How I found the perfect work/relaxation balance as a freelancer

So you’re having yet another 12-hour long work day. Just like yesterday, and with very little hope for tomorrow to be any different. Sounds familiar?

What happened? Wasn’t freelancing supposed to be this dream job allowing you to work whenever you want and wherever you want? How did you let this overworking thing happen?

This will be something uncommon for a blog author to say, but I really hope that the above resonates with just a small part of you. However, if unfortunately this is the exact situation you’re facing right now, I strongly believe I can be of some help.

💔 Falling out of love with your clients? Trade some of your worst clients for the best companies in the world with SolidGigs, our premium weekly freelance job list & course library. Love your business again. Learn more »

You see, I went through it all.

I had periods when I worked four hours a day, eight hours a day, 12 hours, as well as “unlimited hours,” which simply meant waking up, working, and then going back to bed.

And I feel really unfortunate about this since I’ve been Lifehack’s contributing writer for over two years now. So in theory, I should know better.

And to be honest, I can’t even put a finger on why I did this. It’s not like I needed the extra money over what I could make in, say, six hours.

Enter your email. Grow your business.

Submit your email below and join 45,000+ creatives who get our most helpful content via email every week. 100% free. Unsubscribe anytime. Privacy protected.

Luckily though I did fight this off and am now living a much healthier lifestyle. I’m not rich by any extent, but I have a much better work / relaxation balance that allows me to enjoy life.

• • •

A note from Preston: Today, I’m extremely excited to welcome Karol Krol to the Millo writing team. I’ve been trying to figure out how to get Karol to join the team for quite a while because every time he writes here at the blog, I personally eat it up.

He’s got some fantastic experience in a wide variety of entrepreneurial endeavors and I can’t wait to see what kind of content he adds to our community here. Join me in welcoming him by leaving a comment on this post

Ok, back to Karol.

• • •

Okay, but why am I telling you this? Only because I want to distinguish this post from the usual so-called great advice you can find all over the web. This is not something that was hastily put together just because the publishing calendar told so. I really am sharing my personal experiences, the exact lessons learned and how I managed to get back to the sane portion of the freelancing population.

Onwards then! Step #1:

The counterintuitive step

This will probably seem like a big limitation and something that’s not in tune with the “spirit of freelancing,” or whatever, but please bear with me.

The simplest thing you can do to regain most of your work and relaxation balance is to set fixed work hours.

In other words, pick the exact time intervals when you’re going to do all of your work.

To handle this effectively, start a small journal and take a month to jot down the times of the day when you’re usually the most productive/effective with your work. Then, after the experiment, you should have your perfect time period for work laid out.

Heck, you might as well end up with the traditional 9-5, but maybe it’ll be much more unusual.

I know, doing fixed hours can make you feel like you’re still on a job instead of working for yourself, but the benefits are aplenty. For example:

  • It trains your mind to focus during a specific time of the day, so you get the most of your brain power exactly when you need it.
  • It helps you fight anxiety, guilt and kill that small voice in your head that keeps saying “you didn’t do enough work today.”
  • It makes your style of work much easier on your loved ones. Basically, they will know when daddy or mommy is working and shouldn’t be distracted.
  • It gives you more clarity during your off time – you can enjoy it better.

“Pomodoro” your work

I’m a big fan of the Pomodoro technique lately. Somehow it really does wonders for my productivity, even though the idea is more than simple.

Basically, Pomodoro is a work methodology based around a timer. You set it for 25 minutes and start working. When the buzzer sounds, you take a 5 minute break. Then you start over. You do this three times in total. Then for the fourth run, you do 25 minutes of work and then take 15 minutes off instead of 5.

At first, the whole method sounds really restrictive, and I thought so too. But as it turns out, being aware that there’s a timer ticking and controlling your work time is a very freeing thing.

I mean, when the timer is sitting there in the background, you don’t have to worry about anything else other than the task at hand. No thinking about the chores you need to do later on, no planning your dinner, no nothing. There’s just you and your work.

On top of that, Pomodoro is something you can test right away. Just go to and click the big button saying “Pomodoro.”

The Richard Branson’s secret

Someone once asked Sir Richard Branson (this Richard Branson) about how to be more productive.

Richard’s response was swift: “Work out.”

Let’s reflect on the magnitude of that answer for a while. It’s neither the average Joe answering, nor a random passerby on the street, no. It’s the man who’s started 400 or so companies, one of the top entrepreneurs who have ever lived, telling you that to be productive you need to work out.

It’s surely something we should pay attention to here.

So what does “work out” actually mean? Is it heavy weight training, running, cross-fit, yoga, martial arts, light stretching, or maybe something else?

Well, it’s all of the above. The secret to working out isn’t in the “what,” but in the “how regular.” So do whatever is physical activity in your dictionary, but do it regularly.

For me, 30 minutes a day is optimal. Your results may vary, so you need to experiment.

And no matter what, something is always better than nothing. So even if the most time you can spend exercising is 10 minutes a day, let it be so. Just take a run around the block if that’s all you can do, or drop down and give yourself 20 push-ups.

Beware of the fake relaxation

Fake relaxation is one of the trickiest things out there. In short, not everything you consider to be relaxing, actually is.

