The weather is beautiful but you have freelance work. We asked a freelancer for productivity tips to help survive the summer.
I hate the summer. (There, I said it.) I hate being too warm, I hate how easily I sunburn, I hate how trees, grass, weeds, and whatever-else-exists on this earth seem like they’re trying to kill me, and I hate feeling pressured to go outside. Especially when I have work to do.
Because I love working. Freelancing is what keeps me afloat in moments of anxiety, over-tiredness, or when I need to distract from real life. When it’s sunny out and my friends want me to hang out with them, it’s a lot harder to deflect invitations, and stay inside the way I normally do in the fall and winter.
“The summer is hard for anyone who makes their own hours.”
In short, the summer is hard for anyone who makes their own hours. It’s hard to stay productive. It’s hard to keep your eyes on the screen when the warm weather’s trying to convince you to take a walk.
And then it’s hard not to come home and nap after your walk because the sun is hot and you’re tuckered out now, and you’ll just do it tomorrow, okay? (Like, after you watch the game and maybe recover from what you suspect might be heatstroke because you underestimated how far the Starbucks was.)
So with the temptation of friendship and vitamin D in mind, here are my tips and tricks for staying employed (freelance-style) when you’d rather commiserate with pals or slather yourself with SPF 60 and curl up in the shade, praying for rain so you can go back inside and be spared from the FOMO that defines May through August.
“A schedule forces structure, which helps you justify skipping out on work less.”
1. Set office hours
When it comes to healthy work habits, I am an obsessive freak whose refusal to take breaks of any kind has led to me standing over bathroom sinks in public restrooms, reminding myself to breathe. (My life is glamourous and so am I.)
And that mistake is easy to make: If you’re setting your own hours, you technically don’t have to abide by a specific schedule, so you can marathon write, or you can read in the park, or you can justify doing everything/nothing until you hit a wall and think, “What have I become?” (Likely while crying.)
So you need to strike a balance. Enter: an actual schedule. This year, I started treating my work day like most “regular” people treat theirs. I’m up for 8 a.m., working with coffee by 8:15 a.m., and use an hour mid-day to get ready/eat lunch/run a few errands, before heading back to my desk until 4, 5, or 6 p.m. Then, I go out during the evenings and on weekends and bask in the glow of knowing that when I’m pining for sunshine-filled freedom, so is everybody else, and we’re all in FOMO together.
But that doesn’t mean you have to hunker down for a nine-hour stretch. In a 2012 Writer’s Digest piece, writer Courtney Carpenter reminded readers that a schedule is relative. Like, maybe you like to be up at 6 a.m. and finish work by noon. Maybe you work better at night. Maybe you’re afternoons or bust, or work best on weekends. But either way, a schedule forces structure, which helps you justify skipping out on work less. (Or more, if you’d rather just live that evening/weekend life. I’m not judging you. Slacker.)
“You will do no actual work if you’re gazing sadly into the abyss, wishing you could Instagram the trees outside.”
2. But actually: take a break.
It’s no secret that sunlight raises serotonin levels, which elevates your mood and ups the ante on your mental health—so it’s unhealthy to sit here and say, “Stay inside!” as if you hate the summer the same way I do. (And I do. I can’t make this clear enough.)
So instead, take a page from the book of Laura Shin, whose 2014 piece in Forbes sang the praises of rewarding a piece finished or email answered by doing something fun. And in the case of you, the summer, and the beckoning sunshine, that could mean … well, whatever it is you guys like to do when it’s warm out.
Because here’s the thing: You will do no actual work if you’re gazing sadly into the abyss, wishing you could Instagram the trees outside. And then, you will hate your life and reality and your deadline even more, knowing that you ended up doing nothing because you sat there wishing you were doing nothing. Live that sweet reward life, especially if the reward is free, like “fresh air.”
“With a planned vacation, every time you catch yourself looking out the window and thinking, ‘Help me,’ you will think, ‘Soon.‘”
3. Plan a vacation (or day off?)
Controversial, I know. But look at it this way: If everybody else is going away for a few days, then why can’t you? (Exactly.) Last year, I budgeted and sprung for four nights (#what) in Los Angeles to meet pals and to see the city everybody I know seems to be moving away to. Granted, I didn’t treat it like a vacation and ended up making myself more anxious than I was when I left, but I digress: my story doesn’t need to be yours. (Unless you are very anxious by nature like I am.)
Instead, follow the lead of LinkedIn Corp., who recently implemented glorified Mental Health Days, which forces employees to dial it down. A day or two off isn’t going to make or break your workflow, especially since most clients you work with during the summer are going to take off for a few days or weeks every so often.
Plus, you don’t need to break the bank. If you give your clients fair warning, budget the way you would for any event, and catch up on your work before you head out, you won’t regret committing to free time and/or extracurricular joy/happiness while warding off emails.
With a planned vacation, every time you catch yourself looking out the window and thinking, “Help me,” you will think, “Soon.” And while saying that out loud will undoubtedly make you sound demonic at best, you’ll know that for a few glorious days, the only emails you’ll be sending are … none. You will send none. That is what vacation is.
And then you can hit the ground running when you get back, or at the very least, join me as I count down until autumn 2016, when the sun can’t hurt me anymore.
Anne T. Donahue is a writer and comedian. She contributes to places like The Guardian, Rookie, Noisey and writes a column for MTV News. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram @annetdonahue.