What to do when you have too much freelance work

An ode to the Pomodoro technique


Welcome to The Professional Freelancer, a newsletter that will make your freelance life richer. In this issue:       
* What to do when you have too much freelance work    
* Is the pivot to freelance a feminist issue?    
* Poppy the cockapoo    
* How class discrimination seeps into the workplace  

This week, I’m re-publishing a newsletter from the archive. I first wrote about the Pomodoro Technique 18 months ago and I still use it when I’m overwhelmed with work, so I wanted to resurface it in case it helps anyone else.

Sometimes I get so overwhelmed by the mountain of work in front of me that I feel paralysed to even begin tackling it.

I was once at a panel talk on mental health where someone mentioned the Pomodoro technique, a trendy productivity hack that efficient people supposedly swear by. I've always prided myself on being someone who's good at time management, so have resisted these sorts hacks in the past. But then I found myself so flustered with the amount of work I had to get through that I was desperate to find something to help me focus.

So I gave the Pomodoro technique a shot.

It's really straightforward: you pick a task to work on, say “transcribe interview” or “write newsletter”, then you set a timer for 25 minutes and work solely on that task. After the timer is up, you set another timer for a five-minute break. You repeat this three more times and then you take a longer break.

It totally worked for me. I started off using my phone as a timer, but then I found this browser-based one, which I preferred. I like to put my phone on do not disturb and shove it in a drawer when I’m in deep work mode and using its timer only tempts me to get sucked into to attending to the notifications on it.

I first turned to the Pomodoro technique while I was in crisis mode, but I've kept on using it since then. For me, the 25-minute bursts of focused work are the perfect length (there's a school of thought that to get the most out of the technique, you should adjust the time blocks to suit you).

I personally find the Pomodoro technique most useful for writing. When I first used it, my mind was blown by how many words I can get done in 25 minutes. On a good day, I can smash out 300 words in one 25-minute time block. When you think about it like that, hitting an 800 or even 1000-word deadline in an afternoon suddenly seems a lot more manageable. Which is really what you need from any time management tip – the feeling of regaining control over your workload.

It’s also a really effective technique when you’re struggling to just get started on something. I personally find with any writing project that the first couple of sentences are the hardest. I don’t know what it is, but I just get this low-grade anxiety before I’ve written anything and that stress, counter-intuitively, stops me from actually starting to write. I find that setting that timer and focusing solely on the task of getting something (anything!) written down speeds the whole process up and just makes it a lot less painful.

Anyway, my timer's up now.

Happy freelancing professional freelancers,
–Anna, FJ&Co. Founder


FJ&Co noticeboard

Is the pivot to freelance a feminist issue? The next FJ&Co panel will discuss the recent shift to freelance for many female journalists. Is this to be celebrated? Or is work just not working for women? Join me, Coco Khan (the Guardian), Lucy Pasha-Robinson (HuffPost) and Josie Cox (freelance) at the Ace Hotel on October 23, tickets available here.


The no-office office pet

Poppy is a three-year-old cockapoo who loves nothing more than bossing Danielle Owen-Jones around all day while she tries to get her work done as a PR consultant and freelance journalist.

If you have a Good Pet who keeps you company as you work from home, send me a picture of them to feature here and bring joy to the lives of thousands of freelancers.


Calls for pitches


The list

  • I’m on the Bang On The Money podcast this week, talking about fair pay and how freelancing doesn’t mean free work.

  • I’m also in this month’s issue of Monocle – I wrote about the alternative business school Jolt and how it’s changing business education by offering an alternative MBA programme. (Only available in print)

  • UnderPinned, the freelancer platform, wants to know what the biggest problems are facing freelancers. They’ve put together this short survey so they can help us better. (I’ve met the guys who run UnderPinned and they’re doing a great job helping freelancers so definitely take some time to do this survey if you can)

  • “In this country your future prospects are largely determined by what family you were born into and how much money they had at the time.” Vicky Spratt on how class discrimination seeps into workplaces. (For more on this, listen to Vicky’s episode on the podcast)

  • “Talking about money helps you make more of it”. Lauren Razavi writes about how to advance your freelance career by getting good at talking about the green stuff


The Professional Freelancer is written by Anna Codrea-Rado, illustrations are by Léo Hamelin. It’s a production of FJ&Co, a platform that gives freelance journalists the tools, resources and community support they need to make a sustainable self-employed living
If you're new to freelancing, download First Aid for Freelancers, my free e-book on handling the early days of self-employment. You need to put your email address in to download it; you won’t be signed up to the newsletter twice.
If you want to advertise a part-time job or work opportunity to a community of over 4,000 freelance writers, click here
Was this email forwarded to you? Subscribe to it here

How to take a proper holiday as a freelancer

Leave the laptop at home and don't freak out


Welcome to The Professional Freelancer, a newsletter that makes your freelance life richer. In this issue:    
* How to take a holiday as a freelancer   
* Is the pivot to freelance a feminist issue?   
* Dylan    
* Write for the Economist's 1843 magazine

It’s taken me over two years, but I finally took a proper holiday this year. I took two weeks off, went to Sicily and did zero work. I’ve taken time off before, but I’ve always ended up working a bit or only taking a long weekend off. This time, the laptop stayed at home, I didn’t check my emails and I took an actual, proper break. This is how I did it.

