Transitioning to a Freelance Workstyle: Part 1

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Accountability and Community

When you are used to working in a corporate environment then you derive huge comfort from the fact that others are holding you accountable for what you do. There are a whole set of external interventions that keep you on track.  People working for you demand your attention. The people you work for demand your attention.  Clients and suppliers demand your attention. There’s a whole set of activities that keep you moving on. 

In addition, you have a natural community at work, and for most of you who are social animals just having that day-to-day interaction with colleagues, suppliers and clients is an important part of your total lifestyle.

Recreating Accountability and Community

When you step out on your own as a Portfolio Executives it becomes very important to recreate many of those valuable things that you’ve benefited from in a corporate workstyle.

It may be for you, the transition is natural, easy, and straightforward. You find it easy to create your own pattern of work. You find it easy to initiate your interactions with other people. You find it easy to build relationships beyond your former environment and you find it easy to balance what you’re doing at work with what you’re doing at home.

But for most of you, the transition is much more substantial than you expect. There are some things that I’d strongly encourage you to plan as you make this transition so that alongside all the changes in finding different work, with different people, in different ways you’ve also started to put in place the things that will enable you to live in this new environment.

I suggest you review the following:

Working from home

The first thing is as an independent you will primarily be working from home.  With lockdown, many of us have had experience of working from home. For me personally, I went through a cycle of being always on: my phone and computer went on at 7 o’clock in the morning. I was in back-to-back Zoom sessions until 8 o’clock at night.  I began to realize this was unsustainable. Because I didn’t have to travel, I lost the change of pace and environment from the commute.  Because Zoom meant that every single meeting could be back-to-back, I didn’t have the natural break between sessions. Because it was relatively easy for me to snack, I rarely had a proper lunch break.

After about 9 months of this kind of work style, it became clear that it really didn’t suit me. Yes, I loved the interaction. Yes, I loved being able to keep up a high level of productivity. But I couldn’t thrive unless I had breaks, moved around and had a variety of activities. I tried to be very intentional about having a break in there at lunchtime, making sure my day ended at 6 o’clock in the evening and creating gaps between meetings.

But you can easily swing to the other extreme. Because there’s no longer a compelling reason to start at 8 o’clock or 9 o’clock or 10 o’clock in the morning, you are tempted to have a slow, flexible start and you can realize that it’s almost lunchtime and you haven’t really got stuck into anything productive.

Taking Control

I encourage you to be very intentional about recognizing what part of the day you are most effective for different kinds of tasks. This will require experimenting and practice because you’re creating a new kind of rhythm outside the constraints of your previous corporate life.

The freedom that you have of working when you want and where you want also gives you responsibility for creating intention about the workstyle you want.

So, for some of you, you are incredibly productive between 6 o’clock in the morning and 11 o’clock in the morning when you want to do intensive focused work. For others of you, the time until 11 o’clock in the morning better used doing domestic chores, walking the dogs, going to the gym, so that a leisurely slow start will mean that when you sit down at 11 o’clock in the morning, you are ready to do your very best work.

I have Portfolio Executives I’m working with whose natural rhythm is to do bits and pieces perhaps from 11am until 2pm. They can get stuck in between 2pm and 6pm to be highly productive with detailed work.  They take a break with the family between 6pm and 8pm, and they’re ready to do another, 2 or 3 hours of highly productive work between 8pm and 11pm.

Find your natural rhythm.  Use the freedom of the Portfolio Executive Workstyle to build that rhythm. Choose when to engage with your family and your clients to manage yourself in a rhythm that plays to the chronological strengths with the new freedom that has released you from the constraints of a corporate lifestyle. Experiment, reflect and revise your schedule with clear intent to maximise the benefits for you and your family.

The biggest risk is that you get caught up in a bit of this and a bit of that and you never create the space to do the focused work you need. You never get to grips with the highly productive and efficient thinking and delivery work that will make you successful.

Identify the kinds of activities to be done

The second thing is to start to build clarity about the kinds of work activities that you’ve got to do.  Recognize those that you’re going to enjoy and those that just must be done. Those that can be done when you’ve got low energy and those that require high energy.  Start to recognize which kinds of activities energize you and which kinds of activity drain you.

In the early days, you probably can’t avoid those draining activities but plan them for times of low energy so that you’re freeing up your high energy times to do the most valuable work. Schedule the ‘drainers’ as early things to delegate to others.

Let me give you some concrete examples:

Bookkeeping for me, is draining. It’s low energy. Submitting my expenses, keeping my accounts up to date, doing the VAT and tax.  I hate doing it and I made the decision very early on to delegate this all to a bookkeeper.  But I still do all my sales invoices. Why? It’s not a huge amount of work. It keeps me in touch with the revenue side of the business.  I can check what’s going on with clients. Importantly, the work of helping somebody else to do it is almost as much work as generating the sales invoices myself.

I set aside, 60-90 minutes of high productivity time, typically starting at 7am, to get all my sales invoices out as draft. There’s then a low-energy activity which is checking and sending them that I will do when I’ve got little energy as a fill-in task when I’m feeling a bit tired and I can just do something that doesn’t require a lot of thought.

Similarly, there are tasks that for me I need to be on top of my game. To create new content and write new articles, I need to be in a high-energy mode. Therefore, I will choose a time when I’m in a good place to get the content done.  But the temptation is to think I need a whole afternoon or a 2-hour slot to do anything useful. I find these two or four hour slots get squeezed out by all of the itty-bitty stuff. I never get around to that high-value-added activity.

What I’ve realized is that by breaking this task down into different activities that support a completed task, I can do something productive in a relatively small time slot which builds to the whole. If I’m writing an article, then there’s the creative piece of generating the initial idea.  I can dictate an initial draft in 5-10 minutes for a 1,000-word article. The transcription, I delegate. The editing is relatively low energy, I can do that as a fill-in task when I’ve got some spare time. To edit a 1,000-word article takes 10-15 minutes.  It’s a small, fill-in task. Once I get on a roll, I can spend 60-90 minutes in one go and edit a whole series of articles very productively. But if I waited for an opportunity to spend 90 minutes, I would never get started.

Similarly, on the business development side, I love having conversations with potential clients. But the process of arranging the meetings is energy-draining. So, I use that time when I’m in a low-energy state just fill that stuff in as rote, and then I slated it very early on as a task to delegate.

What I’m trying to do is build a pattern of working where, for the low energy, draining tasks, I do it at a low energy time, so it doesn’t impact my best quality work. I plan to delegate these draining tasks to somebody else.

If there are things that you find you’re never quite getting around to then note them, recognize those are probably draining tasks for you rather than stimulating and then put them into low energy times, just get them done, and plan to delegate them to others when you can afford to. 


Charles McLachlan is the founder of FuturePerfect and on a mission to transform the future of work and business. The Portfolio Executive programme is a new initiative to help executives build a sustainable and impactful second-half-career. Creating an alternative future takes imagination, design, organisation and many other thinking skills. Charles is happy to lend them to you.