Today, I’d like to discuss a concept that’s been essential in helping me thrive as a soloist for 25+ years.
It’s rooted in language I
stole borrowed from Gregory McKeown, who, in his excellent book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, titles an entire chapter thusly:
Protect the asset. (You are the asset.)
The thesis of today’s post is as simple as it is crucial, so I’ll not bury the lead:
You can’t do your best work – work that you’re proud to sign your name to, work that gets you rehired and referred – if you don’t protect the asset.
In other words: Take care of yourself, and you’ll be better equipped to take care of your clients.
If you agree – and I happen to think it’s an inarguable statement – then it’s worth asking why we so often:
- Accept work that we know is a poor fit
- Take on more work than we can reasonably handle
- Let naysayers shape our worldviews
- Allow our health and our relationships to take a back seat
- Do our damnedest to please everyone but ourselves
When we do these things, we place the asset in distress. We choose imbalance. And that inevitably creates problems down the line.
I’ve discussed this concept with several other consultants and freelancers recently. Here are some concepts that work for me and for them, all with the goal of protecting the asset – you.
1. Strategically Design Your Workday
When do you do your best work? Put a fence around that time on your calendar.
For me, it’s the first one to three hours of the day. It’s difficult to schedule a meeting with me before noon.
Sure, sometimes things come up. But two or three well-designed workdays per week beat the hell out of zero. So listen to your internal clock, and protect those times of day when your energy is highest.
(On a related note: Get over the notion that you must be available at all times. Clients can be trained otherwise.)
2. Put Your Priorities on Your Calendar
Let’s not stop with designing our workdays. Let’s design our lives too.
Exercise is a priority in my life. Last year I logged 338 workouts. In 2021, that number was 339. In 2020, it was 327.
Why the consistency? Because it’s on my calendar. I’ve currently got my workouts scheduled through February.
When I exercise regularly, I sleep better, so I wake up refreshed, so my thinking is sharper. It’s a no-downside cycle.
Whatever your priorities – vacation, family, hobbies, your bucket list – put those on your calendar too. It dramatically increases the odds that they’ll receive the time they deserve.
That, of course, stands for What Would My Board of Advisors Do?
Imagine you hired a board of advisors – not just for your work, but for your life. This imaginary board has one goal: They want you to be a happy, healthy, fully realized version of yourself.
If they reviewed your typical day, what would they recommend you:
- Stop doing?
- Start doing?
- Continue doing?
4. Develop a Journaling Habit
One of the best decisions I’ve made for my mental health is developing a consistent journaling practice.
A little less than a decade ago, I started keeping a gratitude journal, after reading Sonja Lyubomirsky’s book The How of Happiness.
Every morning, I capture:
- An experience to savor from yesterday
- What I get to do today
- Who or what I’m grateful for, and why
At the end of each workday, I make notes in my “Work Wins” journal. Here, I capture:
- Accomplishments – What were my big wins?
- Advancements – What did I move forward?
- Assists – Who did I help?
- Mindset – How did I show up for myself?
- Feel-Goods – What positive feedback did I receive? (Some freelancers I know keep a dedicated “feel-good folder,” so they can access it whenever they need a lift. Good idea!)
Each journal takes less than five minutes. The return on that tiny amount of time is astronomical. And there’s much to be said for choosing to start and end the day on a positive note.
5. Define Your Sustainable Week
Time-tracking has more benefits than we can discuss in this small space. But one benefit that’s often overlooked: It will teach you, definitively, what a “sustainable week” is for you.
A sustainable week, for me, is about 30 productive hours. I can do that forever. The first week of this year was over 50. I can do that in bursts, but it’s not sustainable.
Your number may vary. But when you know that number, you can intelligently manage requests for your time.
You can tell a prospect that you’d love to work with them, but you can’t do your best work until February. You can tell random networkers to check back with you in six weeks. (Most of them won’t.)
If you don’t know your number today, track your time for a few weeks. You’ll quickly get a sense of it.
6. Check In With Yourself Regularly
One of the wonderful things about soloism: We’re fully invested. This also means we feel the ups and downs with a particular intensity.
So: Let’s lean into the good stuff and minimize the bad, and let’s do so proactively.
Some good questions to ask:
- Am I regularly applying my skills, strengths, and gifts?
- Am I truly excited about my goals?
- Which activities energize me? Which drain me?
- Which clients energize me? Which drain me?
- Am I proud of the transformations I’m creating for my clients?
- Am I living my values through my work?
For all the above, also ask why you responded the way you did – and how you can take positive action where needed.
I’m an advocate of quarterly or bimonthly planning for your freelance biz. There are many advantages to this rhythm. One big advantage: It forces you to check in with yourself at least every 90 days. (A year is much too long a window.)
So make an appointment with yourself to review the above concepts at least every 3 months. Revisit your priorities. Review your progress. Keep what’s working. Discard what isn’t.
One of my core beliefs about soloism is this:
The primary reason for your business to exist is to meet your needs.
Not the only reason – the primary reason. If you design a business that delights your clients but leaves you miserable, you have failed.
As soloists, we have the luxury of lifestyle design. It’s a massive benefit of this path we’ve chosen. And if we’re not maxing it out, we’re selling ourselves short.
So design wisely.
Protect the asset, my friends.
Your time is valuable, and I hope I’ve rewarded it. If so, your shares are greatly appreciated, as I try to spread the gospel to as many freelancers as possible.
I have a limited number of slots available for 1-1 coaching. I’m not some guy who’s been freelancing for a minute – I’ve been doing it since 1997, with brands you’ve actually heard of. Click here to find out more about how my customized coaching can help you level up.
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