The flexible freelancer

I do a fair bit of yoga. Oh hey, look at me, starting off my first blog post in a while with a big fat lie. Let’s be more accurate: I used to do a fair bit of yoga, and now I do the odd Adriene video once every couple of months. But that’s not really the point. The point is that when you practise yoga regularly, you come to learn a lot about your body, how it works, and what it can or can’t comfortably do. I can’t, for example, touch my toes, and I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to, because I have very tight hamstrings. Other bits of me are more flexible, or can be more or less flexible depending on how many times I’ve heard “Hello, my darling friends” (if you know, you know) lately.

Flexibility, as well as being the thing that helps you hang out for a while in Pigeon pose, is the thing I love about freelancing. I bang on quite a lot about it on this blog. I can take on the projects that will fit around the rest of my life, and I can work on them on days and hours that suit me. And I like being able to extend that flexibility to my clients, when I can. Writing is not one of those things that always goes according to plan, even in normal times, if anyone can remember what those are. Shit, as we know, happens, and it’s good when we can shift around some things now and then to accommodate it when it happens to our clients.

This isn’t without its difficulties, though, as anyone who has ever looked with satisfaction at a full schedule only to receive an email saying “So, you know that deadline we talked about…” will understand. Sometimes when we try to be too accommodating, we not only punish ourselves, but we might end up hurting our other clients if cramming in too much work affects the quality of our output. So how do we extend that kindness to our clients while keeping everything in balance?

The key is understanding the limits of our own flexibility. As how yoga teaches you about your stupid unhelpful hamstrings, the longer you stay in business, the more you learn about how you work. You can learn to recognize when you can bend, and when you risk breaking. I know that I can be much more flexible during term-time, but when it comes to school holidays, I need to stand firm in order to protect my time with my family. When I have a lot going on in my life, I might in theory be able to shift projects around and alter my working hours, but I have to consider what the effect of doing so will be on my energy levels and mental health.

In yoga, we also have props, such as belts and blocks, that can help us into a posture when our own bodies have reached their natural limits. There are things that can help me bend a little further when my schedule needs it, too – my saintly parents and their wonderful willingness to provide childcare, or my husband’s flexi-time.

As freelancers, it’s quite easy to go around knowing that we can be flexible and only understanding the limits to that when we hit them, and that’s an inconvenient time to do so, because that’s usually when we’re in the middle of one too many jobs. So I’d urge you to take a step back and think about previous times when that’s happened – when did you hit those limits and why? What was at play, and can you recognize when that might happen again? What resources did you need to get through it, and will they be available to you in the future? There’s no time for this kind of thinking when you’re right in the pinch point, so thinking about it before you get there might help make the next one more manageable.

I will leave you with a stock photo I found when I had image credits that were about to expire. It resonated with me, for some reason.

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