Freelancer. How to be productive by waking up early. And what do you have to do to avoid burnout? ver.2.1.
This is not a small article, so I have divided it into what is useful (regular format text) and what is commonly referred to as ‘Water’ (italicised text). So if you’re in a hurry you can only read the plain text.
About three years ago (2019), I defined for myself a small set of rules on how it is advisable to lead your lifestyle when you are a freelancer. They were aimed at solving the following problems:
1) Waking up early regularly and painlessly.
2) Working effectively with clients from different time zones.
3) Not to burn out, to be productive on a daily basis.
After a while, this gradually took shape in the form of rules and useful habits, and in order to fix it all, I gave it a form of a text. That was the first article on this topic; now it is the second version, with some additions at the end.
During these three years, the rules have been supplemented and shortened, and I have completely removed some of them. So the second version of the article has gradually appeared and is what you are reading now. For those interested, here is the first version of the 2019 article.
Identifying the problems
Of course, if you work for another country with a significant difference in time zones, the likelihood of not getting enough sleep and, as a result, burnout is very high. It all depends on the degree of responsibility and respect you have for your body.
Thus, in advanced countries, where the culture of working relationships is very high — they would never think of forcing an outsourced worker to work outside his or her time zone. There are various task-trackers for remote teamwork; and essentially such companies should not care when you wake up and go to sleep, for them the most important thing is that you complete the task no later than a certain date.
In 2019 I was green and I had a great client from Melbourne… great means he was paying me 300 dollars a week. For me, a regular guy from Kazakhstan, it was as if I had reached Jedi level in freelancing and could already be handing out advice to young padawans.
My Melbourne colleagues had a four-hour early start to the day, and I had meetings every day. This meant that I had to wake up no later than 04:30am to be at work by 5am.
Naturally, over time, I started to burn out… And then I started to think about how I could arrange my life in such a way that:
1) regularly and painlessly wake up earlier and stay productive
2) not to burn out when you are productive all the time
Solution 1) How to wake up earlier, painlessly and regularly, while remaining productive
Before describing the method, I should mention a concept such as ‘Chronotype’.
Chronotype determines the standard of a person’s daily activity: lark, owl, pigeon, etc. It is a biological trait of the body that affects a person’s efficiency, attentiveness and performance at different times of the day and night. In other words, our body has its own biological rhythms that are embedded in our DNA and they determine our chronotype — our ability to wake up early or sleep until lunchtime.
It is impossible to change one’s Chronotype, but it is possible to move one or two hours earlier or later in the day and still act within your Chronotype.
That’s why I’m now avoiding the “To be successful, wake up earlier!” kind of article.
You don’t have to wake up at 6am to be productive. The important thing here is to wake up before your body enters its active phase of the day.
Let’s take note: you have to identify your chronotype, and wake up earlier within your chronotype.
To wake up earlier…
In the first version of this article, I described a method for regularly waking up at six in the morning, which is: 1) a distant alarm clock that is hard to turn off, 2) fresh (or cold) air, and 3) a glass of water. This method was really effective for me… But years later, I realised that it helped to get out of bed a body that didn’t get enough sleep. In fact, it did not solve the problem fundamentally, and at some time, it even made it worse.
The fundamental solution to the problem of early awakening is elementary: “to wake up early, you have to go to bed early”. This rule is so simple and straightforward that, at first, I resisted… I couldn’t understand how I could spend precious hours in the evening on early sleep, which I usually spend playing PS4 or going to the cinema or the same work… “sleep is for wimps,” I could say.
Let’s take note: to wake up earlier you have to go to bed earlier.
Once we have figured out exactly how to wake up earlier without pain, we now need to find out two more things about ourselves through experience:
1) the beginning of the active phase of your body’s day
2) sleep range — the number of hours of sleep our body is comfortable with
Determining the beginning of the active phase of our body’s day
The very beginning of the active phase of the day is divided into a “start” (I also call it “ignition”) and a “finish” phase.
The active phase of the day begins when your body’s cortisol levels rise, a hormone that, in simple terms, prepares our body for active wakefulness.
At the beginning of your day, try to notice when you are most motivated and active. You feel like you can move mountains, and if you do your morning exercise, you can even feel a certain sense of happiness.
Cortisol levels are not always the same and vary according to the body’s biorhythms.
