Getting Out of the 24×7 Freelancer Trap

Estimated reading time: 4 mins

So you’re a workaholic, and make yourself available (to yourself) 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Running a freelancing business is like breathing to you. Stop, and you believe you’ll die. Free lancing should be called slave lancing, shouldn’t it?

This is a follow-on to my previous article: The 24×7 Freelancer Trap .

If you recognized the symptoms, but not sure what to do, or even if you want to do anything, then that is understandable. Perhaps being a workaholic is harder to accept and cope with more than alcoholism. The tough thing about being a workaholic is that there isn’t a great deal of social pressure to stop, or stigma attached to it. And the upside is ‘great’ – more income, more productivity, more work from your clients. It’s not really hurting anybody, right? You’re not doing harm to your health, yes?

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Being a workaholic is not good for YOU. Your body, your mental health, your social life, family life… the list can go on. But without the social pressure to stop, then it’s hard to accept as a problem.

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What can be done?

In my last article, I started with two simple tactics to get you going.

Number One – talk to someone. A friend, your partner, your mom. Share the burden! You won’t believe how positive a chat with someone you trust can be.

Number Two – identify what you enjoy (outside of your freelancing) and do more. Do this by laying down some boundaries. Boundaries are good. Set yourself time for work, and set yourself time for fun. And stick to it. You might fail first time around, maybe second time too, and quite possibly the third, but keep trying!

The second one might have appeared trite and obvious at first. If you did feel like it is, then the effect of being a workaholic is likely to be in play and the fear of change has taken hold.

It’s like this though. The effect of the ‘trap’ needs to be reversed, not eliminated in one instant. The proces of reversal will take as long as it took to establish. It’s a case of chipping away at the problem and building on small successes.

I’m now going to make a confession. Until I experienced cancer, I was a workaholic. The impact of being yanked out of the workplace solved this problem for me. As I have said , I consider myself fortunate for this experience on many levels. Eliminating my addiction to work was one of them.

But I doubt you are that fortunate. I dearly hope you are not.

What can YOU do to reverse the process? Here are some suggestions:

Get physical – expend the energy you would plough into work doing something physical, like taking a run or visiting the gym. The effect of the exercise will stimulate other parts of your brain that have been neglected.

Plan recreate in locations you can’t work – get into the open countryside or up a mountain – anywhere you can’t take a laptop or your iPhone won’t have a signal.

Don’t talk shop – avoid talking about work, your projects and your clients with your spouse outside of normal office hours. When you talk about work, your mind starts to race and you’re back in the groove.

Refuse to feel guilty when you’re not working – This is probably the most important and difficult step of all. It takes guts and courage. But try it – rationalize downtime as well as you rationalize continued work. Deliberately (and it might seem falsely at first) tell yourself that fun and leisure are important activities.

Measure the effect of not working – once you’ve tried the above tactics, measure their effect. Are projects suffering? Are clients angry? Is your bank balance reducing? I suspect they’re not. Maybe the opposite. It’s important to assess and measure the implications of the changes you’re making to gain confidence that they’re effective.

Consider outsourcing some work – if you’re a one-person band then you’re doing everything from billable work to admin. Can you outsource your admin? Or subcontract some work? Some jobs you do are not a good use of your time – they are a cost (loss) against your profit. See this from a Profit & Loss (P&L) viewpoint, like the big companies do. Once you see the cost of doing the jobs that don’t bring in the cash, then you might see the benefit of outsourcing them!

Consult with a business expert – Business Process Re-engineering isn’t just for the top 10 of the NASDAQ. And it isn’t as grandiose as you might think. Consulting with a business expert may help you surface inefficiencies in your business and spot things you’re doing that are not effective.

I just want to close by saying this – I was lucky to escape the 24×7 trappings by a serious illness. I haven’t had to go through the journey of reversal. So I can’t speak from a position of experience – only awareness of the problem and sensitivities to how the reversal can be achieved.

Have you been through this journey….. or are you still on it?

Share your story!

UPDATE: Check out the great post on for some inspiring ways to create more free time.

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2 thoughts on “Getting Out of the 24×7 Freelancer Trap”

  1. Hi Simon what advice would you give to a freelancer that is having to work 24×7 to keep the business going and cash coming in who can’t afford to stop working?

    1. simonstapleton

      Great question Asif. I will answer in two ways:

      1) The article really addresses the irrational behaviors of freelancers in a 24×7 trap. Working all hours may be due to a perfectly rational reason, like project workload, special treatment of a client, cashflow problems, etc. It’s when the freelancer is in the trap due to irrational reasons is what we need to be concerned about!

      2) If the freelancer has to work 24×7 to make ends meet, I would like to look at how they price their services, or manage budgets, or choose projects. It could be that they’re pricing too low which means more work has to compensate, or that they spend too much money on subcontractors, or equipment, or maybe take too much out of the business for themself, or perhaps they have to work really hard because they are not offering services that play to their strengths, and therefore they are not effective or efficient.

      Does that answer your question Asif?

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