Starting Out

How Do I Approach Freelancing As a Marathon and Not a Sprint?

I have tried both in my life – marathons and sprints.

Given, the sprint was forced on me by my 8th grade track coach and the marathon was a half marathon.

How Do I Approach Freelancing As a Marathon and Not a Sprint?

But still, I understand the difference between the two. One takes force and the other takes stamina.

Yet when it came time to launch my freelance writing business, I forgot all the lessons I had learned.

I charged at breakneck speed into freelancing as if it were a sprint. This was unsustainable, both for my business and my life.

A mixture of excitement and fear of failure led me to sit down at my computer at 8:30 p.m. (after already closing up shop) to finish my portfolio page. At 11:00 p.m. that night, my eyes were bloodshot and my dog was whining from loneliness.

Another day, my husband and I made plans to rent a movie, but I pulled out my computer to tweak one little thing – and before I knew it, it was 2 hours later and too late to start a movie.

I was running on adrenaline. But, like I expected, this didn’t last.

It couldn’t, not for the marathon required to run a freelance business. It was unsustainable, both for my business and my life.

Especially when first starting as a freelancer, I felt like I had to do everything all at once. Website, pitching, figuring out what SEO meant. I dashed from one task to the next without any method or plan of action.

I know I’m not alone. So I’m sharing five helpful tips that I have learned that will help you maintain marathon-style thinking (and your sanity) in this crazy little thing called freelancing.

1. Create a Morning Ritual

Like a runner’s warm-up prior to a jog, a morning ritual helps to ease into your day.

It also helps you to remain present, to focus on the small joys of the day, rather than rushing to your desk first thing to send that client email.

Before sitting down to write, I recommend you:

  • Get ready. This includes showering, brushing your teeth, putting on makeup—whatever your normal routine of going to an office job would be.
  • Wear normal clothes. Try not to fall into the trap of wearing sweatpants all the time because after a while, your work and your home life will become inseparable.
  • Eat a good breakfast. Sit down at the table and eat something, even if it’s just a banana. Savor that cup of coffee.
  • Do yoga or stretch. I like to spend a few mornings a week using Headspace, the meditation app. Or I pet my dog and she brings me lots of joy to start the day.

2. Don’t Work From the Couch

Just like you wouldn’t run a race in sandals, don’t do your work from the couch. Or the bed. Or the floor. And definitely don’t have the TV on in the background.

At a recent writing workshop I attended, run by Melanie Figg, on creating a writing routine that sticks, she said that multitasking is a myth. “Multitasking shreds your attention,” she said. “That’s all it does.”

This sentence resonated with me.

A few weeks before, I thought it sounded more fun to build my website while on the couch watching the Bachelorette.

But it was a lose-lose scenario. The work was not more fun because I was double screening, something that raises my blood pressure.

And I wasn’t focused on the work or The Bachelorette—plus I missed the surge of joy that comes when one of the guys in the Bachelor Mansion says something outlandish.

My attention, as Melanie said, was shredded. I felt exhausted by the time I went to sleep.

Because of this lesson learned, I have instilled a rule for myself: I can work only from my desk, or from my patio when I need sunshine, or from the coffee shop down the street. Nowhere else am I allowed to work on freelance business stuff.

If you don’t have a desk, find a corner. You’re only allowed to work from that exact spot.

3. Give Your Brain a Break

When I was training for a half marathon, my coach would tell us to run a one-mile sprint and then rest for two minutes. It burns and then it’s easy. It burns and then it’s easy.

Over and over again. This method gives your body time to regain some strength, but it’s not too long that your muscles will get cold.

This approach works in freelance writing as well.

Whenever my head starts to ache or the writing feels overwhelming, I look out the window for two minutes and think about anything but writing – my container garden, an upcoming vacation, what I’m going to eat for dinner. When I come back to page, the work looks a little more coherent and I can burn through the writing again.


4. Give Yourself Weekends Off (If Possible)

Training for a marathon requires rest days. It’s the same for freelancers.

I realize some of you work full time and only have evenings and weekends to devote to your side gig. For those writing full time, though, try to give yourself weekends off. You are running a business, after all – why not give yourself business hours?

On your Contact Me page on your website, you can say you will respond to all inquiries within 24 business hours. That way, potential clients know when to expect a response. And when they become new clients, your hours are already established.

You may still want to check your email on the weekends once or twice, but try to stick with not doing any actual work on those days. Spend time with your family. Volunteer. Go camping.

Do something that fills up your soul, so you can come back on Monday refreshed and revitalized.

If weekends aren’t an option, schedule one or two evenings a week where you don’t do any freelance work.

5. Create an End-of-Day Ritual

Just like a runner, establish a cool down routine at the end of every day. My writing day is scheduled to end at 5:30 p.m., and my close-out ritual looks like this:

  • Put stuff away where I can’t see it. That bright orange book on marketing that screams at me every time I walk by? It goes on the bookshelf for the night. The bullet journal that begs to be written in? It will be happy sleeping in the drawer.
  • Check over my to-do list for the following day and add to it if needed. This helps remind me that I have a plan.
  • Clear off any mess that has piled up. Take water cups or coffee mugs to the dishwasher, throw out any scrap papers, and straighten the computer and keyboard.
  • Tuck in your chair. This is my final move – once everything on the desk is all set, I push in my chair to let the world (and me) know that my day is officially over.

When I do these things, I love coming to my desk the next day. It also helps create a sense of separation between work and home.

These 5 tips allow me to remember that not everything has to be done today, right now.

What helps you to view your freelance writing business as a marathon rather than a sprint?

Tiffany Verbeck is a freelance writer and storyteller who helps small businesses and entrepreneurs tell their brand story. She runs a professional blog on personal finance at and a personal blog on growing up in Indiana called Midwestern Transplant. She can be found on Twitter at @tiffanyverbeck.

Leave a Reply


Thank you this post was very helpful. I often find myself getting overwhelmed and frustrated because I feel this is not going fast enough. I have questions and fears. I was wanting everything done at once so I can get started. And now that I have accomplished what I wanted I feel so lost when it comes to guest posting and pitching and it can be frustrating. I like how you compared it to approaching it like a marathon.Reply to Rashidah
Love the marathon / sprint analogy! It’s so tempting when you’re starting out to dash from one thing to another without pausing for a breather (or to take stock of whether you’re actually focusing on the right things). I really like the 2 minute break idea too – I tend to go downstairs and make a hot drink when I need a break, but looking out the window for a 2 minute micro-break is a great idea.Reply to Jody
Catchy Post Tiffany… You make freelance writing sound like a fulfilling lifestyle.. As a beginner, it’s great to hear how important it is to pace yourself even in getting stated.Reply to Demar
Thanks so much! I was recently laid off and have decided to make freelancing my new full-time job. These are great ideas for establishing my business. Can you recommend a post or other resource for keeping the business part of my freelance business under control?Reply to Deb
Great post Tiffany! I think that this marathon approach will always be more sustainable in the long run. Personally, sticking to a daily morning routine has definitely helped me. 🙂Reply to Andreia
Thanks so much for your comment! Yes, morning routines are clutch. Although tricky to stick to, for whatever reason…Reply to Tiffany