Last week I had a bit of a moment. I always send out my client invoices the first Monday of every month for the previous month’s work, and last week I sent all of them out in a bit of a rush because I had a lot on deck for work that I needed to jump in to.
Actually, I’ve had a lot on deck for the last couple months. It’s definitely a good problem to have and a far cry from my regularly short to-do list that I maintained at the beginning of this year. But as I’ve grown and taken on more opportunities and long-term clients, I’ve started to realize more doesn’t always equal better.
So last week, I shot off invoices and then just kept chugging along. I barely had time to register that November was my highest performing month of all time, like since I started to freelance full-time a year-and-a-half ago.
Actually, since I started working in any job I’ve had, EVER, I’ve never made as much money in one month as I did last month. And I’d taken two mid-week trips throughout November (meaning I was out of my normal work routine 2 out of the 4 weeks in November).
I didn’t have the time to celebrate or bask — my focus was on all the things I still had left to do. For a little background, I have 6 regular clients who I do between 2 and 20 hours of work for a week — I know, that’s a BIG range, but it just varies every week depending on their businesses and needs.
At the same time, I recently got an offer to work on some of the corresponding content for a huge wedding photographer launching a course soon. Plus, another entrepreneur had contacted me last week to ask for my rates and availability for her upcoming projects.
All this, and one of my newer clients, who I hadn’t done too much work for yet because of my limited bandwidth, was also preparing to gradually ramp up my workload. But it’s like… I didn’t have the capacity to ramp up! And I didn’t want to ramp up.
I don’t want to sound ungrateful because I am honestly shocked and so overjoyed every day that I get to create content for service-oriented, world-changing women. But — I have a threshold. So much of what I do for clients is very creative work meant to lead and inspire and educate their audiences / clients / students / etc.
But I can’t do it constantly, every day of the week. Not only that, but I didn’t get into working for myself TO work constantly, every day of the week.
I am so, so happy to put in extra hours occasionally, work some weekends, and turn around tight deadlines when needed. But my entire pursuit of entrepreneurship has been to maintain freedom and flexibility, two of my strongest, deepest values. Feeling pushed to my edge with no sight of slow down anywhere had me feeling a bit frantic.
I have been consistently bumping up against my limit lately, even while more opportunities kept seeming to pop up and come my way. Like I said, this is absolutely a good problem to have — I realize that — because if nothing else, it has taught me my limits and that it can be a good thing to say no.
It’s not that I don’t want to work with as many people as I can, but I realized when I am stressed out and working from a place of frenzy, I don’t feel as good about the work I’m doing AND I start resenting the people asking for things from me (which, hello, is sort of a big part of my job!).
I reached out to that newer client and told her as much as I adore her and her brand, I didn’t have the capacity to continue working on her projects and connected her with another incredible freelancer I know. And then I told my two new prospects that I unfortunately couldn’t take on their projects at this time, either.
All within an hour.
I felt nuts, at first, like I was just letting my fingers stomp out the word NO because I was having a bad week. I mean, what if it was a mistake and I NEEDED these clients in a couple months when things slow down?
When I thought about saying no to these 3 people, it felt really shitty, like I was letting them down and being selfish and not pushing myself enough. Truly, I would’ve killed for all 3 of these clients alone on my roster even just one year ago.
And then after I did it, after I said no, not right now, I automatically felt this sense of: This was the right thing to do. I felt calm and exhilarated all at once, and I hadn’t felt that way about a business decision in a while.
Because as soon as I said no, the existing tasks on my list suddenly felt so much lighter. There was still a lot to do, but the projects that I found myself ever-so-subtly rushing through or just trying to finish and cross off had more space around them for me to be intentional with them.
I felt less of this impending pressure of SO many deadlines SO soon, and I could instead focus on making the current projects at hand as good as they could possibly be. Wrapping up a year (and a decade), I didn’t want to feel like I was full-on sprinting through the end and feeling burnt out entering 2020.
I think we hear so many messages like, “Just keep hustling,” and we praise this “grind” mentality. I totally get it, too. There are certainly seasons and days where we NEED to hustle.
I don’t want work to be all I do and think about.
In fact, John and I were talking about boundaries in our relationship recently and the only one that he asked of me was that if I am stressed out from work when he gets home from his job, to not take it out on him.
I thought, “What?! I do that?” I had no idea, but looking back, there have been so many evenings lately where he’ll walk through the door and I can hardly peel my eyes from my computer screen, let alone pause to say hello and chat about our days.
I always need to finish just another thing or put out another fire, and then I get irritated when he’s just trying to ask about what I’m doing or tell me something special from his day. I can firmly tell you that’s not what I have ever wanted my evenings to look like. But it’s become a bit habitual, I’d say, if that’s his main ask for me to work on adjusting.
So, I think saying no to those opportunities isn’t JUST saying no. It’s saying yes to being able to log offline at a decent hour, yes to evening conversations with my husband. It’s saying yes to an errand I’ve been NEEDING to do (like going to the DMV last week to finally register my car + get my California ID) but have been putting off because I didn’t “have time” during the workday.
It’s saying yes to walking my dog when she’s being a nut at 2 in the afternoon, to making a healthy lunch that I can actually enjoy, not just wonder what’s going on in my inbox. AND it’s saying yes to spending my working time on being the best content writer I can be for my already bustling workload. Protecting myself and my time and energy in THAT way sort of makes saying no to some things the best move ever.
Like this post? Then I bet you’ll LOVE my new free download: Email Templates for Freelancers. These are the tried-and-true email templates I have actually used in my business to pivot, grow, make more money, connect with potential dream clients, and break up with bad clients. Download it HERE.