The 4-Day Freelance Work Week (and Why It's Time for a Change)

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For quite some time, I've planned to cut down my work schedule to a four-day work week. I never seem to get around to it though. Whenever I free up the time, either I have a new project to work on during those hours or a client wants to start on a big contract that I suddenly have some free hours for. So the schedule change gets put off.

It's time for that to change. Starting next week I'll be re-working my schedule to make it a reality and I'll start updating any regular clients I plan to continue working with (I'm not sure about all, but that will still include most, and definitely the biggest ones). Once I have the schedule set and people are updated, I'll make the change (let's shoot for late April or early May).

What I Learned During the Week from Hell

This has been a very long, frustrating, intense, overloaded, and did I mention looong(?) week. There were press releases to write for some firms' monthly orders. There was a regular blogging contract every Monday - Friday. There was a copywriting project through one of those firms. There was a copyediting project from a previous client who occasionally comes back for work on his sites. There was a press release to take care of for another older client who came back. There was (and still is) quite a lot of blogging to do for multiple blogs owned by another client (including some prep work for a new blog series we'll be starting soon on one of his newer sites). That's on top of finishing up the new AFW marketing campaign plan for the rest of 2010, any posting here, trying to get the design changes going with the coder for this blog, dealing with review requests, taking care of any checks writers working for me asked me to make (while I don't go in and manually approve their work before posting, some prefer that I do, so I try to make the time), and oh yeah... I was trying to have a life and get some sleep on top of it.

It was too much. I haven't gotten done nearly as much as I wanted to. I'm supposed to have a friend over tonight for a girl's night in, and I'm still trying to figure out when I'll be able to squeeze in a load of laundry, a shower, and a quick dishwasher run before she comes. I worked an all-nighter Wednesday night and only got about an hour-long nap yesterday (I'm not good at sleeping in the middle of the day). Needless to say, I'm exhausted.

This isn't a typical week for me. I don't believe in constantly working long hours and cramming in gig after gig or project after project. Hell, this is why I freelance and why I charge what I'm worth -- so I don't have to slave away for anyone and lose time to long commutes only to get home and be too tired or too broke to really enjoy my free time. Not for me, thanks.

While this isn't a typical week, this is the kind of thing that happens occasionally (usually when I'm in one of my "too nice" modes and say yes to things I later wish I'd turned down). But it's okay. I'll get through it and I'll get everything done. I always do. It's just a reminder that I need to start focusing a bit more on my own life, and sanity, so I can get back to enjoying life a bit more. That's what switching to a four-day work week will help me do (not to mention making me more productive in my work when I'm well-rested).

What Will I do With an Extra Day Off?


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I did try the four-day work week thing a couple of years ago. But then I did it so I could spend my Fridays exclusively on my own projects. Now those projects are worked into my daily working hours -- I don't allow them to seep as much into my free time. There are lots of things I've been wanting to do though, and having an extra day will allow me to do them without feeling guilty for taking a day off periodically and more often than most might. It'll be a set schedule.

Here are a few of the things I'll be doing with my time:

  • Taking some long weekend trips (like going to DC to visit my sister or going up to Connecticut to do some more family history research)
  • Taking day trips that don't interfere with the normal weekends (like driving up to NYC to visit family or see the sights occasionally)
  • Hiking (I really want to get back to the parks more, but since I start work so early each day it's difficult to get out while it's still cool -- when I like to walk and hike)
  • Training (I've gotten way beyond "out of shape" at this point. Working on my ass all day doesn't help, and these cram-session types of weeks can completely destroy any good workout habits I've gotten into. So I'd like to have the extra time for a really good long training session at least once per week. I figure I can walk or hike 4-8 miles a day without a problem, so the next step is to start a running program. I've wanted to train to do a 5k for ages now, but I never seem to get around to it. Once I free up the time, no more excuses.)
  • Studying foreign languages (I've been working on Greek for a while and plan to continue that more aggressively, and then I have reasons for wanting to start studying German so I'm looking forward to that)
  • Making music (I have a new keyboard I've been wanting to fiddle with for a while, and I can't remember the last time I dusted off my guitar)
  • Home improvement projects (I have some spring cleaning to do before I get my carpets replaced this spring so I really need time for that -- I also plan to setup a new balcony garden and take care of some general maintenance and decorating I've been putting off for a lack of time.)
  • Working on my car (I like to work on my car -- yes, girls do that -- but never have the time so I always just take it into the shop for every little thing. So I'll probably get a bit more hands on with it. While I've sworn I'll drive her till she dies on me, lately I've been debating whether it's worth the work anymore, so I really want to get my hands in there, check 'er out, and decide on my own if it's worth the cost and effort or better to soon replace her.)
  • Painting (While I don't talk about it very much, in addition to writing and playing a variety of musical instruments, I also sketch and paint. I'd like to be able to make some time to break out the easel and oils and get back into it. It's not my biggest passion, but I enjoy it and find it utterly relaxing.)
  • Being a bum (Why not? I've worked hard for years, and frankly I just want a bit of time off sometimes. I don't only want to avoid the burn out most of the time, but all of the time. I've had my share of it. I'm done. Now I'm going to sit my butt down -- ok, maybe get on the exercise bike since I said I'm already on my ass too much working -- and watch those movies I've been meaning to see for months. Yeah. I think I will.)

