Is Freelancing Hurting Your Health?

If you’re not careful, your freelancing work habits can make you sick.

We freelancers, many of whom rely on our computers to make our living, are particularly vulnerable to to unhealthy habits.

At first it might seem that spending long hours at the computer without a break and relying on convenience foods for most of your meals allows you to get more work done. Temporarily, these poor habits may actually seem to increase your productivity.

But that increase in productivity is an illusion. Over time, unhealthy habits will take a toll on your health and ultimately on your business. An unhealthy lifestyle over the long-term is actually a very poor business strategy.

It doesn’t have to be that way — you can make healthy choices and succeed as freelancer. Here are five simple habits that will help you stay healthy and productive:

Five Healthy Habits For All Freelancers

Here are five healthy habits that you should consider adopting now to improve both your health and your business productivity:

  1. Get Enough Sleep. Whether it’s the result of over scheduling your time or procrastination, it’s easy to fall into the trap of using your sleep-time to complete projects. However, sleep fulfills an important function for all human beings. Like eating and breathing, sleep is a basic human need. Over time, a lack of sleep can lead to poor concentration, learning difficulties, and slower reaction times. Lack of sleep could even result in memory lapses, problems with your behavior, or excessive moodiness.
  2. Get Enough Exercise. If your freelancing work is primarily done on the computer, then that means that you are probably sedentary most of the day. To get enough exercise to stay healthy you will need to make a special effort. Exercise can help combat many serious conditions such as hypertension and Type 2 diabetes. Exercise can also help you maintain a healthy weight. Studies have also shown that those who exercise regularly sleep better and, in general, have a more positive attitude about life.
  3. Eat Properly. As a freelancer, it’s really tempting to grab the food that’s most convenient. Usually, however, convenience foods are not the best choices when it comes to eating properly. They tend to be highly processed and contain lots of sodium and extra chemicals. When you are hungry, rather reaching for the most convenient bite to eat, opt instead for fresh food with little to no processing. A good diet can reduce your chances of getting sick and you’ll feel better overall when you eat right.
  4. Pay Attention to Your Posture. Did you know that your posture can affect how you feel? As a webworker, it may be tempting to hunch over your computer or your keyboard as you work. Bad posture, however, can lead to muscle pain, headaches, or back problems. Make sure that your workstation is comfortable. Your chair should provide adequate support. Your computer monitor and keyboard should be positioned so that you don’t have to lean over in order to see the screen or type on the keys.
  5. Manage Stress. The problems associated with too much stress have been widely documented. Not only can stress cause health problems, it can also cause affect your outlook on life and even negatively affect your ability to make good decisions. Some stress may be inevitable to freelancing (or any type of work, for that matter). However, it is possible to reduce some stress through managing your time more efficiently and other techniques.

Health Freelancer = Productive Freelancer?

Even though I’m a generally healthy person, it’s easy to ignore these healthy habits. However, I’ve noticed that whenever I do pay proper attention to my health I always seem to be more productive. I feel better, think more clearly, and make better decisions.

On the other hand, I’ve noticed that whenever I shortchange my health I generally wind up paying for my neglect. I get sick more easily. My projects seem to drag on forever and I tend to make many more mistakes.

As a freelancer, how have healthy habits impacted your business? Have you made any “healthy” changes that have affected your productivity?

How do you incorporate healthy habits into your busy freelancing lifestyle?

Share your thoughts in the comments.

Comments

  1. says

    I have been a freelance worker now for two years and I must say, I’ve done it. I’ve worked the endless hours surrounded by overly fast foods that are delivered right to my door. These are some great tips and I am glad you’ve shared this.

    Christine

  2. says

    I’ve taken tons of design and computer application classes. Not a single one covered anything about ergonomics. Ergonomics is huge. Should be required as part of any design, digital arts program. Thanks.

  3. says

    Hi Laura, I exercise religiously and it makes a huge difference in my feeling of well being. Unfortunately, I may be canceling out some of the benefit because my work chair is really uncomfortable. Any chair recommendations would be appreciated!

  4. says

    Hi Mindy!

    You are so right! Ergonomics, user-friendliness, and related topics should be covered in school. However, now that we are on our own it our responsibility to learn as much as we possibly can.

