One of the grand advantages to my life as a freelance writer is that I get to enjoy the relative freedom of time. Deadlines still have to be met and I still have certain daily duties to fulfill, but for the most part, I can choose my own schedule. It doesn’t matter if it’s Wednesday morning or Saturday night; I can work or I can take the time off. It’s up to me.

This is a double-edged sword. I take great pride in my strong work ethic, so I always feel like I should be doing more. Indeed, and I’ve said this several times before, because I can work at any time, I feel like I must be working all the time. There is always another photo to edit, another article to write, another opportunity to explore.

Deep and Shallow Work

I’ve been listening to the audiobook version of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Georgetown University computer science assistant professor Cal Newport. In one segment, he discusses the importance of having a definite end to the work day. Pick the time and shut it down. And don’t think about anything remotely related to work until the next morning.

In going through his email history, Newport saw that he very rarely sent any messages after 5:30 pm. That’s because he not only very rarely checked his email after that time, he also very rarely worked at all after that time. With “work” just a smartphone notification away, the urge to do “one last thing” can be overpowering for entrepreneurs, freelancers and anyone else with a “flexible” schedule.

When you do that, when you stay the extra hour to complete one more round of edits, you think you’re being more productive. I know I do. I’ve got all these things on my to-do list and if I’m able to tick a couple more off the list before throwing in the towel, I’ll have less to do tomorrow, the day after that, and next week, right? But here’s where things can get a little counter-intuitive.

Bent All Out of Shape

By allowing for a flexible end to the work day, you also facilitate a very slippery slope. I’m already working after dinner. What’s another quick email? I may as well start editing next week’s vlog. And if I’m editing next week’s vlog, I should probably prepare the thumbnail image. And if I’m preparing the thumbnail, I should write up the YouTube video description. And if I’m…. you get my point.

What’s more, the quality of your work can suffer when you simply try to power through it with your over-extended and over-exhausted mind. All that screen time before bed can lead to lower quality sleep too, which in turn leads to poorer quality work the next day. And so the cycle renews itself again and again.

Save Yourself from the Guilt Trip

I know this situation all too well. Many nights, I can feel remarkably guilty if I don’t engage in the third shift, even if I don’t have the energy or creativity left for any sort of meaningful work. I need to get over that. In the last week or so, I’ve been trying to set a harder shut down to the day. If I’m done for the day, that’s it. I’m done. No more emails. No more turning on the computer. It’s time for Netflix or a good book.

It’s been imperfect at best. I’m typing up these words a little after 11 o’clock at night, following a day filled with interruption, distraction and family commitment. But I think I’m getting there. I’ll shut it down… right after I write one last thing.