I recently came across a Ted talk with Arianna Huffington about the importance of sleep and productivity and from personal experience I had to agree with her. I see so many freelancers on the verge of burnout as they twitter away about how much work they have to do, how they’re going to pull an all nighter and just in general how they feel like they are never going to catch up or how they can’t shift this cold they’ve had for ages. And I get this, I’ve been there and I learnt the hard way. It’s no recent scientific revelation that the brain needs a decent amount of sleep to function properly, that along with hydration. Sleep is the body’s way of sorting and fixing the brain and body out, lack of good sleep can be quite detrimental. Well that’s easier said than done, I hear people say. Well it all depends on how you look at it but here’s a little bit about my story and sleep deprivation.
I used to suffer really bad insomnia, so bad it left me emotionally and physically fried and I walked into the doctors one day and told them I couldn’t stop crying and I didn’t know why. The first question he asked was ‘How are you sleeping?’ It turned out that several years of not being able to sleep properly had taken its toll and I was pretty much suffering from physical and mental exhaustion. Getting into a good sleep routine is hard, yeah getting to bed on time was easy but actually getting to sleep was another problem altogether, and as a last resort I ended up on medication to help reset my sleeping programme. I don’t advocate going on meds but if that’s what you need, then that’s what you need! But if you can do it without meds then that is better.
It took nearly two years for me to get back into a decent sleep pattern, it seemed weird at first because it literally forced by body and brain to slow down when it had been running at hyper speed for so long but slowly the benefits began to show. I was firstly less snappy even with people who deserved it, I could think clearer which meant I could plan clearer, make better judgements/decisions, the permanent sniffles and regular migraines began to ease up, I just began to function better. Whilst this all might sound obvious, we as a species seem to think that running on four hours sleep is an achievement, something to brag about and it’s not! We all know that lack of sleep can have devastating consequences, like when a driver falls asleep at the wheel, yet we continue to ignore the warning signs and push through and as a freelancer, I know how easy it can be do this.
I quit my old job because the stress was getting beyond ridiculous and I could see me heading back to my old ways of sleepless nights. The job wasn’t going to get better, it was in fact getting worse, the work load was getting bigger as they made other people redundant and not long after I left the company basically got shut down and absorbed, not related, even I’m not that egotistic but I knew that was going to happen and so I got out when I could and I’m so glad I did.
I had this big plan when I left but do you know what I did first? That’s right I slept! For two months I rested and I was in a fortunate enough position to not have to delve back into work right away but it enabled me to plan my future/my business and realistically see that it was going to be a long journey and it would be longer if I tried to cut corners to get there quicker. I opted for the creative field, make stuff and sell it. I’ve learned along the way when are the busier periods and when to take time off during the quieter periods to recharge and plan my future steps. I’ve learned to make sure I’m really prepared for the busier times, like a month or two in advance so I don’t get burned out from all the rushing around. My busiest period is Sept-Jan, I make sure I have a clear-cut plan to deal with these period and you know it works and I can pretty much stick to a ‘normal’ working day. Yes I do end up working a few extra hours here and there and pretty much a seven day week but it’s about time management. There are probably a few people still scoffing at this point and that’s fine, I get that! As freelancers we don’t get sick pay or holiday pay, and we’re constantly worried that the work will dry up, trust me that thought crosses my mind at least twice a day!
But mistakes caused through lack of sleep and tiredness will cost you more in the long run and it will be the stupidest of mistakes that could have been easily avoided if you were on the ball! If you’re constantly tired or sick, you slow down and become less productive. You’re prone to making mistakes that could cost you and your business, and in some cases create even more work for you as you need to fix those mistakes. Sounds silly but when I’m tired I get my husband to double-check my work for me just because he’s usually around but sometimes (most of the time) he’ll spot things I haven’t even though I’ve checked it a ten times already!
The trick (or at least one of them) is to treat to your job like you’re in a full timed employed job for someone else, remember when (that’s if you ever did) work for someone else or a company. How you had set hours, tea breaks, deadlines etc, do the dame for yourself as a freelancer. Easier said than done but seriously it can be done and will benefit you in the long run. Set your hours like you would if you were working for someone else. You’re entitled to personal time, take into account overtime for projects/commissions but remember to bill for your time! Treat any extra hours you do as overtime and don’t feel guilty for taking those hours back to go out and catch up with a friend or go shopping or basically have a day off.
Obviously I’m not a sleep expert or a medical professional or a business expert even, and I can only tell you what I know from personal experience and of course everyone is different. Personally I like being awake at night but for practicality and work purposes I need to sleep at night, some jobs allow you to work the hours and times of day you choose, which is great but don’t neglect the fact that you still need sleep. It’s fine to pull an all nighter on a deadline once in a while but if you find yourself constantly having to pull all nighters to keep up with work, you need to either stop taking on so much work, be better organised or ask for help! There are plenty of other people in the same position as you willing to lend an ear or hand if needs be, even if it’s just referring you to someone else who could be able to help. Remember you can do anything, just not everything! Also get some sleep!