    Welcome Brad!

    My husband has a specially designed, ergonomically correct work chair. Unfortunately, his was rather expensive. I’ve also heard that if you sit on an exercise ball it will force you to have correct posture. I haven’t been able that figure it out yet. . .

    I actually need to do something about my own workstation. My back has been hurting a lot lately and I know it has to do with my computer set up/desk chair.

  5. says

    I find my Herman Miller http://www.sit4less.com/products/herman-miller/mirra-chair/26 chair one of the best around for sitting long periods at my computer. It has so many adjustable parts it is easy to fit to your body to give you support all around. I found it at a garage sale and it cost less than $100 which I am amazed at as they are around $800 usually. Try looking at office auction sites, office resale shops or garage sales to see if you can pick one up cheap – it really has made a huge difference.

  6. says

    Hi Laura,
    These are all such great points! I find that when I work out first thing in the morning I am so much more focused and productive, and the energy that I gain in my workout keeps me going throughout the day. One thing that really helps is to just take small breaks after long stretches of time at my desk. I’ll walk my dog or drop a contract off in the mailbox right in the middle of my day to get some fresh air and recharge.

    Liz, what a great bargain on that chair! I’ll have to keep my eyes open for deals like that.

  7. says

    Liz – what a find at that garage sale. Lucky you! I’m glad that you are able to benefit from a proper chair.

    Natalia – thanks for sharing the benefits of exercise. Keep up the good work!

    Keep those stories and ideas coming!

  8. says

    I would have to agree tremendously with Mindy. Ergonomics is one of the, if not the most overlooked subject in freelancing and computers today. I recently had a friend who had to have surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome, it wasn’t pretty. That’s a great tip about garage sales, I’ll have to go check some out. Thanks!

  9. says

    Health? I can sleep when I’m dead. Stress is the best medicine to overcome a “writer’s blockade” ;)

    Right now it’s 3:45 a.m. in the morning, and I’m happy as fuck – although the deadlines are somewhat short.

    cu, w0lf.

  10. says

    I hit the gym five times a week, which is great for getting rid of stress, and I’m clean diet. For me the worse thing about freelancing is eye strain and carpel tunnel.

  11. says

    Thank you Laura for that great article. I think that the most important of all your tips is the second one. For true, exercise is the best way to reduce stress, get a better posture (sometime), to get more sleep ( or better sleep) and finally some exercise can help you have a better digestion.

    I must confest that I’m really stressed and I didn’t make many exercise in the last few week. But I’ll restart yoga at home tomorrow. The last few day have been terrible.

    For me yoga is working but a simple walk can be a good thing. One of my boss was running 1 hour each lunch time summer as winter ( at -10C outside).

  12. says

    The only one I’m NOT guilty of is #4. Prior to becoming a web designer, I was a chef. I abhor processed and fast food of any kind, and it’s a priority to me to have good, healthy food in the house (and the family ALWAYS sites down for a good home-cooked meal every night). I think the culinary art education I had forced me to look at food in a new way – I grew up with the best can-and-boxtop chef in the world :) But now I do the grocery shopping when I go home for visits LOL

    But the rest – yeah, I am. And I absolutely have seen it take a toll on my health. it’s a very difficult mindset to get around, though: putting yourself first… especially when you’re in the business of serving others (especially to pay your bills). It feels very selfish – but it is important. I think if one can get over that hump, then you’re set.

    BTW – I have an big exercise ball – I can see how it would help your posture (it forces your core to work all the time, thus strengthening it) My issue with that is I’d have to either lower my desk or somehow raise the ball – because my desk is to tall for that. But I love sitting on my exercise ball – it’s actually quite comfortable. I never thought about putting it in my office – I’ll have to figure that out :)

  13. BebopDesigner says

    Brilliant article! Very handy as well. I tend to sleep less in order to finish projects. Rubbish I know.

    Stretching not only your muscles but your “vision” every now and then is quite a healthy practice, especially if you find yourself spending 8 + hours in front of your screen.

    Sitting on a Pilates ball can be fun and comfy (at least for some time) You should try it! (Er… no I don’t do pilates, it just lying around there and I grabbed it) Cheers.

