The Busyness Delusion: Time, Clients, Cash … and You


We’ve all heard the stories. Perhaps we’ve told them ourselves.

“I haven’t taken a vacation in three years. I’m just too busy.”
“I work seven days a week. It’s non-stop.”
“I’ll go back to my desk to do odds and ends for a few hours or more after I put my kids to bed.”

And we’ve all heard the platitudes about the pace of change, the difficulty of keeping up with technology, and the fierceness of competition in a recession. And sure, things are tough.

But I’m getting the idea that there is, among digital freelancers in particular, a fashion for busyness.

I’m not saying we aren’t busy. I’m not saying we don’t work hard, or need to. What I am saying is that you don’t have to be any busier than you want to be. For many of us, that’s the whole point of freelancing.

Busyness does not equate to income

The first objection people usually feel to this idea is that if they’re not busy, they won’t earn enough money.

“Enough” is a relative concept. We’ve all experienced times when we literally did not have enough money — to pay the rent, to clear our bills. And if you spent every waking moment looking frantically for work at the time, you’ll know that busyness doesn’t equate to income.

If you underprice your work, aren’t diligent with client management, and are undisciplined with your time, you can very easily fall into the trap of spending hours of unremunerated time ostensibly “on the business”.

But in reality, your business probably wouldn’t suffer if you spent that time elsewhere.

Busyness does not equate to passion

Another common misconception about freelancing is that if you’re passionate, you’ll be thrilled to spend all your time working. You live to code. You eat, sleep, and breathe good design. And therefore, it’s all you do.

I’ve seen freelancing friends sacrifice social lives, health, relationships, and other, just-as-worthy passions on the basis that their busyness as a freelancer reflected their passion for it.

But a dull project can take just as much work as an inspiring one.

Is busyness an out?

I think that for many of us, busyness is a means to avoid difficult things we don’t want to face. At least, that’s what it usually is for me.

Perhaps I don’t want to stare into the void that is my bank account with a blank mind, and find I can’t think of a way to get some dollars in there.

Perhaps I don’t want to stop what I’m doing, look around, and see if my lifestyle or work approach are really serving me as best they could.

Perhaps I don’t want to have the free time to worry about where the heck my “career” and “life” are heading.

Perhaps I’ll feel out of it if all my friends are snowed under all the time, and I’m just cruising around taking each day as it comes.

Passion first, then income, then busyness

Many of us start freelancing because we want to work to live — we’re freelancing because we want to enjoy life as much as we can. So how can we avoid the slippery slope that sees us living, apparently, just to work?

Work is part of life (unless you win the lottery). Most freelancers want to do what they’re passionate about for work, but it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that life has many other passions as well. They’re probably equally as important. Work out where your work fits, for you, among all your other passions.

Then you’ll have an idea of where freelancing can fit in your plans to generate income. Think less about what you’re willing to sacrifice to earn a living through freelancing. Instead, focus on what you’re not willing to sacrifice, and work back from there. Perhaps you’ll only realistically have 25 or 30 hours a week in which to earn an income. Cool. Plan your approach to generating cashflow, and set your income expectations, accordingly.

As you can see, busyness is the last part of the equation. Once you’ve set your priorities, and your expectations, you’ll have a limit to what you consider acceptable busyness. Put another way, you’ll be as busy as you need to be to have freelancing meet the needs you want it to. Busyness will become a means to a real, tangible end, rather than an end in itself.

Have you ever fallen prey to the busyness delusion?

Image by stock.xchng user iprole

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