As a Zen Buddhist practitioner and aspiring minimalist for the last few years, I’ve been trying to incorporate minimalism into my work as a freelance writer. So, what exactly does it mean to be a minimalist freelancer? That’s a great question, and one I’m trying to figure out myself.
We normally think of minimalism as purging our belongings so that we’re left with just the essentials.
So how can we build freelance businesses while going about our work with simplicity and focus?
This is something I’m learning as I trod along. So far, I’ve come up with seven basic tenets of minimalism:
1. Work Less
As anyone who freelances knows, the “feast or famine” struggle is real. Sometimes you’re up to your ears in a sea of assignments, and other times you find yourself hustling hardcore to land more clients.
But working less will free you up to have a greater work/life balance, and you’ll have more time for relationships and creative projects. I’ve long been guilty of treating my creative projects like ugly stepchildren. When I’m buried in assignments, my personal projects – my blog; the book I’m writing to help artists with their money; my collection of short stories… – fall by the wayside.
The biggest trade-off for working less is making less money. However, if you can negotiate for higher rates, you might not need to sacrifice as much financially as you think you do.
2. Choose Work that Offers the Most Value – and Let Go of the Rest
One of the joys of freelancing is that you have the power to say “yea” or “nay” to clients and assignments. Of course, you do need to eat. But a perk of freelancing is that – when you can afford it – you can always pass up on work.
You’ll need to figure out what is most valuable to you. I’ve taken on work for different reasons. Sometimes I do it because I’ll be writing on a topic that really excites me; other times because I’ll be working with an editor who I know can really help me grow as a wordsmith. Other times I really enjoy being part of a team with a mission that I can really get behind. And then there are times when the client pays so well that it will free you up to work less. Whatever the reason is, the work should add value to your life. By doing so, you’ll feel more free to pass up on work that doesn’t.
3. Give Yourself Permission to Earn Less
Last year, Cait Flanders let go of her initial goal of earning $100,000.
Instead, she decided to give herself permission to live more by earning less, and set an income cap of $60,000.
During my first year of freelancing, I was of two minds. On one hand, I yearned to be that six-figure freelancer. And it makes sense. To many solo-preneurs, hitting a six-figure income on your own is a marker of success – a crowning achievement. On the other hand, I partly decided to make a go of freelancing full-time because I wanted to scale back on working to focus on my creative projects.
And last year, when I hit the $60,000 mark by November, I realized that I could ease up a bit on freelancing to rest and work on a few personal projects. Sure, it wasn’t a huge sum of money, but it was an enough for me to be comfortable with. And while I didn’t stop working completely, working less allowed me to recharge and gain focus for my personal work.
4. Practice Gratitude
Gratitude can do wonders to one’s emotional and physical health. In fact, there are scientifically proven benefits to gratitude, such as enhancing empathy, increasing mental strength, and improving psychological health.
I know, being overly grateful can be super hokey and is a turnoff to some. But getting to be self-employed is pretty awesome, warts and all. While freelancing isn’t always a walk in the park, it’s a great feeling to enjoy the freedom and flexibility of freelancing and to do the work that you do. Being grateful that you get to be a freelancer will help you savor the task at hand.
5. Focus on the Task at Hand
The phrase “the mind can go in a thousand directions” rings true especially when you’re seated in front of your computer.
It’s incredibly easy to lose track of what you’re supposed to be working on and go down a digital rabbit hole.
To counteract this, I’ve started to do “monk mornings.” What this means is that from the time I wake up till 10 am, I won’t be checking my phone, reading emails, or perusing the internet. I’ll gradually extend monk mornings until noon, but I know this is going to be challenging at first.
6. Don’t Go Overboard with Tools
I’ve been careful not to use too many needless apps or tools or to buy software for self-employed folks. In fact, aside from FreshBooks (a cloud accounting software) and Carbonite (a data backup service) I’m trying to be more judicious in the tools I use and the tasks that I outsource. Doing this will keep your eye on the bottom line.
It’s far too easy to fall into the trap of being a #girlboss and hiring a virtual assistant, social media manager, and so forth. True, some people have reached the point of busy-ness and success when it really is helpful to hire such people. But I’m not there yet. Instead of trying to dump money into creating the appearance of a success, I’m going to be honest about my needs and scale accordingly.
7. Practice Digital Minimalism
I recently attended a digital marketing workshop where the instructor told us that when it comes to social media, we need to have a presence on all platforms, then “build houses” on a few of them. There are quite a few social media platforms these days, with new ones sprouting up all the time. As a result, you can spend your entire day trying to build these houses. But instead of trying to do everything, practice “digital minimalism.”
In other words, figure out which digital communication tools offer you the most value, then nix the rest.
By clearing away what computer science professor Cal Newport calls “low-value digital noise,” you can optimize the tools that really matter and boost the quality of your life.
Easier said than done, right? I took a 30-day break from social media earlier this year, and realized that I didn’t really miss it. And truth be told, I’m a real slacker on that front, anyway. However, I will need to strike a balance for posting on social media for my work.
While practicing freelance minimalism is a work in progress, it helps me make the most of my days and live life on my own terms. And to me, that is the ultimate sign of success.