Many people imagine that freelancers have lives drastically different from those of their nine-to-five friends. Freelancers have control over their work setting, their schedule and every other aspect of their business. With no one else making demands, it’s natural to assume that working for yourself would mean working less.
Though it’s true that some freelancers work less than the average employee, many work more than 40 hours per week. So, while freelancers may work from home in their pajamas, they also know how to hustle.
As a freelancer, time management equals money management. Since it is reported that as many as 90 percent of online businesses (and if you’re a freelancer, that’s probably you) fail, it’s imperative to make sure you’re approaching your freelance projects the best way possible.
For those just starting, determining the ideal work schedule can feel confusing, and meeting that work schedule while also paying all the bills can be equally challenging. Even experienced freelancers may wonder if they’re working too little or too much.
Though everyone has different needs and preferences, most freelancers have some things in common with other workers — namely, the need to earn a living and maintain a healthy work-life balance. Whether you’re new to freelancing or a seasoned professional, you need to structure your work week for maximum productivity and happiness.
Let’s take a look at how freelancers spend their time and determine how many hours you should work when you work for yourself.
How Many Hours Does the Average Freelancer Work?
According to one 2016 survey, a full-time freelancer works an average of 36 hours per week. This schedule is about on par with the rest of American workers, though some freelancers work more or less than this average.
The main difference between freelancers and regular employees lies in their use of time. An employee working full-time for an average company spends most of the day performing tasks related to their specific area of expertise or training. If they are a customer service representative, they work with customers. If they work in a kitchen, they spend the majority of their time cooking food. Rarely do typical employees step outside of their job description to handle other duties — the designer doesn’t control the finances and vice versa.
For freelancers, every aspect of running a business is essential to the day-to-day, even elements that aren’t directly related to the freelancer’s field. For example, a freelance designer may handle tasks related to accounting, marketing, and customer service in addition to their artistic work.
What’s more, many hours freelancers spend maintaining and promoting their business go unpaid. One survey reports that only 49 percent of freelance writers surveyed wrote for more than 14 hours per week. They spent the rest of their time doing equally important work unbillable to clients. So, the average freelancer works about as much as the average U.S. worker — but doesn’t always get paid for every hour they work.
What Determines Freelance Working Hours?
One of the most exciting aspects of freelancing is the ability to set your schedule. When you work for yourself, there’s more room for flexibility. You can work wherever and whenever you want, as long as you’re still able to work with clients.
Though freelancers do make their schedules, factors aside from personal preference influence the number of hours they work. Some freelancers may restrict the number of hours they work to accommodate a second job or another commitment, for example.
Your rates and experience may also influence the number of hours you put in weekly. The more experience you have as a freelancer, the more likely you are to have a steady flow of clients. When work is readily available, freelancers spend less time marketing and searching for clients and more time doing the work that pays. Similarly, freelancers who can charge higher rates may work less because they require fewer hours of pay to meet their financial needs.
The industry also determines working hours for some freelancers, especially in sectors that require frequent job searching. IT and programming freelancers spend the least amount of time searching for work since they tend to land longer-term gigs. Legal freelancers, on the other hand, spend the most time hunting for work for the opposite reason — they don’t often have long-term repeat clients.
The number of hours you need to work per week, then, will rely on your financial needs, experience and the client turnover rate in your industry.
How Many Hours Should You Work?
Though the average freelancer works 36 or more hours per week, the ideal work week for creative freelancers may be shorter. While you should certainly follow whatever schedule works best for you, research suggests that you might want to rethink a self-enforced nine to five.
Most workers know productivity fluctuates throughout the day. It becomes evident that the quality of work decreases as fatigue increases when you start to make mistakes or doze off at your desk. In industries like manufacturing, the 40 hour work week marks the point when asking people to work more becomes unprofitable and dangerous.
Though most freelancers won’t risk injury or muscle strain by working long hours, the brain gets tired like the rest of the body. In fact, “knowledge workers” like writers and coders typically perform best with even shorter work days than manual laborers, because focus falls after six hours during creative and mentally taxing work.
Furthermore, creating a healthy work-life balance is essential to succeeding as a freelancer. Though you’re responsible for your work, you also need to be accountable for your health and happiness. Isolation and burnout only make work more difficult, so reserving adequate time for relaxation and socialization helps keep freelancers functioning at their best.
It seems that working less as a freelancer is both an ideal and a best practice.
How Can You Work Less as a Freelancer?
Because freelancers have so much freedom in their careers, it can be possible for them to work less while still earning a decent living. Successful freelancers work fewer hours by working efficiently and optimizing their businesses.
One way you can work fewer hours is to improve your working efficiency. As a freelancer, you can arrange your schedule and control your work environment to maximize productivity, which can help you accomplish the same amount of work in a shorter amount of time, consolidating your schedule.
To work more efficiently, try scheduling work during optimal times of the day, removing distractions from your workspace and tracking the time you spend on specific tasks.
Experienced freelancers can also work less by working their connections. After several years of freelancing, you may have a steady stream of clients. Successful freelancers take on new clients from their networks and cut most forms of outreach from their schedule. These people know their limits and decline projects they don’t have time to complete.
In general, the more time you can spend working on actual projects, the more you’ll earn, and the fewer hours you’ll need to work.
Make Your Schedule Work for You
Many people find themselves attracted to a freelancing career by the promise of flexibility. Indeed, a freelancing career can grant more flexible hours, scheduling and work-life balance.
Though it may take a while to turn a shorter work week into your reality, knowing your industry, monitoring your needs and optimizing your process can help you accomplish your goals.