What It Means to Be a Minimalist Freelancer

As someone who practices Zen Buddhism and minimalism, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means exactly to be a minimalist as a freelancer. To be being minimalist has to do with your approach and mindset to how you work. It’s about getting rid of what’s not important to you.

And as I’ve nearing the end of my 4th month doing it full-time, I wonder what I could do differently in the future. How can I better align my values with the craziness that comes with being self-employed? I am definitely still figuring that out. Here are some things I am going to keep in mind going forward:

In Your Work
I touched about this briefly in a previous post about optimizing, not maximizing your life. It’s about not taking everything that comes your way—you can afford to do so, of course. Nix projects and clients that add unnecessary stress in your life, or aren’t building your portfolio. Instead, take on work that is either meaningful, pays enough so you can work less and focus on other projects, or could lead to more meaningful work.

Of course, this can feel like a pipe dream but it’s definitely something to aspire toward. Sometimes you have to take a job simply because you need the money or are a regular workhorse who has problems saying “no” to work.

In Your Tools
Do you really need five project management programs and three tablets? I’m all for implementing apps and tools to enhance your system and processes as a freelancer, but too many tools can make your workflow a bit cumbersome.

You might find that you can do more with less, or be smarter about streamlining your work with just a couple of programs. The main tools I use on a daily basis are Evernote for my to-do list, Toggl to track my time, and Freedom, which is an Internet blocker I use when I am writing fiction. All these apps are 100 percent free. And I am landing more clients and gaining more ways of earning money, I am also looking into streamlining how I do my billing and track expenses. It’s starting to get a little messy. Oof.

In Your Digital Communication
This is something I struggle with daily. If you’re like me you have a million articles on your Facebook Newsfeed saved, subscribe to the newsletter of every blogger and website you dig, and check your email compulsively. I’ve installed Periscope, Blab, and Meerkat on my phone and pretty much every single new social media platform out there. And do I use even a fraction of them? Nope.

Try checking and responding your emails just a few times a day. For instance, when you first start your work day, before lunch, and about an hour before you’re ready to wind down. Doing your tasks in batches can help a ton.

In Your Approach
This is probably the biggest thing I have been struggling with. Pay attention to the task at hand. Don’t take on too much in any given day. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, to wish you could get all your work done in one fell swoop. Take your time, don’t rush. Take breaks if you need to. Go for a walk, or a short swim at a nearby pool.

If you’re curious to learn more about minimalism, here are a few resources to get you started:

The Minimalists: Joshua and Ryan of The Minimalists have really started a culture on how we can live more fully with less. They have local meetups in different cities around the world where you can shoot the bull with like-minded folk. Joshua’s book, “Everything That Remains,” is a memoir that chronicles his path from living a crash-and-burn, materialist lifestyle to a deliberate, minimalist life.

Blonde on a Budget: Cait Flanders is currently going through her two-year spending fast. It’s inspired me to go on my own version of a spending fast. She’s pretty awesome and inspiring.

And Then We Saved: Anna Newell Jones is the queen of living a life free of material distractions. She shows you going on a spending fast can be done. Besides a bunch of articles on her site, you can also glean tips on how to go about on your own spending diet with her upcoming book “The Spender’s Guide to Debt-Free Living.” She’s also just put out a book that includes wisdom on the minimalist lifestyle as well as interviews with some of the heavy hitters called “How to be a Fearless Minimalist in a Cluttered World.

Zen Habits: Leo Babauta is the man when it comes to creating habits to live a healthier, more meaningful and productive life. I have been following his site for years. He teaches you how you can create real change in your life by changing your habits, little by little. Check out his book “Essential Zen Habits, Mastering the Art of Change, Briefly,” which includes super short chapters on how you can change your bad habits and do all the things you’ve ever wanted to. I got through the book in a couple of sittings and it’s one that I come back to again and again.

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6 thoughts on “What It Means to Be a Minimalist Freelancer

  1. Crystal H says:

    I love all of these tips! “It’s about getting rid of what’s not important to you.” I need to follow that advice!

  2. Jackie Lam says:

    Thank you! It’s so hard to do but very essential. I find myself struggling every day. 🙂

  3. shane says:

    Nice post. I’m constantly trying to trim the fat of this busy world and often have to catch myself as I get tangled in every distraction available.

    It takes daily practice to even notice all the things trying to attach themselves to you….and real effort to shed those attachments.

  4. Jackie Lam says:

    Thanks, Shane! Agreed; it’s the ultimate challenge to stay focused and get rid of attachments, whether it’s SnapChat or video games…

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