Freelancers are like superheroes. 

Fair enough…we may not have super strength, we may not be able to fly, and we may not be capable of teleportation or invisibility.

I could go on and on…

But there is one superpower we do possess. 

Our time.

In the corporate world, they say ‘time is money’

We are all aware of this insufferably overused phrase in the rat race. 

Everyone, everywhere, wants things done as quickly as possible.  The faster it gets done, the faster the company can make money. If it means sleeping in the office to have the proposal ready for 9am next morning….then so be it.

Time is money. Get it done! 

It’s why every employee is so petrified about not looking busy enough in any office environment. I still remember those moments of my boss walking across the studio floor in my agency days, and the entire design staff would adjust their sitting posture immediately, rustle through scrap papers beside them, and make sure photoshop was open on screen!

All of it was an act. 

But every member of staff knew the boss loathed downtime. To her, if you didn't look like you were up against it with a crunching deadline….you are as good as useless. She couldn’t have been more of the cardboard cutout, stereotypical, dreaded boss if she tried. 

In the corporate world, time is nothing more than a ticking clock.

There is no such thing as wasted time for us creatives

I can’t help but think of a great scene in Mad Men — a scene that encapsulates the epitome of creativity.

The show’s lead man and agency creative director, Don Draper, is dealing with a complaint made to him by the firm’s financial chief, Lane Pryce. He is annoyed that he keeps seeing the copywriters in the lounge, napping, socialising, playing pool etc — and it’s all on company time. 

Don handles him with aplomb, and replies — ”Look, we do this better than you. And part of that is letting our creatives be unproductive…until they are.”

Emmy Award winning writing! The show has won 15 of them over seven seasons. 

Don is enlightening the ignorant, by-the-book money man who merely sees the staff as financial burdens… not valuable assets. Professional creatives with proven track records do not come up with the big ideas by being chained to a desk all day, under a deadline. Now, while that may look like the traditional image of “working” to a luddite like Lane, it achieves absolutely nothing for Don’s creative team.

You cannot force a bright idea. You have to let it happen all on its own.

“You’re often most creative when you’re the least productive”

Austen Kleon, Author & Artist

I have never once come up with a good idea while physically working at my laptop. Sure, I might be typing, but I’m sure as hell not writing. 

Those light bulb moments happen when I’m doing something totally arbitrary and unrelated to the task at hand. You see, while these things distract my conscious mind, my subconscious mind keeps working. My brain, all on its own,  goes looking for clues and stimuli from the natural world in order to help me. 

I’ll see something, hear something, or remember something when I…

  • go for a spur of the moment jog

  • make dinner while listening to music

  • lie on the sofa, staring up at the celing 

  • watch the world go by from the top deck of a double-decker

  • of course, when I head down the local boozer

  • even cat-sitting for a friend (I LOVE doing this)

I’m literally doing the exact opposite of “working” and “managing my time.” Imagine my clients' shock if they saw me like this whilst on their dime. 

And this is precisely my point.

As a freelancer, as a creative, as an independent professional who is damn good at what he does…I bring a whole new meaning to the concept of time. 

When I stop being a slave to the clock and forget about my client’s deadline altogether…is time very well spent. 

Time isn’t my enemy. It’s my superpower. 

Harnessing this superpower is a lifelong mastery

Beware though, my fellow freelancers, much like man learning to harness fire…we too need to do the same with the power of our time. 

Like an arrogant sailor ignoring storm warnings from a coast guard because he has sailed through jagged waters plenty of times before…and then needs to be rescued from a sinking ship, or a cocky poker player who has seen every bluff in the book and won’t be intimidated by some young rookie at the table…then loses everything on one hand — it’s so easy for us creatives to fall into this trap too.

Never disrespect the ocean. Never disrespect the game. Never disrespect your time. 

When you run an errand at the drop of a hat at 2pm on a Tuesday…learn to appreciate it. Acknowledge it.  Enjoy it. Use that 10 minute bus journey up the road wisely. 

Take a moment. Take a breath. Relax and unwind. Watch the world go by. Stop caring so much…and see what your imagination discovers. 

This is you harnessing your superpower….and it’s a skill that takes a lifetime to master.

Feature: Lisa Fotios
1. Sebastian Arie Voortman
2. Pixabay
3. Ekaterina Bolovtsova
4. cottonbro studio