Thoughts on life, writing, art, and health.
When I discovered mindfulness as part of a therapy for my PTSD, my life changed. It didn’t change all at once, because to be more mindful takes time and various approaches, but there is a stark “before” and “after” for when I began learning and implementing mindfulness.
My introduction to mindfulness began with a trauma counsellor who practiced Buddhism and loved metaphors—we got along incredibly well. She didn’t initially tell me to be more mindful in order to heal from my trauma, but her approaches and expertise were informed by mindfulness therapy. I started researching how to be more mindful after she introduced concepts and techniques.
Almost two years after my sessions with her, I went to a mindfulness-based cognitive behavioural therapy course… and that’s when I really embraced the reality that, to heal more efficiently and completely, I needed to be more mindful.
“Mindfulness” conjures up meditating with the eyes closed, zen gardens, pleasant and lush streams through green vistas, breathing exercises, and the occasional burst of gong and incense. But it’s much more than that.
I bring mindfulness into every aspect of my life, including my freelance work.
Here are three ways I incorporate it into my work as a freelancer to help maintain a healthy work life balance, even during times when I don’t leave the house for a week.
Become aware with RescueTime
Unlike some programs that penalize you for becoming distracted or losing focus, RescueTime helps you become aware. Awareness is a cornerstone of mindfulness. Once you are aware of something, your attitude toward it can change. This is especially true for habits and unfocused tech use for freelancers at their computers
You can beat yourself up over and over for not being “productive” all day, but if you aren’t aware of the time you’ve spent doing different activities, how can you be aware of your productivity? RescueTime analysed data from 85 million hours of working time from their users in 2018 to look at work life balance and productivity. Even just looking at other people’s data (hey, maybe mine is there too!), I feel an urge to be more mindful with how I use my computer.
I joined in 2018 as a free user, and then bought the premium plan for 2019. I’ve since renewed the yearly plan for 2020 because I just can’t picture my work life without RescueTime. I use the program on my computer and my phone, so even the number of seconds I spend texting or playing games gets recorded.
When I embarked on a social media sabbatical last summer, RescueTime was a key factor in bringing awareness into my habits… and then helping me change them for the better. It’s been one of the best ways to be more mindful of my freelancing time, wasted time, and entertainment time.
Bookend your day with mindfulness
I start and end my days with a few hours—yes, hours—of time for myself. I’m a morning person, and I also need time to transition into my workspace at home. From 6am to 8am, it’s all about me. I have sleep problems and need to buffer my work’s end with enough time to settle into my life. So from 5pm to 8pm, it’s also all about me.
It seems like a lot of effort to spend so many hours with the goal of “be more mindful”, but I’m not sitting and meditating for 5 hours each day. I do things with mindfulness.
There are so many ways to practice mindfulness on its own, but it can and should be present in other ways. To be more mindful, you need to apply it liberally and often. Mindful meditating for 5 minutes a day is a great place to start, but you can’t toe the bottom rung of the ladder forever. You must continue. You must move on. You must be more mindful of yourself.
At the start of my day, I mindfully…
- Meditate (I have a number of favourite guided meditations I use)
- Exercise (for 15 – 60 minutes, depending on my mood, energy, etc.)
- Eat breakfast
- Plan my day
After I finish work, I mindfully…
- Check RescueTime to reflect on the day’s productivity
- Review my planner
- Do chores
- Eat dinner
- Journal (usually with prompts)
I could sit and do all of these at one time before bed. I could cherry-pick and do one or two every single day at the same time. But these are habitual activities that benefit from being done mindfully.
These also create the much-needed buffer between my work and life as a freelancer.
Journal about your freelance work
I journal at the end of the day with prompts, or I freewrite like in a diary, or I record a log about my day’s activities and thoughts. But I also journal about my work to be more mindful of my freelancing and work life balance.
You could consider this a self-assessment or a self-evaluation, but you don’t need to journal about your identity, values, traits, and behaviour. The work journal should focus on work, so your scope of topics to write about can extend much, much further than your emotions.
A work journal can improve your work life balance by keeping the freelancing out of your diary. It can also act as a net to collect all the ideas, advice, testimonials, frustrations, and lessons you’ve learned. You can assess your progress as a freelancer over time, too—which is another sneaky way to be more mindful!
You don’t have to be a freelancer to follow this advice. If you have a simple and general goal to be more mindful, these can be great ways to do so.
Work life balance is both incredibly difficult and rewarding. I would say it’s necessary for good mental health. When you’re a freelancer, or when you work from home, your balance can get so, so messed up. Your work space is in your home space. There are less physical barriers—commute, office building, work uniform and dress code, co-workers instead of family—between your work and your personal life. The mental barriers can also blur if you have a passion job like I do, and your work and hobbies are scarily similar.
Being more mindful can improve your work life balance and productivity, even if you’re not a freelancer.