Stop. Eat Lunch.

(Look, it’s a woman laughing alone with salad!)

Lunch today was a baked sweet potato and a PB&J, so not the most healthy, but I did at least attempt to eat it away from my desk. And science says that’s a good thing.

Basically–and you already know this–taking a break makes you more creative and reduces stress, and eating a balanced lunch powers up your brain.

If you have colleagues to eat with (which is not always true of us freelancers), the social interaction can also help advance your career, Kimberly Elsbach, professor of management at the Graduate School of Management at the University of California at Davis, told the Washington Post. An official business lunch doesn’t count as a mentally recharging break, she says, but talking casually with a co-worker does, and can be an effective way to network at the same time. Should you try this as a freelancer, it’s a great way to learn what clients in your area are hiring and get tips from other pros.

What to cook for lunch when you don’t feel like cooking

In The Healthy Freelancer, I share recipes that can be made in quantity ahead of time and then reheated for lunches that taste good and help you power through the second half of your day. I like this kind of recipe because it means you cook once and eat for a week.

But sometimes even that is a lot of work. So I’m going to try to share on this blog a few recipes that take even less hands-on time. One really good trick in that case is the Kale Bowl. You’re not going to win any presentation awards with this, but it will fill you up while tasting good and also delivering tons of vitamins.

Ingredients:

3/4 cup cooked rice (don’t have leftover rice in the fridge? It’s easy to start a pot of rice and ignore it/do work in the other room while it cooks–just set a timer or something to go check on it.)
About 4 cups roughly chopped, loosely packed kale, washed

Put those things in a microwave safe bowl with about two tablespoons (or a splash) of water and microwave on HIGH, checking every minute or so for the kale to become bright green and slightly wilted. Mix vigorously and add your favorite seasonings. A pre-mixed spice blend, like this one, makes lunch super easy, but you could also add sesame seeds, soy sauce, or toasted sesame oil.

Friends of mine say their no-cook meals are popcorn, or pasta with sauce from a jar and a few garlic cloves. What’s your go-to hot lunch when working from home?

These are the best free soundtracks for freelancing

Or so I think.

Working from home has some serious advantages, not least of which being that you can listen to any music you want, without headphones. But I dunno about you, but I find music with lyrics really distracting when I’m trying to read or write…the lyrics sort of get priority in my head and I lose the thread of whatever sentence I was trying to compose.

So if you can stand lyrics, then by all means put on whatever you like best! If not, here are a couple ideas that I really like:

 

  • Rainymood.com – this isn’t so much music as a set of relaxing background sounds. Load Rainymood and you have a mini thunderstorm in your home office. I also like to run Rainymood at the same time as Spotify or Pandora. It sounds weird, but thunder can really improve some music.
  • Coffitivity.com – again, not so much music as background noise. This site makes your office sound like a busy coffee shop, with other people getting work done next to you. It’s like a real coffee shop except you can mute it for phone calls and the Wifi is way better.
  • Sometimes, especially on days like today where it is cold and foggy, all I want is to be somewhere else, so I put on the sounds of the beach. Don’t like beaches? Try searching YouTube for waterfalls, rainforests, or whatever really floats your boat.
  • The “Mozart effect” may be overrated, but on the other hand, there may be something to the idea of listening to music with a regular, consistent beat — and one that’s not too fast, not too slow. Spotify, Pandora and Youtube are your friends here (as is the local library), or just livestream a classical radio station.

What do you like to listen to to get things done?

How much ‘should’ you work as a freelancer?

A couple of years ago a freelance friend of mine sent me a link to a blog post where another freelancer had outlined her typical schedule for the day. I can’t find that post now so I’m recreating this basically from memory, but bear with me — I promise this will be relevant.

The freelancer’s schedule was demanding, in a way, but also very flexible to this person’s specific needs. So while she got up fairly early and checked her email, she would then take an hour-long break to cook a big healthy breakfast and walk her significant other to the train station. Then she’d do some more work for an hour or so, and take a long lunch. The afternoon was more work time broken up by a generous workout, and she stopped working around 4pm to do errands and cook dinner. She’d meet her husband on his way back from work to get more walking in, they’d have a nice leisurely dinner, and then they’d finish out their night with chores around the house and a little more emailing for this freelancer.

My friend sent me this schedule and asked what I thought of it. I looked at the long walks, the leisurely cooking, and the 4pm quitting time. I thought of the clients I was juggling, the seemingly neverending stream of non-billable work that still has to get done, like answering emails, sending invoices, and organizing papers. And I said, “There’s no way I could do that.”

