How I Work a Three-Day Workweek As a Freelancer

Oct 10, 2022

When I started freelancing, a three-day workweek was nothing more than a pipe dream.

At that time, I worked long hours. I worked well into the evenings. On weekends. Over holidays. I knew I had to put in the time in order to get my business up and running.

But once I was on my feet and well-established? Well, those long hours still hung on. In fact, they increased.

Despite the fact that I got into freelancing for the supposed flexibility, I felt pressure to stick with a rigorous schedule.

…until something snapped.

My story probably isn’t all that unique in that the pandemic—which coincided with becoming a mom for the first and second time—made me take a hard look at my priorities and evaluate whether or not my work (and honestly, my overall life) was aligned with those.

Spoiler alert: It wasn’t.

It was then and there that I decided to make a change: I cut Friday out of my workweek. And a little over a year later? I cut Thursday out too.

Now I consistently maintain a three-day workweek as a freelance writer. I’ve been somewhat vocal about the schedule shift online (here, here, and here, if you’re interested). Understandably, I received quite a few questions about how I manage these reduced hours.

I have answers for you. Here’s the down and dirty on how I stick with a three-day workweek.

(One quick caveat first: I’m a big fan of my three-day workweek. It’s a great match for me and my life right now. That doesn’t mean it’s the only “right” way to manage your own schedule. Maybe you love working five days. Maybe you’re most fulfilled working 70 hours. Maybe you work through the night and sleep all day. You do you.)

1. What inspired you to reduce your work schedule?

I already alluded to a bit of what was behind my changing attitude toward my work, but I’ll give you the short-ish version of the full story:

In the spring of 2021, my first son was about a year old. His daycare sent home a family art project for us to do together, and I set it on a pile on the kitchen counter—with every intention of making time to do it soon.

I never did. Like so many other people who used productivity to cope with the stress of the pandemic, I had thrown myself full force into my work. And, that left me so overwhelmed with an ever-increasing to-do list and client roster, I completely forgot about my toddler’s art project.

I felt awful. Like, crying-to-my-husband-about-what-a-terrible-and-negligent-parent-I-am kind of awful.

I decided right then that I needed a change. I cut Fridays out of my workweek in May of 2021. At first, my intention was to use that day to do errands, laundry, and all of the other household stuff that piles up throughout the week so that I could be fully present and engaged with my son on the weekends.

Fast forward to April 2022. I had welcomed my second son that January and was preparing to return to work after my three-month maternity leave.

I was admittedly pretty devastated at the thought of my children spending five days in daycare and only two days with me. So, shortly after returning from leave, I decided that I wanted to cut back even further to work Monday through Wednesday and keep both of my boys home with me on Thursday and Friday.

I’ve worked that schedule since early June of this year.

TL;DR I switched to a three-day workweek because I was burned out and craved more time with my kids.

Stock image of a page of an open notebook-style calendar.

2. Do you really not work on Thursday and Friday?

For the most part, nope, I don’t work on Thursday or Friday. I don’t have any client work or deadlines those days and I also don’t schedule any meetings or phone calls.

Do I completely avoid my computer? Not exactly. When the kids are napping, I might hop on and respond to a few quick emails or some social messages.

But, there’s never anything that absolutely has to get done. I make sure of that.

3. Do you put in longer workdays now?

I had quite a few people ask about my schedule Monday through Wednesday—primarily with the goal of understanding whether or not my shortened workweek means I put in longer days when I am working.

I totally understand the question—reducing your workweek is hard, and most of us attempt to make it happen by cramming the same amount of work into a smaller container (been there, done that).

But no, at this point, I don’t work longer days on Monday through Wednesday. In fact, my workdays are shorter than ever.

I take care of dropping the boys off at daycare in the morning. I’m usually not back at my desk until 9 or 9:30am-ish. I work until about 11:30am, which is when I take a lunch break and get the dogs out. I’ll head back to my computer around 12 or 12:30pm and work until about 4pm.

At that point, I sign off to do glamorous things like empty the dishwasher, fold laundry, make shopping lists, set out stuff for dinner, and take a shower.

If you’re doing the math, I’m working about six to seven hours per day, three days per week. So, I’m definitely not stuffing 40 hours into three days over here.

4. Has the shorter workweek impacted your income?

Here’s the answer nobody wants: Yep, it has impacted my income.