This is the start of your body’s active phase of the day. Find out by experience when this phase begins. For me, it starts around 06:30–07:15 in the morning. In the picture above, it starts at 08:15.
When the beginning of the active phase of the day reaches the finish line — the production of Melatonin (colloquially called the “sleep hormone”) stops, then the value of further sleep is nil. And if you continue to sleep during the “start” phase and reach the “finish line” of the beginning of the active phase of the day, you will experience some “congestion” of the brain with supposedly heavy tasks, “foggy” thoughts, etc. when you wake up. This is missing the start and finish line of the beginning of the active phase of the day. Understanding the “start” and “finish” of the active phase of the day will help you better define it.
Let’s take note: Experimentally determine the start of the active phase of the day, when you are most motivated and active. For example, it happens to me that when I brush my teeth or eat breakfast, I can figure out in my head how to solve the difficult task of the day ahead, and it no longer seems so difficult. Sometimes I can even solve the problem in my head without sitting at the computer and just taking a shower.
Determining your sleep range
Our body needs a certain amount of sleep: some people only need six hours, others need at least eight hours. No matter how hard you try to take those hours away from your body by waking up early, it always ends up being hours in debt… Sooner or later (preferably within two days) you will have to pay back your debt; and if you resist this, your productivity will decrease several times without you even noticing it, and you will continue to think that by waking up earlier you are more productive.
It is very important to determine the amount of sleep your body needs. For example, thanks to a regular smartwatch, I found out that on average I get about 7–7.5 hours of sleep a day in a month. By the way, it is very important to know this average value for a month, not less. It turns out that in order for me to wake up painlessly at six in the morning, I have to move my seven-hour sleep range to 11 p.m..
And, for example, if I want to watch a film before going to bed (which used to be a regular thing for me), I have to add another two hours to my bedtime routine and end up going to bed at 9pm, which in turn means that I have to start thinking about getting ready for bed at 8pm.
Let’s take note: Determine your monthly average sleep range per day. This will be your bank from which you can take hours and into which you should give hours. Basically, you should always stick to the average number of hours of sleep. Move this range backwards (wake up earlier) or forwards (wake up later) by the desired number of hours.
So, Problem Solution 1) How to wake up earlier, painlessly and regularly, while remaining productive
- Determine the beginning of the active phase of the day for your body. In other words, here we define our chronotype: lark, owl or pigeon. I start the active phase of the day around 06:30 to 07:15 am.
- Experimentally find out your sleep range — the necessary number of hours of sleep at which you wake up comfortably. My sleep range is around 7 hours.
- And move your sleep range so that it ends before you start, or before the finish line of the beginning of your active phase of the day. And while respecting your sleep range, go to bed according to its start.
And remember, if we sleep properly, we will almost always be at our peak in our most active phase. That’s better than any energy drink, and it’s certainly truer than the philosophy “Sleep is for wimps” or “To become successful, wake up early”.
No, to become a better version of yourself keep your sleep range and wake up before, or during the beginning of your body’s activity phase.
Before getting ready for bed, it is advisable to decide in advance what you will do before you go to bed, and add this as a minimum of one hour to the bedtime routine, for example:
- Read 10 pages of a book
- Watch one episode of Better Call Saul.
- Just Talk
Optional 2 : To fall asleep faster
- Read a boring book before going to bed.
- Read an interesting book before going to bed, you’ll fall asleep a little slower, but certainly faster if you watch a movie.
- Don’t stare at the phone or the TV.
- Take a walk just before you get ready for bed.
- Don’t load your stomach with heavy food 4 hours before bedtime
Solution to Problem #2) How do you not burn out when you are productive all the time?
My body is not me. And most of the time my body is a capricious creature that fights against me for easy work, easy money and for not leaving comfort zone.
Think back to when you had just started a new job — the first few days you were more than productive, even though you were clearly out of your comfort zone. Your brain was more active, new ideas and solutions were generated, and you got up every morning without much effort — in general, you were at the peak of your productivity.
This is because at the time, your body was under “positive” stress: a new job, new acquaintances, a cool new desk and a powerful new iMac, as well as new plans and a bigger paycheck. All these new perks are just as valuable to your body, but only for a while until it realises that there is no value to it behind it all.
Let’s take note: “Positive” stress is an immediate reward, but not a lasting value for the body.