Book your holidays like annual leave

When I first went freelance, I thought I’d take holidays whenever I felt like it. A slow Tuesday would mean a last-minute dash to Paris on the Eurostar. Two years in and I’m barely able to clock off early on a Friday, forget international train rides.

Freelancer holidays are a bit like unlimited vacation days that lots of trendy startups offer – sounds amazing but in reality, you end up taking less time off than if you had traditional annual leave. When it comes to holidays, it’s a good idea to plan them out in advance and block out weeks for them way before you actually book a holiday because otherwise, you’ll still be waiting for that magic day to go Paris.

Budget for the freelancer holiday tax

When you work for yourself and go on holiday, you pay a freelancer tax. On top of the cost of the holiday, you forfeit the money you could have made had you stayed at home. It’s not a good idea to dwell too much on this idea because it will prevent you from ever taking time off. Instead, budget for your freelancer tax the rest of the year. Put a little a bit of cash aside so that when you do take a couple of weeks off, it won’t hurt your overall finances. I’ve gone into detail about how to think differently about your money in my Ultimate Guide to Freelancer Finances, which FJ&Co members have been receiving over the past few weeks. Sign up for membership to access the guide and the rest of the members-only content.

Make a pre-holiday work countdown

About a month before I went away, I made a double-page spread in my notebook detailing everything that needed to happen in advance of my holiday. It included the following lists: What needs finishing before I go; What needs scheduling; Who needs to be told that I’m away; What I need to be followed up on when I come back. When you’re about to go away, you have to prioritise ruthlessly in order to finish what actually needs to be done and park the stuff that can wait til you get home.

Tell your clients

It’s not a great idea to hand in an assignment the day before you go on holiday and then disappear for two weeks. Clients also shouldn’t be finding out about your vacation time from your out of office. Give them plenty of advance notice that you’re going away. Just as you would tell your boss in good time that you’re booking time off, you need to the people you’re freelancing for that you’ll be out of action. Don’t be worried that they’ll be mad at you – they will be a lot madder if you don’t tell them and they try to reach you and get hold of you.

Set a clear out-of-office

Sometimes I get people’s out-of-offices and wonder why they even bothered to put one on. After you decipher the message it essentially says, I’m away but feel too guilty to completely stop working so I’m still in my inbox. If your intention is not to look at your emails at all (which it should be if you’re on holiday!) then say that in your auto-reply. I wrote that I was away and not checking emails at all until the date of my return. I said that if someone had a true emergency, they could WhatsApp me but I didn’t provide the number because guess what – if someone has an actual emergency and doesn’t have my number, I’m not the person they should be contacting.

Book in work for when you get back

This is the golden goose. Coming back from holiday with nothing but a credit card bill and no work lined up is daunting. In the months leading up to my holiday, I took on a big commercial project. Ordinally, I might not have taken on that kind of project but it offered a fixed income and meant I could come back knowing that my first month was taken care of.

Try to book in some shift work, or think about finding a short-term contract for when you return from holiday. Sian Meades’ Freelance Writing Jobs newsletter is a great place to look for contract and part-time work. And if you’re not already in the FJ&Co Slack group, you should join it as I’m posting any freelance gigs that come my way in there now – they will still be posted here as well but they get posted in Slack first.

Leave your laptop at home

The only way to take a proper holiday is to leave the laptop at home. I will repeat this again: the only way to take a proper holiday is to leave the laptop at home. Don’t kid yourself that “you’ll on bring it to watch Netflix in the evenings” – that’s a slippery slope to thinking that you can “just do this one thing” because you have your computer with you. If you get all your ducks in a row before you leave, there really will be no reason to bring it with you. I left mine behind and the sky didn’t fall down, quite the opposite in fact.

Happy freelancing, professional freelancers
-Anna, FJ&Co. Founder


FJ&Co noticeboard

Is the pivot to freelance a feminist issue? On October 23, the next FJ&Co event is a panel discussion in London is a panel event on why more female journalists are going it alone. Is this to be celebrated? Or is work just not working for women? Tickets available here.


💸 Jobs board 💸

The Economist’s 1843 magazine is looking for pitches for online features. We would like human-led stories that touch on current affairs and subjects that The Economist would cover. We’d also like ideas on surprising trends across the world which tell you something about the places or people doing/watching/eating/listening to them. Investigative pieces or fresh takes on brands would also be welcome. We are open to a wide range of stories, and to receiving ideas from writers who would not instinctively pitch to The Economist. 

Most pieces should have a big idea about the world behind them. Some of our most popular recent pieces include this on an Indian TikTok star, this on a comedian in Taiwan and this piece about a Japanese method of preparing fish. The Economist often tackles these kinds of subjects through data and expert analysis; 1843 publishes story-driven features that are rich in narrative, character and atmosphere. 

Any pitches or questions, email Josh Spencer: joshuaspencer@economist.com

The no-office office pet

This is Dylan, a Pomeranian-Poodle cross who belongs to my dear pal Mairead. She’s not technically a freelancer, but she works from home and Dylan distracts her with his fluffy face.