But, there’s a bit more complexity to my answer. In 2021, my business was booming. I knew that I had to prepare for (and self-fund) my maternity leave in early 2022. So, while I was still working a four-day week at that point, I hustled.

I took on a ton of work myself (honestly, more than I’d recommend). I also assigned a lot of it out to trusted subcontractors.

I struck while the iron was hot, so to speak—meaning my business did just under $300,000 in total revenue in 2021 (and I’m super proud to say that I was able to pay over six figures to the freelance writers who worked with me).

Now? Because I was craving both time freedom and simplicity, I’ve scaled my business back pretty substantially. I still subcontract out a few things here and there, but for the most part, I only take on what I can handle independently.

If you take a look at my profit and loss statement, you’ll see that I won’t come near last year’s numbers. But, I’m still going to take home a very, very respectable income (I’m on track to cross six figures in net income if you’re into knowing that sort of thing).

On paper, it looks like my business has taken a nosedive. But in reality? It feels better than ever.

5. Did your projects or rates change when you shortened your workweek?

They did. But it also wasn’t this big, drastic decision.

I raised my rates when I returned from maternity leave, simply since I was due (okay…um, overdue) to do that anyway. Plus, I knew charging a little more for the same work would help protect my income from taking too major of a hit.

My projects changed slightly too. I’m still working with a lot of the same clients I’ve collaborated with for years. But, since I knew I had limited work time, I focused more on clients that are:

  • Enjoyable and easy to work with

  • In my “world of work” niche

That narrower lens means I did have to let go of some clients and projects—and, in most cases, I referred them directly to subcontractors I had been working with.

6. What do your clients think about your schedule?

This was one of the biggest hangups people expressed. What about my clients?! Don’t they care?! What if something urgent comes up on the days I’m out?!

People are hesitant to believe me when I say this: My reduced workweek has been a non-issue with my clients.

I think a lot of this smoothness has to do with the fact that I set pretty clear expectations upfront. My clients know that:

  • I’m not available for same-day calls

  • I typically respond within 48 hours (often sooner, but I’m not jumping on their emails instantly)

  • I don’t fulfill urgent requests or rush jobs

  • I have full control over my schedule, not them

With all of that groundwork in place, the fact that I work Monday through Wednesday is barely a blip on their radar. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that a lot of my long-term, recurring clients haven’t even realized I work a shorter workweek.

Do you communicate your schedule to your clients?

Honestly, only when I have to. If we’re trying to schedule a meeting, I’ll usually say something simple like, “Heads up that I work Monday through Wednesday and am with my boys on Thursday and Friday, so we’ll need to plan accordingly for our call!”

I have a tagline in my email signature that says I only check emails Monday through Thursday. I should probably update it to my new schedule. But, that hasn’t seemed pressing since, as I said, I haven’t run into any problems.

How do you plan your deadlines?

I build a buffer—I usually aim for a week or so—into my project timelines as a general best practice. Aside from that, scheduling deadlines has been pretty straightforward: I only book them on Monday through Wednesday.

That sometimes leads to another instance when I communicate my schedule with my clients: When I need them to send me briefs and resources by a certain date. I obviously don’t want them to send me an assignment brief on Tuesday afternoon with the expectation I can still get the project done that same week.

So, in cases where clients have to send me things on a rolling basis, I loop them in on my work schedule so that they can get me what I need in a reasonable timeframe.

7. What do you do if projects spill over to your free days?

This hasn’t happened too frequently. I’ve had a few instances when something unexpected crops up—like a sick kiddo home from daycare early in the week—and things need to shuffle around.

But otherwise, I’m generally pretty rigid about sticking to my own boundaries (more on that a little later) and don’t allow my work to bleed over into my free days.

If something does? I know that I have the capacity to deal with small tasks—emails, edits, etc.—during nap times on Thursday and Friday if I absolutely have to.

If it’s a bigger project that somehow didn’t fit into my workweek as planned and I know I won’t be able to get it done amidst snack requests and LEGO towers, I’ll swallow my pride and ask for an extension. However, I can only think of one time that’s happened (and it was because our whole household was knocked down sick).

8. Do you think you’re more productive now?

Nope. I’m not more productive.

That’s not a sexy answer—especially with all of the click-baity “here’s how I work a full week in two hours!” content that’s out there.