  14. says

    Thanks for sharing Laura. It really is a big help for someone like me, whose only exercise is when I get up from my computer chair and go directly to the refrigerator. Nice one! ~Kei~

  15. says

    Yes! My Mac has a voice that tells me what time it is every hour on the hour. It reminds me to stretch and do push-ups. It’s amazing how good you feel if you do that. Plus, freelancers should really give up cigarettes if they smoke. Without the discipline of a boss or a time clock you can end up wasting a lot of time and money on cigarettes. I also play tennis against the backboard at the local park for an hour every night. That’s my recipe.

  16. says

    I’ve started scheduling fitness into my day just like I do calls with clients, writing time, and so on. Usually, I get up and start working early, get in a couple of hours, then take a mid-morning break to go for a run or bike ride or head to the gym. After that, I have a fruit smoothie (a good way to focus on that healthy eating) and shower before going back to work for the rest of the day. I find it’s a nice way to break up the monotony and I always return to work so much more motivated.

    As far as food goes, I still struggle with reaching for convenience foods to snack on while I’m busy. But the beauty of working at home is that you have your kitchen, your dishes and silverware, your food right there. So I try to stock up on fruits and veggies and healthy (albeit easy to prepare) foods so when I do get hungry I can quickly pull together something right at home. (It saves a lot of money too!)

  17. says

    Thanks for the pointers. It helped me to connect some dots.

    Over the past year I’ve gained 12 pounds. it was about a year ago that I actively started blogging and put my freelance writing into higher gear. Your article makes sense. I like the solid pointers too.

    Keep up the good work!

  18. says

    The worst thing I’ve ever done…

    Gone to bed at around 11:00pm, rolled around till about 1:00am in the morning then gotten up and worked till 4:00am to solve a web design problem I couldn’t let go.

    healthy, ha.

  19. says

    Being a freelancer has many complications, especially those clients that expect you to work around the clock. My diets been affected for a few years, but I am learning to say no and take some time to make a healthy meal and get out for a nice evening walk.

  20. says

    Thanks to everyone who shared their experiences, advice, and other feedback. That’s what makes the Freelance Folder community so great!

    As a reminder, I’d just like to point out that it’s not freelancing itself that harms people’s health, but rather the bad habits we freelancers tend to pick up,

  21. says

    I’m not a freelancer per-say. I am a florist myself and some of the hours are work are completely outrageous. My diet has become completely destroyed. Only have a certain timeframe to get things done and throughout that time I never take breaks. Freelancers have it just as hard as well. I give you guys a lot of respect for doing what you do!

  22. says

    Laura, thanks for the great post. It couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time. I am recovering from pneumonia that was presumably brought on by the fact that I have exhausted myself from working so much over the past several months. I’m a year and a half into a successful full-time freelance business, but I have let all my good habits slide — I’ve gained weight, am working all the time, sleeping much less and am often very stressed out. While it took hitting rock-bottom, this has been a giant wake-up call for me! Once I get my strength back I am going to work hard for better balance, trying not to over-commit to projects and scheduling time for exercise and yoga each week.

  23. says

    I really had to learn to make a daily schedule for myself including working out, EATING, getting out of the house for some fresh air, socializing, rest, breaks, naps (if needed), etc. Eventually I will also invest in a proper desk and chair instead of the drafting table and 25 year old cheap office chair that I use (that’s pretty uncomfortable at this point).

  24. Lindsay K. says

    Unfortunately, freelancing at all would make my health take a huge hit! I can’t get let my insurance lapse due to a neurological problem (chiari 1 malformation) so I haven’t quite figured out yet how I would be able to freelance since employee benefits are my only way to keep my coverage once I turn 24.

    I currently work from home, however, and a lot of these things still apply. Posture is huge! Just because you can slump over your desk doesn’t mean you should :) I constantly have to correct myself on this one.

  25. says

    You see, I think about it too. I think I work too much, and feeling that I’m lack of exercises. What a bad time management practice :(

    Thank you for reminding me about being health. As a freelancer, that one thing (health) is super precious.

  26. says

    I have been a freelancer for more than 6 years. I know how it is. If you don’t know how to manage your time, what you eat, etc. you can do a lot of harm to your health.
    Anyway, as in any other business there advantages and disadvantages.

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