My friend said, “I agree. She’s working SO MUCH.”

So, what I had thought was “not at nearly enough time to get anything done” was my friend’s idea of working nonstop. And let’s be clear here—in some ways, the things you accomplish are not at all related to how much time you put in. But for the purposes of this post, we’re just talking about hours worked.

This told me two things. One: everyone has a different idea of how much they ‘should’ work. Two: My friend was having a lot more fun than I was.

But mostly, it’s a reminder that what works for one person is not what works for another. I kind of like the idea of working (roughly) 9-5, Monday through Friday, with (short) breaks for exercise and lunch. I don’t take an hour for lunch and I don’t quit at 4, but I also try not to check my email before or after work hours.

Other people might want to only work in the mornings, and spend time volunteering or taking care of family members in the afternoons. Others may sleep late and work until 8 or 9 at night. Whatever works for you. There’s a myth, I think, that the person who works the most is going to be the most successful freelancer. But I’m not sure that’s true.

There’s also the concept of an internal set point. There are lots of ways to calculate your rate as a freelancer but in general you probably have a decent idea of how much money you need to get you through the month feeling OK. That number may be a squishy range, but you probably have a general idea of what it is.

And if you’re on track to make that number, you may find yourself, as my mom says, “farting around” a little more. Maybe you’re spending a little more time on Facebook or sleeping a little more or spending more time daydreaming or thinking up new ideas for your business. If you’re not on track, your internal accountant is lighting a fire under your butt to get you to hustle. So of course money will affect how much you work. But beyond that, if you want to only work a few hours a day and spend the rest of your time cooking tiny meals for hamsters or catching up on Netflix, you do you. If it makes you happy and you’re making a dollar amount you can live with, you’re winning.

My prayers have been answered: True Lemon in a shaker

61N6gyOOv3L._SY679_I posted back in the day about how much I love TrueLemon for my water. TrueLemon is, as far as I can tell, actual powdered lemon with maybe a little extra vitamin C in it. More importantly, I like the taste a lot better than Crystal Light or whatever those other things are. I use it in my water almost every day. If I buy a real lemon it invariably gets lost in the fridge and then turns into a scary dried-out alien looking thing.

My only complaint with TrueLemon was that it only came in individual packets, which is great for portioning but super wasteful. Now I finally found that it comes in a shaker! This is so great.

Seriously, this thing is a really easy way to convince yourself to drink more water. And it’s like $4 on Amazon. And, while I have this at home and use it during the day, there’s no reason why folks who go into an office couldn’t keep one in their desk drawer, so this is a product for not just freelancers but anyone who needs to drink more water.

I promise I haven’t been paid by True Lemon to endorse this. But if they wanted to send me a lemony care package I would definitely be OK with that.

What’s your best self-care ritual?

I’ve been reading that rituals are important for happiness and productivity. It doesn’t even matter what the rituals are as long as they’re yours…and in fact this post says that the #1 ritual you should do every day is have more rituals.

In other words,

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So you’re having a bad day. Maybe freelancing is really getting you down. You’re stuck in a rut, you’ve got a client that drives you crazy, you’re working 12 hour days, whatever it is. It’s important to take time to care for yourself.

Me, I like to work out. It doesn’t really matter what it is; I’m slowly getting back into running after a knee injury, but I also enjoy lifting weights and just dancing around the living room with some good music on. Exercise releases so many good hormones and has so many positive effects on your mood it’s basically a no brainer. I guess you could argue that the act of lacing up my shoes, putting on headphones and picking out the best music is kind of a ritual. I’m going to think of it that way next time and see if it makes me run faster or farther.

Other things that might be rituals:

-Having a nice snack. Eating an entire bag of crispy wonton strips isn’t a ritual (not that I’ve ever done this) but getting out a nice plate and napkin, pouring yourself a glass of (sparkling?) water, and having something healthy that will make you feel good about yourself for the rest of the day certainly can be.

-Leaving work behind at a certain hour and putting on your favorite music or TV show as a reward is totally a ritual. Just giving up and flopping on the couch with Netflix is likely to make you feel sluggish and worse about a bad day, but again, it’s all in how you frame it. If you think to yourself: I worked hard today and am rewarding myself with this episode of Gotham , you’re more likely to get positive benefits from the show.

How do you take care of yourself especially after a long day freelancing?