Traditional 9-to-5 jobs can leave people feeling uninspired, apathetic, bored, disengaged and lacking direction. Sometimes freelancing can be seen as the exciting alternative to a traditional job… but what if you find yourself with these same feelings when you’re your own boss? Freelancing can be appealing for many reasons but it’s just as easy to feel disengaged and unhappy while working for yourself.

One of the easiest ways to decipher what feels wrong about your current setup is to understand what’s important to you. If you find yourself feeling like your current work-style isn’t giving you what you need, here are three tools you can use to evaluate and make changes.

1) Understand what activities give you energy or drain your energy

There are always going to be activities you have to do that drain your energy, but you may be able to restructure your day to mitigate their impact on your overall well-being.

This exercise comes from the book, Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life, and as the authors say,

“We engage in physical and mental activities all day long. Some activities sustain our energy and some drain it; we want to track those energy flows […]. Once you have a good handle on where your energy goes every week, you can start redesigning your activities to maximize your vitality.”

Try this:

  1. Each day, note your regular activities and engagements and whether they give you energy or drain your energy.
  2. Start to pay attention to your energy patterns across a week, what themes can you see emerging?
  3. What small changes can you make to improve your energy flows?

Do you prefer to do all your energy draining activities first thing in the morning? Or all in one day of the week? The book gives examples of people who double up on energy-positive tasks to help energize their week, adjust their schedule to surround less engaging activities with more engaging activities and giving themselves small rewards when they complete energy-negative tasks.

Suppose you hate tracking and categorizing your expenses and it tends to leak across your entire week, maybe you set a designated hour every week to go through them and you reward yourself with a coffee break when they’re completed, Experiment with how you structure your day and see if you can find a schedule that works better for you.

2) Evaluate your fulfillment in several areas of your professional life

An exercise called the “Wheel of Life” is a very standard coaching tool to help you evaluate your life across several different areas (here’s one example from the Coaches Training Institute). The main idea is to draw a circle, break into 8 sections, label each section with an aspect of your life, and rank each section from 1-10 based on your level of fulfillment (where 1 is least fulfilled and 10 is most fulfilled). As freelancers, work and life can be a little bit more blended so you could choose topics that span both life and work such as:

  • Time Management/Email/Organization
  • Career/Personal Growth
  • Generating Results
  • Work-Life Balance/Personal Well-Being
  • Physical Environment
  • Finances
  • Health
  • Fun and Recreation

Once you rank all 8 areas, step back and see what your current balance looks like? What areas could use some improvement? For example, if you see that your two lowest areas are health and time management, what could you change to increase your score even by 0.5 in those areas?

Maybe you want to go to sleep 30 minutes earlier every night this week or start using a timer when you check your email at the beginning of every day or schedule that doctor’s appointment you’ve been putting off. Sometimes even the smallest changes can have a huge impact and often times we already have an idea of what we’d like to change in our lowest ranking categories.

3) Define your own “subjective truths”

The book Roadmap: The Get-It-Together Guide for Figuring Out What to Do with Your Life explains subjective truths as “a set of defining parameters that speak to the core of who we are” and they create a value system that helps you make important decisions.

Subjective truths get to the core of your working preferences and they help us from getting distracted by all the things we’re told we should want. I see this exercise as permission to give YOUR answer to what you want out of a job, even when it might be seen as an unpopular answer.

Ask yourself the following questions (and any other ones that come to mind!) and see what you find:

  • Do I prefer to work independently?
  • Do I need a lot of structure?
  • Would I rather dress casually at work?
  • Do I want to be able to work while traveling?
  • Is it important for me to take weekends off?
  • Do I need to make a lot of money?
  • Do I work best when I’m my own boss?
  • Do I prefer working away from home?

If you prefer to work independently, you may want to stop saying yes to as many coworking invites. If you’re the kind of person who thrives when they’re dressed to impress, make sure that’s part of your routine even if other people love lounging in their PJs. Figure out what makes you feel good and do that, without feeling pressured to compare it to what everyone else is doing.

Using these three exercises, you’ll now be able to structure your day/week around what drains and gives you energy, understand if there are some areas of your life overall that need some changes and know what potential perks of freelancing are important to you. Start running some pilots, switch up your routine and see how you feel. The more you know yourself, the easier it will be to make changes when things aren’t feeling good.