Melissa King is a freelance content marketer and writer who contributes to some tech companies we know and love – CoSchedule, Zapier, and others! She’s spent the energy to understand and process the ways and times she does her best work and has leaned into that. We chatted about how she constructs her schedule to protect her mental health.
Scheduling to Protect Your Mental Health
1. Was flexibility and owning your schedule a big part of the reason you went into freelancing?
A lot of the reasons I went freelance tie back to that principle, yeah.
Before I became a freelance writer, I wrote website copy and blog posts for an agency. I had a very set schedule where I needed to write a certain amount of content every day. The agency gave room for sick and mental health days, but I wanted more space to organize my days and hours a little differently.
I have depression, anxiety, and focus problems, so some days I don’t have the mental energy to sit down and crank out content. Instead, I’m better off working on tasks that require less focus, such as outlining, researching, or grabbing screenshots. Now that I have more control over my schedule, I can save certain work for high brainpower days and other work for low brainpower days.
2. Do you have certain habits that you build into every day? Take us through a day in your life as a freelancer.
I run my days on two principles I know about myself: I can get about 5 to 6 hours of good work done in a day, and I work better in the afternoon and evening than I do in the morning.
So, I dedicate my mornings to chores, appointments, and other low-key tasks. Recently, I’ve been spicing them up a bit by getting back into sewing. I just let myself be a human.
Then, at about 2:00 in the afternoon, I get to work. Instead of using the “eating the frog” method that some folks enjoy, I go for what Brittany Berger calls the “first pancake” method. I get less intensive tasks out of the way, like emails, to get my mind “in the zone” and keep them off my mind when I need to work on projects. Then, I dig into the research, outlining, and/or writing I need to tackle that day.
I wrap up work at about 7:00 to 8:00 in the evening. (If you’re keeping track, that’s 5 to 6 hours!)
If I want to do something with other people in the evening, I might shift that schedule back an hour or two, but I follow a similar formula.
I suggest thinking about the hours you work best and seeing if you can orient your schedule around them.
3. How do you find the balance between hitting client deadlines and keeping your schedule flexible?
I give myself a healthy buffer for as many deadlines as possible so I can swap tasks around according to my focus and energy levels. For example, if I think I could wrap up a project in a week, I’ll give a deadline of two weeks so I can shift that project around if needed.
If you’re trying to get better at balancing flexibility with hitting deadlines, try adding more buffer time to the deadlines your clients let you provide. That way, you can work on those projects around projects with tighter deadlines.
I also recommend factoring potential clients’ deadline structures into your evaluations of them. Make sure they have reasonable expectations for your turnaround times and provide content briefs and other resources on time.
4. Do you use time blocking or any other time management methods to run your calendar?
I can’t do super rigid schedules because, as I’ve mentioned, my focus and energy levels are so variable. But, like anyone else, without any structure, I can’t keep track of things super well.
When managing my calendar, I prefer tools that let me make events quickly. With that kind of setup, I can make a bunch of tasks at a time and drag them around my calendar until they’re in spots that make sense. On days I need to reduce my capacity or add on tasks, I can swap tasks between days and adjust on the fly.
While I use my calendar to handle my day-to-day, I manage my monthly capacity using a spreadsheet. It includes a column for the number of days it’ll take to do each project I list. Another column then adds up the number of total days my scheduled projects take up. I shoot for a total that goes a day or two fewer than the actual total of workdays in the month to add wiggle room.
5. What advice would you give to new freelancers who entered into this career to improve their mental health and work-life balance?
Don’t let your drive to grow your business turn into self-flagellation. There are tons of inspiring people in this biz, and it can be easy to unfairly compare yourself to them.
This is something I’m still trying to teach myself, to be honest. It’s really exciting that we as freelancers always have room to grow. But, there’s a difference between pushing yourself forward and putting yourself down for working within your capacity.
Sometimes, you’re gonna have days where you don’t get everything on your to-do list done. You might have to push back a deadline.
Just remember that being kind to yourself is its own kind of success.