Freelance Fundamentals: Working Hard Up Front

Where I went to college, a “full load” was considered 16 units. For motivated students 20 or more units was a possibility, amounting to 4 or 5 classes per quarter for a dedicated student.

Me? I paced myself. I didn’t want to overdo it on any particular quarter. I went through a couple of years taking between 8-12 units, which was the minimum required to stay in school. As a result, my degree took 5 years to finish, including summer school to catch up.

One quarter, a friend said “we should do a road trip”. Oh, how much fun it could’ve been: Skiing, sightseeing, good food.

But it never happened – we were both too far behind, looking at a possible 6 years to graduate if we took time off. If we had only worked full loads (you know, the normal amount), we could’ve taken 3 months off to have fun. Instead, we took 10 units so we had video game time during the school year. You can probably guess what I *wished* I had done.

If freelancers have anything, it’s flexibility. It’s particularly tempting to use your flexibility to “pace yourself”. Have you ever planned a project this way?

This project is 40 hours of work. I have 4 weeks to complete it. Therefore, I will do 40 / 4 = 10 hours of work per week.

10 hours sounds nice. You’ll have lots of free time, and you’ll never get overloaded. There are sensible, immediate perks to pacing yourself.

It’s a trap!

You’re setting yourself up for the bare minimum. You’re trading future freedom for flexibility now, and in my experience this doesn’t pan out: You might get sick. Or something really fun will come up in week 4 that you’ll have to skip. Or you’ll underestimate the project and spend week 4 frantically trying to catch up (the equivalent of taking summer school).

Instead, try working 40 hours the first week and taking 3 weeks off. Or, 20 hours the first week and 20 the second. There are a couple of big advantages:

1. You now have a project completed and flexibility to do whatever you want with the remaining time.
2. If the project ended up taking longer than 40 hours (which it always will), you now have a cushion.

I still fall into this trap. I’m a procrastinator at heart, so it’s always tempting to do the bare minimum now, and leave the hard problems for the future. But whenever I miss deadlines, I look back to the early weeks and wish I put in more effort.

Do the work up front, earn some future free time, then do what you want.

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2 comments

  1. Ishan says:

    Hi Andy,

    This was good advice. I found your blog via HN and just finished reading freelancing basics.

    Estimation is something that I find very hard (I think everyone does), have you written anything about it?

    PS. I’m also a WP Developer, looking forward to learn a lot about both business and WP from you.

    Thanks,
    Ishan.

    • Andy Adams says:

      You’re very kind! I do plan on writing about it, yes. The short answer: Start estimating a lot longer than you actually anticipate. A rule of thumb is to add 50% to your time estimate before calculating the final cost. It’s that simple: You have an estimate of 100 hours. Estimate 150 to the client.

      In all likelihood, you forgot something in your original estimate. Also, this allows you to make improvements that weren’t in the original scope, “free of charge”. You don’t want to be handcuffed in a battle over scope creep if you can avoid it. Budget accordingly 🙂

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