Here’s the thing. No matter what you’re doing at the moment, it surely falls under one of the three main areas of activity: physical, emotional, and intellectual.

  • emotional: meeting your friends, going on a date, having a dinner,
  • intellectual: learning, writing, solving a math problem, designing a new site, etc.,
  • physical: that’s the obvious one – everything related to working with your muscles.

Now, the trick is that you can’t relax if you remain in the same area of activity for a longer while. For example, if you’ve been designing a site for the better part of the day then you won’t relax by reading a book.

To truly relax, you need to switch your current area of activity. By the way, that’s one of the reasons why working out is so darn good for almost everyone doing intellectual work.

Note. The original idea is not mine, and unfortunately I can’t remember where I got it from. Nonetheless, it does work flawlessly. It’s one of the few genuine relaxation hacks.

The lightning round

The above are the big game changers – the things that will have a significant impact on your effectiveness and relaxation if you only give them a chance. But there’s also a handful of other things that can be the icing on the cake.

  • Use a “done list” instead of (or together with) a “to-do list.” A done list is a blank piece of paper where you put every task you’ve managed to complete during the day.
  • Ban distractions. In the modern age, most distractions can be found online. That’s why I encourage you to ban common distraction-sites like YouTube, Facebook, and whatever else tickles your fancy. You can use the LeechBlock browser extension for that.
  • Don’t do the things you don’t need to be doing. For instance, if you’re a designer’s designer and you really don’t like dealing with HTML and WordPress then just send your PSDs over to a service like Codeinwp (wink), and we will do the PSD-to-WordPress conversion for you.
  • Try focusing on just one project/client a day and see how it works for you. This isn’t always effective, but worth a shot, especially if you’re working on big projects for a small number of clients.
  • Try meditating. Really, in some weird way it works. I have no idea why.
  • Get up earlier and go to sleep earlier, rather than wake up late and go to sleep late.

What’s your routine?

I’m really curious to find out what’s your current work and relaxation routine. Is it something planned out by you, or is it more dictated by the events going on around you, meaning that you’re relaxing when other people allow you to?

Comments go here.

Keep the conversation going...

Over 5,000 of us are having daily conversations over in our free Facebook group and we'd love to see you there. Join us!

  1. Love this post. It’s the first I’ve read in a long time that seems to give actual, real solutions. I have struggled the last two years to hang on and organize my time. With the birth of my daughter came so. many. obstacles. I’m going to bookmark this and start to implement some of these changes. PS I was brought here through the “4 Mistakes I Made” post, which I loved as well 🙂

  2. After I get the kids off to school, I get to work around 9. I will take a break a few hours later and walk down to the lake that is behind my home. It is peaceful and calming. There are often owls and other birds that I can watch for a little while. It is sort of a mental vacation. I find that when I do this, I come back ready to tackle whatever is next on my project list with renewed energy and enthusiasm.

    1. Aww, that sounds lovely, Becky. I just moved into a new house and will be starting landscaping the back yard in May. I hope mine is an oasis not unlike yours!


    1. Thanks! The funny thing with meditation is that we always knew it worked, we just didn’t know why. Well, I guess it’s a bit clearer now. 🙂

  3. Welcome to Millo! I really enjoyed your post, you have great tips in here! I’m definitely going to try out the Pomodoro routine. BTW I found an app for that!

  4. This is a great article. I read a lot of articles but never comment but I had to on this one. It summarizes a lot of ideas I belieive in. My wife is a graphic designer and I get on her case sometime because of the “graphic designer lifestyle.” Hopefully this article will help! And she sent it to me so she agrees with it to.

    1. Thanks! Can you share something more about the “graphic designer lifestyle?” Does it contain much working at midnight? 🙂

  5. Karol,

    Great stuff! I love the insight on fake relaxation, physical activity (we Americans need to heed this!), and the “Done” list.

    Since I don’t have kids (just dogs), I find a fluid workday more useful to me than rigid hours, but my hours tend to gravitate toward a split shift even so. Generally I have a morning session. Often the afternoon is for running errands, going to the dog park, cleaning house, etc., and then I work again during the evening.

    I also unofficially often use the Pomodoro technique, but often it’s “get this one item done, then break,” so it’s less about the actual time. Sometimes I look at my time log and feel a bit bad about all the breaks, though. (Then I recount my “done” list and high-five myself.)

    Overall, for me, setting rigid time structures seems to hinder my output because I feel like I’m forcing creativity during those times. Or I “have” to finish this before lunch at 12:00. My inner logician argues that as long as I meet my deadlines, does it really matter what time I work?

    For me, fluidity of “when I finish, then I’ll have lunch,” or “let’s go to the dog park for an hour, and then I’ll come back to this” feeds my inspiration and fuels my productivity.

    But I’m lucky to be able to get away with this, and I’m also not normal. 😀

    Thanks for your tips!


    1. The challenge with all these methods is to find the thing that works best for you individually. So if what you’re doing currently makes you feel productive and effective on a daily basis then by all means don’t change a thing. 🙂

      And yes, fake relaxation is a big problem. I mean, it’s just too easy to fall victim to it.

The conversation's still going in our free Facebook group . Join us there!