I’ve been a freelance web designer since 1999. And I know where I’ll be most days. I’m usually here at my desk, plugging away at projects.
But that’s where the predictability ends. That’s because my to-do list is subject to change. One request from a client can disrupt everything. No matter how much I plan. My schedule is in a constant state of flux.
I’ve learned to accept the situation. Or have I? A recent tweet made me think about how unpredictable my days are. And I’m not the only one dealing with uncertainty. Other freelancers have shared their frustrations as well.
Sometimes web designers need to shift gears faster than a Ferrari. That’s just reality. So, how do we cope with it? And what can we do to lessen the need? Here are a few thoughts on dealing with an unpredictable life.
No Routine Is Safe
I love having a routine. I find security in knowing what I’ll be doing each day. Maybe a down-to-the-minute itinerary is boring. But cold comfort is the payoff.
But working with clients throws a wrench into your schedule. You can’t predict when they’ll need something. When they do, it can leave you scrambling.
Oddly enough, it seems like these requests come in bunches. For example, there are some clients I hear from once a year (if that). And yet there are days when I’ll receive messages from several of them. Maybe it has something to do with the alignment of the stars.
Sometimes their requests are a minor disruption. But others can quickly lead you down a rabbit hole. Troubleshooting a broken website is a classic example. This type of situation can quickly eat up chunks of your time.
This results in a domino effect. You’re suddenly behind schedule. And that thing you needed to get done today must wait until tomorrow. It’s a frustrating feeling, for sure.
Adjust and Prioritize Your Projects
I’m far from perfect when dealing with disruptions. But I have learned a few lessons, too. Prioritizing projects is chief among them.
It’s important to consider how a request fits into your queue. Is it an emergency? Are you working on a tight deadline? How much revenue does your client generate?
Each of the above can help you determine the order of importance. For instance, a low-revenue client who needs a simple text change shouldn’t be a priority. That’s not to say you should ignore their needs. Just don’t drop everything you’re doing for them.
Adjusting the expectations of you and your client is also worth doing. Setting aggressive deadlines is likely to blow up in your face. Therefore, add extra time when estimating a project. Do your best to prepare for the unexpected.
It’s an absolute must for solo freelancers. You don’t have a colleague to pick up the slack. Thus, give yourself room to breathe. Time lost to an emergency won’t be as big of a burden.
Dealing with the Ups and Downs
Unpredictability takes a mental toll on freelancers. It’s easy to feel like you can’t accomplish your goals. Frequent interruptions can grind progress to a halt.
You might become hesitant to book new projects. Making that commitment is difficult when you’re already struggling. Who wants to add fuel to the fire?
Learning to cope is a process. But several things can help.
First, take a moment to collect yourself when switching gears. Get away from your computer for a bit. You’ll be able to clear your head before starting something new.
It’s also worth looking at efficiency. Are there any workflow changes that will make things easier? For example, you might find an AI tool that helps you troubleshoot code. Getting things done faster may result in less stress.
Accept the reality of freelancing. You’re here to serve clients. And their needs won’t always be convenient. Therefore, take them as they come.
Finally, give yourself some grace. It’s OK to get frustrated. That’s part of the journey. However, don’t let it take over your life. You’ll find your way back to that to-do list in time.
Don’t Let It Go to Your Head
You never know what each day will bring. For web designers, that means our schedules can change in an instant. One email can lay waste to our best-laid plans.
Eliminating this unpredictability isn’t realistic. Thus, we must learn to adapt. Being clear-headed about it is your best weapon. Mindlessly rushing through the difficulties won’t help.
I can attest that some days are challenging. But you can learn to put them behind you. Perhaps a career in web design should come with a warning label: Your day may not go as planned.
The Unpredictable Life of a Freelance Web Designer Medianic.