Temporal conscious value
Activating your body in a way that is not on its schedule is very stressful for your body, especially if it happens regularly and without any reward. Like everything capricious, our body needs the awareness that at the end of the completed task there will be some kind of value waiting for it. I call this ‘Conscious’ value.
And for quite a long time my perceived value as a freelancer was a weekly cash flow. But even though money is a “conscious” value, it is still a temporary conscious value… the body gets used to any amount of money after a while. Every person who has become rich has, to one degree or another, experienced that they start to feel very apathetic and may eventually go into depression. And in my experience the precursor to depression is burnout — the stage at which one can prevent going into depression.
False conscious value
Any kind of conscious value that contains the principle of conversion from money to value is false conscious value and will absolutely always lead to burnout and depression. This is why most freelancers working from home have a high incidence of burnout. This is why, for many, fixed-pay office work is a viable option.
Let’s take note: Money as a motivator is like a Trojan horse for the body — sooner or later you will start to burn out and not understand why (depression).
True Conscious Value
The idea of the right conscious value is that in the future we could apply a minimum of effort and receive a maximum return for it in any equivalent, be it hundreds of thousands of saved man-hours, or hundreds of thousands of dollars, or just tens of people working on your idea.
And once our body understands that the time it spends multiplied by tens or hundreds of times in any expression — it will come to our side and begin to give us its energy itself.
We need the right conscious value, which will multiply the effectiveness of our time by a factor of two (more than two is enough). For example, if your opinion is shared by your best friend or wife, that’s enough for the average person. Or if your digital product is bought for a dollar by hundreds of thousands of people, so in addition to money you have earned the respect of hundreds of thousands of people who share your opinion by using your product. That is the true conscious value that will keep the body from burning out and getting depressed.
Let’s take note: To avoid burnout, we must realise that the time we spend on our work will yield at least twice as much.
So, Problem Solution #2) How not to burn out when you’re productive all the time?
You need to spend more time on things that will multiply your time in the future. For example: creating a healthy family; raising children who can increase your family’s physical wealth a hundredfold in the future; or creating an app that will be useful to millions of people; or creating a company with hundreds of employees working on your product.
Here’s a personal example. In my case, the right perceived value that makes my hours efficient by a hundred times, and keeps me up earlier every day, productive and not burned out is my digital product that I have been working on 1) for the third month, in the future it will allow me 2) to save hundreds of man-hours per year, and 3) I can devote more time to other more important things, like: analytics, developing empathy, or just flying to my parents’ house, and if other people are interested, then 4) it will also be a passive income for me, which certainly multiplies the efficiency of my time by hundreds of times.
I highly recommend watching the video below on multiplying your time.
Extras 2 : Listening to the body through its Biorhythms
I actually wanted to highlight this topic as the basis for this article, but there is so much information that I decided to dedicate a separate article to it. The text below is from the first version of the 2019 article and is still relevant to me today.
I am a follower of human biological rhythms, and most often follow my two biorhythms: physical and intellectual. It’s very simple: when they show “0%”, I give myself rest, get enough sleep or try not to overload myself too much, interrupt training, not to do some work. And when they show maximum “100%” — sometimes I even prepare for these days in advance and leave the most creative or the most difficult task for these days.
For example, following the charts below, I knew that my activity peak was on the days I could complete this article during the week of December 10th to December 18th. Conversely, on November 29th I was diving into the Star Wars universe to be ready for the release of Skywalker. Rise.”
Of course I don’t always follow this maths advice, I use it as a guideline and then prioritise it.
It should be noted that as of today (2022) I am not only tracking physical and intellectual biorhythms, I have gone deep into the subject, and now my daily biorhythms to track are as follows: Circadian gut rhythms, and physical, intellectual and emotional biorhythms.
Extras 3 : A list of good habits
This is a list of useful habits I have developed over the course of about two years, after becoming a full-time freelancer. These healthy habits keep you from burning out even at your most active pace.
- I sleep for 15 minutes when I feel like it and 30 minutes after dinner (but maybe not right after a meal);
- I try not to eat too many complex meals and try to drink more water;
- I work for two hours in the morning and then one hour for the rest of the day, with breaks of 15–30–40 minutes;
- I do 35 push-ups after lunchtime and as needed;
- I meditate in the morning, even if I don’t succeed.
Thank you all for reading to the end. And as you’ve probably realised by now I don’t write much English, so I apologise in advance. ✌️