The Intentional Freelancer

I was feeling overworked and overwhelmed, I'd made promises that weren't going to be kept and I was approaching burn out trying keep things on track. I remember wondering what choices did I make that led me here.

I chose to be a freelancer. It wasn't an accident and I'm not doing this inbetween jobs or while I wait for something better to come along.

If everyone has their own path through life and this is mine then I didn't just stumble through it. I wanted to be intentional, so I took charge of the direction I was going in. I'd spent many years being just another salaryman becoming a developer that could make a real difference, I'd built my skills to a high level with experience and I knew what my experience was worth. This was my time to get off someone else's ladder.

Even though the choice of being a freelancer was intentional for a long time I wasn't so intentional about how I went about it day to day, my work was excellent but my freelancing frankly was not.

I would ask myself the same questions whenever I took time out from being busy: How am I doing? What am I working on next? Can I fit in another project next month? Am I becoming too dependent on this client, would it all come crashing down if they left?

The answer was my ignorant shrugging my shoulders. I had no idea what was going on, I didn't understand my business and I didn't understand what my schedule was looking like.

Being a developer I work on designing systems and problem solving all day every day but I wasn't turning that same problem solving into my own career. My career and therefore my lifestyle was just happening while I was solving other peoples problems. It was time that I turned my gaze inwards.

Out with the poorly maintained google calendar. I needed to understand what I was working on and when, that all came to one issue, I needed to understand my schedule. Sure I tracked my time spent on a client time tracking app but that was for them and time tracking is reactive. If I wanted to be intentional I needed to be proactive not reactive.

In the end I was feeling overwhelmed and overworked because I wasn't paying attention to what my freelancing business was doing. I muddled through until I had to look for help, I tried time tracking but that was always based on what happened in the past and that wasn't the part that was keeping me up at night. I was worried about the future, a future that in theory I could control but in reality I was merely an observer.

Then doing what every maker has done since the beginning of time, I started to build. Not a just another time tracker, because we have plenty of those, but a tool that allowed me to schedule my work and give me the kind of answers I needed:

  • What am I working on next?
  • How am I coming along with my latest project?
  • Should I come in ahead of time or do I have not enough free time to fit this all in?
  • Are you on target to earn enough?

Those kept the lights on and helped alleviate my feeling of being overworked and overwhelmed because for the first time since I went freelance I had this peculiar feeling, I was finally in control.

No more wondering if I could meet my clients expectations or if I was in a precarious position. Then it started to snowball, once I'd answered the basics and started to take control I could answer all kinds of other questions that iCal or Google Calendar could never give me:

  • Am I too dependent on a specific client?
  • Can I afford to take some time off and still hit my targets?
  • If I get a new potential project do I have enough time to hit that deadline?

For the first 2 years my new tool had one user (me) and was lived solely on computer and then I spoke to a fellow freelancing friend. Turns out I wasn't alone, he had the same frequently asked questions for this own business. After getting over the initial shame of showing him a UI designed by a developer (me) we decided to build this together and Slate was born.

Years after my initial decision to be a freelancer I'm still very happy with my decision, I work with clients that do awesome work and I'm intentionally in control of my freelance business. Being in control of my freelance business has enabled me to spend time doing the most important project of all, designing and building my lifestyle just the way I want it.

Take control of your freelance schedule.

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