stay motivated.

Treat your freelance gig like a business

Years ago my husband and I met a couple who sold Amway (you know the type). They were trying to recruit us and fill their quota for downstream lines of business, but one of them said something that stuck with me (unlike his business model). He told me that he treated his Amway business like any other job — because that’s what it was. And I’ve learned to apply it to my own endeavors.

That means having a set time for work along with a dedicated work space. It also means holding yourself accountable. Remember, you don’t have a boss to light you up when you’re late anymore, so don’t fall victim to your newfound freedom.

Find your routine. The best way to keep yourself working smoothly is to figure out when you’re most productive and use that time consistently. For me, it’s about 10 a.m. For others, it may be 10 p.m. Whatever your most productive hour, set it aside for work and use it.

Nip procrastination in the bud. This comes down to having a good workflow. I think the No. 1 reason I procrastinate on something is because I just don’t know where to start. So learn to break down your work into manageable pieces spread out over time. Create lists if you need to or find a good app.

My work week looks something like this:

Monday: Blog work.

Tuesday and Wednesday: Client acquisition and retention, and client work. 

Thursday and Friday: Client work.

Saturday: Editorial calendar.

Sunday: Off.

There are processes within each of those categories, but the main point is I know when and how I’m going to do things, which helps cut back on procrastination.

Pro tip: If you’re having trouble getting started because you have a task you don’t want to do (for me it’s phone calls) put it at the top of your to-do list. Once it’s done, you can jump into the tasks you do enjoy.


It’s inevitable that you feel overwhelmed by the mammoth undertaking that is building your freelancing empire. So take a break.

Take a walk. Get out of the house and away from your computer screen/smartphone. You’ve seen the meme — “you’re basically a house plant with more complicated emotions.”

Read a book. For pleasure — not work. It’s important to read about work-related topics also, but sometimes your mind needs to soak up something fanciful.

Get away. Did you know Americans in particular are really bad at taking vacations? Check out this article in Forbes listing all the reasons why we feel guilty about not working. And when you’re the boss, it can make you feel even more guilty. Stop it. If you need time off, take it and come back to work ready to conquer once more.

Eat well and be active. Fuel your body with good food and get moving. If you already do this, you know how important it is. If you haven’t been taking good care of your body, you’ll be surprised how far a healthy diet and some physical exertion can take you. (If you need some more detailed tips, check out this blog post by my friend Margie Reece for easy, fun and often quirky ideas. We’ve worked together, she’s legit.)

Reflect and recommit

At some point, you decided the risk was worth the potential gains. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, think back on why you started. For me it was freedom. Maybe for you it was flexibility. Pin it down and reflect on how your freelancing career has fulfilled that, along with where you can grow to continue meeting that need.

It’s important to take stock of what you’ve accomplished so far. When you started out, you must have had a few goals in mind. Which ones have you met? This can help you gain perspective on where you’re really at. It might feel like you’re stalled, but chances are, you simply got caught up in the details to the point that you lost sight of the big picture.

Once you’ve seen what you’ve accomplished, set new goals. Did you land you’re first few clients? Aim to grab a few more. Look into a new product or service line you’ve been considering. Maybe you’re ready for a blog. Whatever it is that is going to move your business forward, setting new goals can help reignite your excitement and commitment to your work.

Bring it all together

Like I said, I’m not freelancing to become rich. I do it because I like it. I like being the captain of my fate. I like waking up every morning not dreading going to work. I like being able to say “no” when I don’t want to take a job. Freelancing for me is freedom from “the man.”

Figure out what it is for you and hold on to that. The rest of it really boils down to housekeeping and self-care. It sounds simple, but taken as a whole, it’s a whole lot of things. I get it. But don’t worry, you can do it!

If you do something as a freelancer that helps you stay focused and motivated, tell me about it in the comments. Maybe it’s a ritual to get you in the right headspace or a weekly appointment with your masseuse or therapist. Do you keep checklists? Share your strategies!

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