I absolutely love being a freelancer.

I feel really proud when I get to introduce myself as a full-time writer, and I actively encourage others to pursue their dream of being self-employed because I think it can be incredibly fulfilling in a number of ways.

Truthfully though, I felt backed into a corner to become freelancer because of my mental health.

I’d been juggling depression, anxiety, waitressing and blogging for a few years and eventually it all became too much. I realised that I would have to give something up so I took a leap of faith and jumped into freelancing.

I still don’t make enough money as I would like, but I have something much more valuable to me and thats flexibility.

With that in mind-  and over a year’s worth of trial and error in the bank – I thought I would share my tips on how to create a freelancer schedule that works if you have depression.

Make shorter to-do lists

Hands up if your daily to-do list spans several pages?

Take it back to basics and only write 3 things on your to-do list every day. It means you will never get overwhelmed and you’ll almost certainly get them all done, leaving time at the end of the day to pick up extra tasks

Figure out your pattern

Before you can create a schedule you need to figure out what times of day, week, month are most productive for you. Admittedly, this will take you a while to pin down. I advise that you start by tracking your moods over the course of a month and spot patterns. When are you tired? When are you bursting with ideas? When are you really driven to get more done? When are you falling asleep at your desk?

Here’s what my day tends to look like:

  • 9-11am: I am not very productive in the morning so I never do creative work as soon as I get up. Instead, I do emails and chase invoices.
  • 11am-3pm: I’m on a roll in the middle of the day so I normally spend that time doing deep work like writing or coming up with ideas. In the afternoon I’m no good at proof-reading so I always leave that to the next day
  • 3-5pm: Working on fun stuff like eBooks, graphics, Instagram or researching new topics. I also schedule meetings and interviews in the afternoon otherwise they tend to eat into the time of the day where I’m most productive and it ruins my output for the day.

As you can see, its not really a steadfast schedule but it works for me. The most important aspect for me is flexibility. It’s loose and open to interpretation depending on how I feel that day.

Figure out what makes the most money

This might sound like a no-brainer, but take a look at your finances and figure out what made you the most money in the last few months. Now make that a priority. For me, it’s magazine writing. This means that when I sit down to come up with feature ideas I have a few publications in mind that I want to work with which makes the process more efficient.

Identify what drains you

For me, it’s public speaking and travelling. Luckily I don’t need to do to much of this, but every now and again I get an opportunity to go to a great event in London or to promote my book in front of a group of people.

Even though the experience has an impact on my mental health, I still want to pursue these things because they are good for networking, sales or they just sound like good fun. Nowadays I make sure that when I say yes to these things I space them out on my calendar.

For example, I try to only travel to London once a month and always schedule in a day at home straight after to allow myself to hide under the duvet for a few hours and work from bed if needs be. I also try to only to one speaking engagement or podcast recording per week, as it normally means blocking off a whole day.

Plan for down days

If you wake up feeling really mentally unwell, then the chances are you’re not going to be very productive that day. That’s OK, and something you need to learn to plan for and forgive yourself for.

How I get around this is by using those days to do things that don’t require much brain power. Normally, creative work is out the window but that doesn’t mean I can’t use the time to do administrative tasks like chasing late payments or sending out emails to prospective clients. Nothing too taxing, literally just an email saying hello and requesting a meeting.

This might not fall into the concept of ‘creating a schedule’ but I truly believe that part of managing your time as a freelancer with depression involves anticipating a dip in your mood. Remember, moods are unpredictable but working from home means that you can deal with it! 

Don’t forget to get your free download10 ways to avoid burnout as a freelancer.