How to stay motivated and accountable when freelancing

Many people who finally take the leap and choose to go freelance are surprised when after a few months their initial enthusiasm begins wane a little bit, and they find it harder and harder to stay motivated and moving forward.

We all suffer from procrastination at times, but for freelancers it can be a real downward spiral, which creates immense frustration.

This kind of lull can even turn into a long term problem, which prevents you from growing and drags your business down.

Staying motivated as a freelancer

So it’s really valuable to be aware of this potential future plateau at the start of your freelance journey – this way you can put in place strategies and ideas to avoid it and deal with it.

Accept the fact that your  brain will work against you

No matter how confident and assured you are, your mind will try to sabotage you at times. Whether it’s through imposter syndrome, or the feelings of inadequacy while working through tough problems, our brains are wired to tell us to stop and give up when things start to get tough.

This is one of the main reasons why I believe mindset is one of the most crucial elements that successful freelancers spend time working on and improving.

Why do we struggle?

The problem, for new freelancers, is that there’s no longer anyone breathing down your neck and actually making you do the work. You need to generate your own focus, drive and motivation to keep working to your potential and moving forwards.

With no teammates, and no boss, it’s easy to let things slip. Before you know it, you can be crawling out of bed at lunchtime, and letting small tasks consume hours – when they should be taking minutes.

Here are some tips to help you prevent this decline, and stay on top of your business:

Set Yourself Goals

Without goals, you’re essentially giving yourself permission to drift without aim, and stop making progress.

Whether your goals are reaching new clients to expand your business, working with others more, or reaching a certain monthly income, well thought out goals allow you to break down your time, and make sure you’re taking the necessary steps that you need to.

Remember that goals only work if you regularly check in on them.

So you need to set aside time on a weekly basis to check in on your goals and the tasks that you need to complete to achieve them. Otherwise you’ll get lost in the work, and won’t realise when you’re starting to slip.

This can feel like a waste of time sometimes – especially if you’re drowning in client work, but this process can keep you on track and moving forward.

As an example, when you have a lot of work, it’s easy to stop sending out proposals for a while because you’re so busy. This can then lead to a barren spell months later as a result of skipping that goal, when your current projects finish.

Create accountability

The main issue many freelancers face, is that they have zero accountability. They may have a few deadlines to hit for clients, but generally clients don’t care how, or when the work is completed, as long as it’s completed.

In a normal job, you have to justify how you’re spending your time. This creates a natural impulse to get on with your work and impress those around you. If a colleague walks past your desk and sees you watching YouTube videos, they are likely to point it out and say something that will embarrass you.

When you’re working for yourself, there’s often nobody around, and you can do what you like. While this freedom is one of the appeals of freelancing, it can also be a real trap if you allow yourself to spiral, and don’t put the necessary checks and balances in place.

So you need to manufacture your own accountability – here are a few ways to do that:

  • Let others see your computer – if you’re working in a cafe, or a space with others, make sure you don’t hide your screen. Just the knowledge that others can see what you’re doing can help to keep you on track.
  • Disconnect – Whenever you’re working on a task that doesn’t require web access, just turn it off. The web is endlessly distracting, and you can get lost without event thinking about it. Putting even a slight barrier in the way can give you enough willpower to stay focussed.
  • Set rules – Tell yourself that if you complete an hour of focussed work, you can take a half hour break. Reward yourself for sticking to your goals.

Find your community

Find a community

One of the downsides of freelancing is that it can be a little lonely at times.

The good news is there are a lot of welcoming freelancing communities out there because of this. Even better – they can really help you to stay focussed and moving forward with your ambitions.

While the current circumstances mean we’re all more confined to our homes than we might like, that’s no reason to miss out. There are loads of online communities – and they often feature great content, designed to keep you developing.

While some are paid memberships, with communities bolted on, you can also find some completely free ones.

Do a Facebook search and you’ll find groups for every interest and niche, and these can be ideal for finding support, and some like minded people to take your freelance journey with. You’ll find you can ask questions or just get some support when you need it. People are generally really helpful and supportive.

In the offline world, there are lots of events in most cities for freelancers, and you can often find dedicated co-working spaces. These spaces often have communities within them, which you can easily get involved with.

Find an accountability buddy

Another great way to simulate this accountability is to make an agreement with somebody else. You can then both keep each other accountable. Find someone in your community and make an arrangement.

On Mondays you can have a short meeting to tell each other what you plan to do that week. Then on Fridays you can have another meeting where you discuss whether you achieved your aims or not.

The consequences of embarrassment and shame if you don’t achieve what you said you would, will be extremely motivating for you during the week.

Collaborate with others

Another great way to keep moving forward, and pushing yourself is to collaborate with others.

Again this can be much easier if you’re part of a community, as people are likely to be open to this. Work with others on projects and ideas that you find interesting, or challenging. These can inspire you and help you to make you new connections.

We need to remember that freedom and flexibility are two of the greatest perks of being freelance, so explore the opportunities to keep things interesting and exciting.

If you don’t want to collaborate, make time for passion projects. While you may not earn anything for these projects, they can often look great on your portfolio and open up potential new clients and directions for you.

As you can see, there are countless ways to stay on track and motivated. The difference is you need to take responsibility to set them up and put them into action.

This is a key lesson to learn as a new freelancer, and the sooner you get these checks in place, the better.

By Alistair Webster