That's my very general plan and how I plan to use that one extra day per week to work on other things that matter to me in my life. Let's face it, sometimes the weekends just aren't enough.

And just for the record since I know some people are probably thinking it -- no, it won't even cost me any income. Why not? Because on the chance that I do stop working with a client or two, I have other regulars with projects that are expanding in those same next couple of weeks which will actually pay more than any I'd give up or potentially lose due to the changes, and my average hourly rate would actually increase pretty significantly.

With only losing 4-5 billable hours on that one day after taking out all marketing and admin time (which includes my own blogs and products since they're both income streams and marketing tools), I'll come out ahead. Yep. Income will go up overall while work time goes down. Then again, I've always advocated working smarter rather than harder, so is it really a surprise that I'd do it myself?

Now I just need to figure out how to cut out the other four days while increasing income.... When I figure that one out, I'll let you know.

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Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, and indie author. She began writing for clients in 1999 and started her first blog in 2004.

She owns 3 Beat Media - a publishing and client services company which operates All Indie Writers as well as several other websites and blogs including The Busy Author's Guide and BizAmmo. Jenn comes from a background in online PR and social media consulting, having owned a small PR firm for several years before choosing to pursue a full-time writing and publishing career.

Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names in the areas of children's fiction, mysteries, and horror fiction. Jenn is an active member of the Horror Writers Association (HWA) and currently serves as the organization's Assistant Coordinator of Promotions and Social Media.


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5 Comments

  1. Rebecca March 26, 2010 Reply

    Good for you!

    I plan on doing something similar in the near future. As we all know my lifestyle is insane, but every time I start to schedule even one regular day off, I wind up needing it back to stay on top of things. But I have 9 weeks until summer break, and my goal for this summer is to knock things up another level with hourly rates and realign my business with current goals.

    Oh, I’ll also be painting and glazing all of my kitchen and bathroom cabinets, redoing the hardware, finishing my raised garden, landscaping a bit, painting the upstairs, creating and installing built-ins in the dining room (which is really my office – looking forward to that one!) and taking the kids to see the in-laws right outside of Disney World.

    I’m envious of your free time, but I’ll come into my own faster than I want, methinks – I’ll be 45 when the second heads off to college and I won’t know what to do with myself. I’ll probably have to start another business just to fill my empty time. LOL

  2. Catherine L. Tully March 27, 2010 Reply

    For some reason it was exciting to me to see how you were going to spend your free time. It’s so easy to fall into a pattern of working every available moment (or thinking about it!) that it is hard to cultivate hobbies, etc.

    Love it! I’m going to plant some stuff in the yard–you inspired me!

  3. Jennifer Mattern March 27, 2010 Reply

    That’s definitely a part of the problem. Once you schedule that time off, there’s suddenly something that just has to get done, so we sacrifice it. Then the new found time off is gone as quickly as it came. It’s too easy to put our “me time” aside for others.

    Catherine — It was exciting for me to see how I’d spend my free time too. lol It’s strange when you really think about everything you want to to but keep putting off. Everything I listed something I had an “oooh!” moment as it reminded me of something else I want to start doing again now that I’ll have the time. I’ll get even more excited when I choose the exact week and send out any remaining notices to clients. That first Friday off will be a bumming around one I think… just taking some time to bask in it for a bit. :)

  4. Dan Smith March 28, 2010 Reply

    I hope you do manage to do it Jenn – it’s something I’m really aiming for. Not in the near future, but definitely in the next few years.

    Although I’ve been writing for several years, it was only in January this year that I decided I would start to make a real go of it as a career. I’ve worked in the corporate world for years now and while I still work on site for a good chunk of the working week, I’m working more and more on my writing work.

    Yeah, it means that I’m working 70 hour weeks (and that the only time I get to come on AFW is at 11:15pm on a Sunday night…), but hey, it’s what I want to be doing and I’m hoping that in the next few years, working a 4 day week will be the proof that what I’m doing now is worth it.

    Way to go Jenn, good luck.

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