But, if you’re going to look at “productivity” as the sheer amount that I get done, I’m absolutely not more productive. I’d get more stuff done if I worked more hours.

However, I’m a lot of other positive things. I’m more efficient. More focused. More energized. And those things are far more important to me than quantity.

Stock image of the top of an old-fashioned, white alarm clock.

9. How much time do you spend marketing your own business?

I’ve received a lot of versions of this same question over the years. And, I’m sure people will be disappointed to learn that I don’t have a super sophisticated system.

I’m pretty well-established in my freelance career now, which means I don’t do a lot of outreach for new clients and projects—most of them find and approach me.

Beyond that? I try to post to Twitter once per day-ish and post to LinkedIn a couple of times per week. Sometimes I’ll send a cold email or connection request to someone I want to get to know. That’s about it.

So, in short, I’m not investing a ton of time and energy into marketing over here (even if I probably should be…). And, I certainly don’t have set days or times when I’m working on business development.

10. What do you do on Thursday and Friday?

Let’s get honest for a minute: This was the question that baffled me the most—as if people couldn’t think of a single thing I could possibly be doing with my time outside of tippy-tapping on my computer.

And I think people half-expected me to have a super inspiring answer. “Oh, I’m writing a novel. I’m training for a marathon. I’m pursuing stand-up comedy.”

I’m doin’ none of that.

The bulk of my Thursdays and Fridays are spent with my boys. Coloring. Eating snacks. Running errands. Racing toy cars across the kitchen. Going to the library or the playground. Trying to get the Cocomelon song about popsicles out of my head.

When I manage to occupy the kiddos for more than two minutes (or, in the sweetest of all accomplishments, get them down for naps at the same time)? I clean old food out of the fridge. I do my 84th load of laundry for the week. I call to make appointments. I sort through the mail. I clip my toenails.

You know, all of the stuff that we all have to take care of but doesn’t look sexy and glamorous on Instagram.

Hear me when I tell you this: You do not need to engage in some meaningful, soul-filling pursuit or passion project on your days “off” in order to justify a shorter workweek for yourself. You can do whatever the hell you want with that time—that’s the whole point.

11. How do you respect your own boundaries?

Honestly, the hardest part of switching to a three-day work week was deciding to do it. Once I made up my mind? Sticking to that schedule has actually been easier than I ever anticipated.

Having the kids home with me has been a great boundary-enforcer, simply because I don’t have the time to sit at my computer for hours on days when I planned to be out of the “office.”

Beyond that, I’ve “hidden” all social media apps on my phone. And that’s about it—I haven’t bothered setting an OOO autoresponder or really putting any other “hacks” in play for myself.

Somebody asked me if my three-day workweek was more of a mindset shift than a system-building exercise, and I think that’s a great way to describe it.

12. How do you battle the feeling that you’re not doing “enough”?

Related to that, how do I resist the urge to pile my plate too full—especially when we all tend to equate our own value and importance with how much we’re achieving?

This is something I still struggle with from time to time. I wrote about it in detail in this piece, but work-life balance often gets talked about like it’s a one-time problem to solve. You’ll eventually land on the perfect hack, schedule, or system and watch as everything falls into place.

That’s not reality—at least, it hasn’t been for me. I’m making hard decisions day in and day out. I’m turning down clients I’m interested in working with. Speaking opportunities that would be fulfilling. Ideas I want to pursue. Paychecks that would be meaningful.

And all the while? I’m fighting that innate urge to just squeeze one more thing in.

So, balance is hard. I still have plenty of moments when I shame myself for not stretching beyond my capacity. But, in the end, I come back to my main priority right now: time with my family.

When something doesn’t serve that ultimate goal? It’s a little less painful (I still won’t say “easy”) to keep it off my plate.

Will I stick with a three-day workweek?

Finally, people wanted to know: Do I plan to keep my workweek to three days long-term?

For the foreseeable future, yes. I don’t see myself heading back to five full days anytime soon. The thought alone actually makes my heart race.

With that said, I’m also staying open to other possibilities. Maybe once my boys are in school, I’ll go back to five days—but only work 9am to 1 or 2pm. Or maybe something completely different.

I love the three-day workweek for now, but also plan to remain flexible and adapt to my own needs, as well as the needs of my family. After all, isn’t that level of wiggle room the ultimate perk of the freelance life?

Have more questions about my three-day workweek? Drop them in a comment and I’ll do my best to reply!


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