FREELANCING AND THE PARADOX OF CHOICE
You’re probably familiar with the Paradox of Choice: the theory that suggests that the more choice we have, the less happy we tend to be. Even though the thesis was based on consumer anxiety among shoppers with too many options to choose from, it often strikes me as a particularly relevant to the reality of freelance life.
Chances are, you became a freelancer because you wanted, well, freedom. And now you’ve got too much of it. On those days when you’re not run into the ground with deadlines, you find yourself staring at an empty schedule with no idea where to start. The problem is that you could technically do anything – chase any contact, pitch any idea, work on any passion project – and yet you’re paralysed by anxiety about where your energy would best be spent.
If this sounds like a familiar dilemma and you’re currently struggling to figure out what to do next, here are a few ideas on how to break out of the mental rut.
Free Yourself From The Cult of Productivity
I’m all for getting a lot done in a day. I like a productivity manual as much as the next Type A personality. But sometimes - usually when I’ve just finished a really intense spell of work - I find myself wondering why I find it so difficult to enjoy ‘downtime’ for anything more than half a day. Part of the answer, I’m convinced, lies in our cultural obsession with productivity and efficiency; this idea that we should be ticking things off the to-do list all day, every day. This obsession with busyness is so ingrained in western culture that we often forget to just be. I’m not advocating a life of sloth - that’s not good for anyone’s body or mind - but if you’re becoming overly anxious about not doing ‘enough’ then it’s worth asking yourself exactly whose voice is playing in your head.
Don’t Overthink It
In the time you’ve spent agonising over the best thing to do next, you probably could’ve got something done. If you're flailing in front of your ideas list, then just pick any task and get on with it for ten minutes. Don’t worry about whether it’s the ‘best’ thing you could do; just do it. Once the ten minutes are up, you’ll probably feel motivated enough to continue with the task in hand, or move onto something else.
When you’re really struggling to figure out what do with your time (and even when you’re strapped for it) there’s never any harm in integrating some learning into your schedule. Whether you decide to focus on honing a new or existing creative skill (video editing, Photoshop, graphic design etc.), brushing up on the history of your craft, or simply spending some time in a gallery or museum, time spent learning always brings a sense of accomplishment that four hours of Instagram scrolling certainly won’t.
Accept That There Are No Perfect Decisions
Obviously it’s worth trying to make smart, well-informed decisions wherever possible - but Perfect Decision-Making is as non-existent as Perfect Anything Else. The reality is that you’ll never know how things might’ve worked out if if you’d chosen to take a different job, pursue a different project, or simply spend an afternoon doing something else. So why worry about it? Decide what to do with your day, and just own it.
Ignore the Big Picture
There’s a lot to be said for ‘zooming out’ on your life as a way for managing daily stress. Remembering that we’ll all going to die one day is a pretty effective way to stop yourself losing it over a smashed iPhone screen. But thinking in the long term can also be paralysing when it comes to day-to-day decision making. Life is always going to work out differently to how you envision it, so don’t get too caught up in acting in the interests of some misty vision of your future self. Instead, set goals that make you feel excited about getting keep it moving, right here and right now. And remember that so long as you’re always moving forward, you’re doing just fine.