If you have a Good Pet who keeps you company as you work from home, send me a picture of them to feature here and bring joy to the lives of thousands of freelancers.


Calls for pitches


Testimonials


The Professional Freelancer is written by Anna Codrea-Rado, illustrations are by Léo Hamelin. It’s a production of FJ&Co, a platform that gives freelance journalists the tools, resources and community support they need to make a sustainable self-employed living
If you're new to freelancing, download First Aid for Freelancers, my free e-book on handling the early days of self-employment. You need to put your email address in to download it; you won’t be signed up to the newsletter twice. Also check over the archives for past issues
If you want to advertise a part-time job or work opportunity to a community of over 4,000 freelance writers, click here
Was this email forwarded to you? Subscribe to it here

My best advice for new freelancers

Are you being pushed or pulled into freelancing?

In my last newsletter, I gave my best advice for student journalists. Now, here's the second instalment in my back-to-school series, my best advice for those new to freelancing or thinking about taking the leap.  

Are you being pushed or pulled into freelancing?

The most important question to ask yourself before you go freelance is whether you want to do it for circumstantial or fundamental reasons. Are you being pulled towards freelancing because the idea of it truly resonates with you, or are you being pushed into it because you're not happy in your current work situation?  

Perhaps you have a bad boss, who is eroding your confidence and making you doubt your abilities. It might very well be the case that you need to get out of that situation, for both your professional and personal health. That doesn't mean, however, that you have to quit AND go freelance. The truth is, making the jump into self-employment is always going to be scary (it's supposed to be scary!) but it shouldn't feel like the last resort. 

Change your money mindset 

For most freelancers, the vast majority of what we worry about comes down to money. Be that late or no payment, or just managing daily cash flow, money is the biggest cause of stress for the self-employed. I've found over the years that more often than not, that worry isn't always founded. Yes, far too many companies pay shoddy rates and do so late and the consequence of that can be dire, but I've also worried about money when in reality, I just didn't know where my finances stood. And when I actually checked, my situation wasn't as bad as I had built it up in my head.

Overdue invoices and companies exploiting their freelancers are unacceptable practices, but there are practical ways that freelancers can create financial security for themselves in spite of that. The best way to do this is by finding a system for managing the freelancer finances that actually works for you. I only do my invoicing once a week because it drains too much of my energy to be constantly chasing overdue payment. If you don't like spreadsheets to track your expenses, find an app instead; if the idea of filing a self-assessment breaks you out in hives, hire an account. It doesn't actually matter how you're managing your money, just that you're managing it. 

Pick your colleagues (and be kind to them)

I've made more friends since I've been freelance than I did when I was at uni. Working for yourself can be a lonely business, but there are so many of us striking it out on our own now that it's easier than ever to find a community. 

New freelancers sometimes worry that talking to other freelancers is fraternising with the enemy. I call BS on that! Be collaborative and collegiate because there really is enough space at the top for all of us. Go out and find your people. Forget WeWork, find a local, affordable co-working space. Or join a virtual community (like my Slack group for freelancers!) and make the best colleagues you've ever had. 

Work how and when you want

I'm not in the business of telling new freelancers to wear shoes or to get dressed every morning. The whole point of going freelance is to finally work in ways that actually work for you. That might mean writing in bed, not wearing a bra at your desk or working in the middle of the night.

There's no boss anymore to tell you off, so just work however you actually want, rather than the way you've been told is the “right” way. The biggest shock I've had since going freelance is realising how many toxic habits I absorbed working for other people and the misguided ideas I've formed about what work "should" look like. 

Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries 

Freelancing is a constant negotiation – with both clients and yourself.  Clients will try to get you to work for less than you’re worth and you’ll try to convince yourself it’s ok to do it. The only way to stop this happening is by setting, maintaining and protecting your boundaries. The sooner you learn to say no (including to yourself), the better. 

Don’t scrimp on the small boundaries, either. If you told yourself that evenings and weekends are work-free times, don’t take on that extra assignment “just this once”. If you really want to start writing features, stop accepting op-eds. Saying no to the things you don’t want to do is easy, but the real test will come when you have to say no to things you do want to do because they don’t quite fit with your biggest goals.

Actually enjoy it!

Freelancing is hard, but it’s supposed to also be fun. There will be times – countless, in fact – when you find yourself questioning why you started down this path in the first place. In those moments, it’s good to have an answer already clear in your mind. I’d wager a bet that if you responded to my first question that you’re being pulled to freelancing, you already have your answer anyway.

Happy freelancing, professional freelancers!
– Anna, FJ&Co Founder


The Professional Freelancer is written by Anna Codrea-Rado, illustrations are by Léo Hamelin. It’s a production of FJ&Co, a platform that gives freelance journalists the tools, resources and community support they need to make a sustainable self-employed living
If you're new to freelancing, download First Aid for Freelancers, my free e-book on handling the early days of self-employment. You need to put your email address in to download it; you won’t be signed up to the newsletter twice. Also, check over the archives for past issues.
Was this email forwarded to you? Subscribe to it here

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