A day in the (freelance) life: UK edition

August 20, 2021

Even though many of us spent the last year working remotely, people still seem intrigued when you say you’re freelance. It’s understandable. Lots of people work nine to five, even if they’re working from home. So, having to find work and plan your own time can seem alien when you’re used to full-time employment. So, today I’m going to take you behind the scenes and give you a glimpse into my usual working day.

No two days are the same

Let’s start off with the big caveat that no day is the same when you’re freelance; perhaps even more so if you work in communications. Something can happen at any time that changes all your plans for that day. Yesterday, I got a commission with an urgent deadline in the middle of the afternoon. I had to drop everything to turn around an article and file in the next few hours. But, as I manage my own time, I took the next morning off completely to recuperate and did a few hours over the weekend to get back on track.

Why I don’t miss the 9—5

The ability to vary my day depending on my focus, energy levels and other commitments is why I love being freelance. I’m not stuck at a desk at 3pm when I’m tired and not able to concentrate, just because those are the hours enforced on me by an employer. For me, it’s actually made me more productive. Instead of forcing myself to power through my ‘afternoon dip’ and having a, frankly, unproductive couple of hours, I can take a guilt-free break. Then, I and come back to my work refreshed and with renewed focus. It’s not right for everyone but being empowered to take control of my own day – and take breaks when I need them – has enabled me to be more efficient and motivated.

Anyway, enough of the preamble and let’s dive into my usual day…

Gearing up for the day

Those who know me well will know that I’m definitely not a morning person. So don’t expect a 6am start to squeeze in a gym session before I get going! Unless I have a meeting first thing (which I try to avoid), I get up at around 8am, have a shower and make breakfast. Then, I’ll make myself a coffee, put on a podcast and settle in for the day. First up: checking emails and reviewing my to do list. Once I’ve made a plan, I dive right in. I tend to focus better in the morning. So, from 10am until lunch is when I usually work on more complex projects that require higher levels of focus. This might be writing an article, drafting a press release or preparing a communications strategy. Now and again, I also like to mix up my location and work from a local coffee shop instead of my home office.

Lunch break

After a (hopefully) productive morning, I stop anywhere between 11.30 and 1.30. That’s when I head to the gym for a yoga or Hiit class. Having to book exercise classes in advance – as they get pretty booked up – keeps me accountable. It forces me to stop for a break even if I feel like I could power through (and then, inevitably, hit a wall). Depending on the weather and how busy I am, I walk, cycle or drive to the gym. This also means the length of my lunchbreak can vary quite a bit. If it’s a lovely day and I have time to walk, I might listen to a sustainability or professional development podcast (Being Freelance is among my favourites!) or even dictate a blog post using my transcription software. Once home, I’ll make a quick bite to eat at the computer and get back on with my tasks.

Rather than feeling guilty at taking a bigger than usual chunk out of my day over lunchtime, I try to prioritise this time. Since I’ve started doing this, I don’t tend to get those afternoon ‘I just can’t concentrate’ slumps anymore. Also, taking myself away from the computer and doing something completely different – whether it be listening to a podcast, chatting to someone at the gym or going for a swim – often provides great inspiration for my work. Have you noticed you come up with your best ideas when you’re in the shower or going for a walk?

Cracking on

After a decent break, I’m ready to hit the computer again. This is often when I lean towards less complex tasks such as research, updating press lists, bookkeeping or replying to emails. With plenty of tea (and biscuit) breaks, of course. I find early afternoon is also a good time for meetings or my PR Power Hours.

Winding down

From around 4pm, the cats start to herald the end of the day by meowing desperately for dinner (even though they’re not fed until about 5.30pm). So, apologies if you’ve had a late afternoon call with me – they almost definitely disturbed it. I’ll break relatively early for a bit of dinner and, usually, go back to my desk for a couple of hours. I usually manage to have a pretty productive chunk of time in the evening; particularly because most people have usually wrapped up for the day so my inbox tends to be quieter (another freelance flexibility win!).  

Easy like Sunday morning

Because my weekly ocean conservation digest – Baleen – goes out on Monday, I usually prepare it on Sundays. Ideally, I make sure I have a nice coffee and perhaps even a slice of cake to sweeten the deal. If I have other bits of work to do, sometimes I’ll get those sorted over the weekend too. I do try – but don’t always succeed – to take the time back with a break during the week. This flexibility is great when a friend is passing through town on a Tuesday and wants to meet for coffee. As long as I don’t have an imminent deadline, why not? I can catch up at another time that suits me. So, if any of my friends are reading this and fancy a 10am coffee one day, hit me up..

On the road again

This ‘day in the life’ is obviously based on my usual day when living in the UK. That’s because I’ve been based here since the pandemic hit. However, travel restrictions allowing, I usually spend part of the year in Tofo, Mozambique. I fell in love with Tofo when I used to volunteer there for the Marine Megafauna Foundation. A huge benefit of being freelance is being able to be super flexible with my location too. As you might imagine, my day-to-day living on the East African coastline is pretty different from the UK. So, keep an eye out for a follow up blog where I’ll share details of my Mozambican daily life. Watch this space!

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Melissa is currently available for PR briefs and writing commissions and is happy to discuss how she can support your goals.

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