When does a freelancer's workday stop?

A former boss of mine has taken to calling me around 6:30 a.m. sometimes. I’m not awake, so he’ll leave a message.

“Are you taking a nap or something?” he might ask. “Because I know you can’t still be asleep from last night this late in the day.”

I’m a freelance journalist without much of a strict schedule most days. While on occasion, I’ve gotten an early-enough start between 7:30 a.m. and 8:30 a.m., I often don’t get up until nine in the morning. While I almost begin working right away, I do, on occasion, not even begin work until ten. A rare exception has seen me doing so later still.

This is obscene to friends, bosses and even some family of mine. It doesn’t much matter to anyone that, despite my relatively late start on the day, I very rarely work less than 10-12 hours a day, often six, if not seven days a week.

I’m just getting my professional freelancing start in a bad economy and a frightened print industry, so – though I’ve made it a point to get back out and have some fun from time to time – my work schedule sometimes borders on obsessive.

I love not needing an alarm clock or needing to commute, but I wonder what my guilt about that drives me to do. When does the workday for a freelance journalist end?

In the very beginning, I was making it a point to wake up before 9 a.m. and often going later than midnight. Writing, sending pitches, editing, e-mailing and calling editors and reporters and advisers and mentors.

For the first few months of my first fulltime freelancing binge, I’ve enjoyed it, considering much of it time among the benefits in this conflicted career of mine. But lines blur quickly.

I find my work breaking down into several categories, which I’m trying to prioritize.

Weekdays (9-6; M-F)

  • Writing and reporting — directly related to a paycheck via a story I’ve pitched and had accepted
  • Researching and pitching — finding an idea or taking one and twisting it, seeing if it carries weight, crafting a pitch, and finding various homes for it.
  • Networking — lunches and e-mails, phone calls and meetings.
  • Professional development — Attending conferences, developing sources and creating a readership.

Weekday Nights (6-12; M-F)

  • Side projects — putting work into currently un-monetized projects like Technically Philly, NEastPhilly.com and some others. These include any project I hope may have some reason to bring in income in the future.
  • Non billable hours — While most of the items on this list don’t bring in money, this refers to everything I do that relates to the fiscal soundness of my freelance business but don’t fit elsewhere, like filing and organizing tax documents, cleaning my workspace, speaking to my mobile phone carrier, banking and finance, among others.
  • Exercise — Man, I’m trying to keep healthy and not develop that reporter’s butt, so I do let this creep into weekday time if things are slow.

Weekends (Sat. and Sun., holidays)

  • Branding — Upkeep of my resume, portfolio, this blog and any other that fills a professional role. I also include social-networking upkeep, which I think has the possibility to create a core readership who might follow my work in the future. I do often share links and converse on Twitter throughout the week, though that times waxes and wanes with my other requirements.
  • Errands — The stuff we all do, like groceries, cleaning my apartment and dishes. For instance, my bicycle has a damn flat tire I need to take care of. I do dash off to the bank and the post office for ease during weekdays, though I try to limit eating into my workday, when I have access to others who mirror a normal workday. I also try to deal with personal finance separate from my business finance, though that’s sometimes difficult. Still, I try to deal with student loans and utility bills during the weekends, leaving business finances for weekday nights.
  • Personal workPersonal writing and the infrequent time I put into My Life To-do List or other sites.

With so much going on, it’s hard to balance it all. I find it helpful to quarter off my time, so I stay fresh and interested in everything, fighting burnout and boredom.

So, come 6 p.m. on weekdays, unless I’m on a bit of a roll or am on deadline, I put away the basics of my business and move onto administrative tasks and side projects. On weekends, I try to accomplish everything I need to but don’t want to spend time on during the week.

That way, I enjoy the rhythm of time separation, while remaning excited and efficitent.

This is putting first things first, for all you highly effective freelance journalists out there.

It might be worth for you to write all of this down. Any thoughts?

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