Is Your Freelance Life Slowly Killing You?


I couldn’t wait to start my new career as a freelancer.  I envisaged a stress-free existence, flexible hours and an exciting opportunity to learn new skills.

I certainly wasn’t going to miss all those wasted hours contemplating my own navel whilst stuck somewhere between Staines and Heathrow on the M25.

I walked out of my job on a particularly miserable Thursday in October and drove home via that god awful motorway for the last time. The next morning I woke up, got dressed and made the 10-second commute to my home office and then everything changed.

It took me approximately 2 minutes to realise that I loved my new career as a copywriter. In fact, I loved it so much that I was soon working all hours. Nothing short of the apocalypse was ever going to tear me away from my desk.

Six months later it became obvious that the apocalypse had, indeed, arrived because my new life was killing me.

I was becoming sluggish, apathetic and, well, fat!

The Freelancer in Freefall

The more I thought about it, the more certain I was that my body was shutting down. I was in imminent danger of flatlining. I had become obsessed with completing as many projects as possible and so I sat at my desk all day and half the night. I refused to take breaks because any time away from my desk would ruin my schedule, not to mention my earnings.

But I was spending a large proportion of my earnings buying new clothes in larger sizes! Go figure!

What the hell was I going to do?

freelance life

Making a Stand

My partner had recently started to work at a standing desk and encouraged me to follow suit. I was truly horrified at the thought! How would I be able to concentrate whilst standing up? But then again, he clearly wasn’t having any trouble in that regard and was rapidly losing weight. His annoying headaches and shoulder pain appeared to have vanished too. It was a subject worthy of investigation.

I did a little research and was shocked to discover just how dangerous it was to spend quite so much time on my bottom. A bottom that was getting wider by the minute.

I learnt that sitting down for too long slows the metabolism. This causes weight gain and impacts the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar and blood pressure. The result is a massive increase in the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart attacks, some cancers and premature death. Good God!

I needed to stand up immediately! But I didn’t have a standing desk so I used a pile of books to raise my keyboard to a suitable height. It was a Heath Robinson affair but it worked – after a fashion.

The effects were dramatic, though. I felt better almost immediately and so rushed out to buy a standing desk.


I had feared that I would have to force my ageing bones to sustain a higher altitude. I had felt certain that my work would suffer if I stood up and that I would write incoherent gibberish. I was so wrong.

Standing up was easy. Better still, I felt that my work was actually improving. But I was still fat!

It was time to tear myself away from my new desk. My work was certainly doing a good job of exercising my mind but I now needed to exercise my body.

It would be necessary to leave my desk for at least one hour every day in order to get fit.

exercise as a freelancer

Cool Runnings

Running seemed the most appropriate choice of exercise as I used to run regularly after work and I have always enjoyed being outdoors. I was full of confidence about my proposed exercise regime but pride comes before a fall.

Sadly, my first outing was an epic fail! I was hanging over the fence in the park gasping for breath like a terminal consumptive after just 700 yards. A guy walking a cockapoo even stopped to ask if I was OK. I clearly wasn’t!  How had it come to this? I was determined to improve.

By week two I could run a mile. Four weeks later I could manage three miles. By week twelve I was running eight miles and waving at cockapoo man as I passed him at speed. The spare tyre had disappeared and I felt like a new person. But what about all the time that I was spending away from my desk? Had I alienated all of my customers? Was I now residing in the poor house?

I shouldn’t have worried. Taking breaks and exercising had considerably improved my productivity. I was completing even more work than before but in less time and I was finding inspiration a great deal easier to come by.

Freelancers, Be Warned!

If you are a freelancer and always work sitting down then it might be time to reconsider your position – literally. You might think that you are doing fine but don’t be fooled. Sitting down all day is extremely damaging to your health.

Standing up is much easier than you think and an adjustable desk doesn’t cost the earth. Especially if you visit a certain well-known Swedish furniture retailer that doesn’t like garden gnomes. Other retailers are available.

Taking regular breaks is also important, as is exercise, and those breaks will likely result in your work improving. Go on! Try it! The new you just might be a better freelancer.

About the Author:

head-shotI am a UK based copywriter and have been a freelancer for over four years. In my previous life, I spent sixteen years as Director of Operations at a distribution company and held senior management positions in textile production and freight recruitment businesses. Hire Sally on PeoplePerHour.


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  • Zoe S.

    This could be me. Thank you for the kick up the (ever-expanding) bum!

  • Liam Beale

    Interesting read Sally 🙂

    . Im living proof of this at the moment. I have been suffering headaches, back ache, shoulder and neck ache as well as a pain in my index finger, pain in my eye and tinitus. For someone who has barely taken a sick day off work their entire life i wondered what was going on so went to see my doctor and i have a trapped nerve. Created simply because i had spent the last 3 years sitting at my desk for endless hours working.

    Im now 39 feeling like im going on 55. I think working for yourself is great and my income has multiplied over the last few years but i have had to make many sacrifies and life changes because of the stress on my poor neck and spine and the hard reality of being told ill never quite go back to normal (and by that i mean sitting at my desk for 8 hours straight without a problem).

    My advice schedule alarms for regular breaks get into frequent exercise and get a good chair because trust me you dont want to turn out like me.

  • Sally


    I am sorry to hear about your problems, I suspect this type of issue is very common. My standing desk and exercise breaks really have been a revelation!


  • Akash

    This Is my story….
    Sick in bed now! 🙁

  • Jennifer

    Thank you for making me laugh and providing a healthy dose of reality all at once! Love your fun, humorous writing style. Congratulations on finding a balance–I’ve resorted to setting break alarms to do things I enjoy (like, you know, moving).

    Thanks again for sharing.

  • Rick Siderfin

    Thanks Sally, great article. Have you tried a treadmill desk yet? I also was wondering if it was possible to be productive while vertical so thanks for the assurance that it is!

  • Matt Myatt

    Great article, Sally. I must admit that I find it incredibly tiresome being sat in front of a laptop all day.

    I tried yoga and pilates, but found that as soon as I got back to the laptop again the feeling of frustration returned immediately.

    I’m going to try the standing desk thing.

    Thank you!

  • David Fairhurst

    Whoah! Thanks Sally, excellent article!

    This was exactly how I was a few years ago before I built myself a standing desk! I had all kinds of neck and shoulder aches, stomach aches and general lethargy from spending up to 12 hours each day tied to a desk.

    Standing has been a revelation and I’ve managed to lose an additional 20kgs of blubber on top of the losses from going to the gym every night. Sitting really was killing me and I didn’t even know it!

    Best of all, I’ve been able to shed all of the medication I had been on for years and now feel as fit as I was 30 years ago, a massive turn around for me (I was also beginning to feel like an old man, Liam Beale!)

    It just goes to show the damage that a sedentary, desk-bound lifestyle is doing to us all. Not great.

    Thanks for spreading the word Sally!


  • Mohammed

    Try Working Using your laptop leaning on the floor……hold your laptop on lap and lean on any carpet. Works very well!.

  • Ann Walker

    Great article. Part of the problem with freelancing burn-out is not charging enough for the work.

    I see jobs here all the time where the client expects to pay something like £10 for an 800-word article – expertly researched, in flawless English, Copyscape-proof, completely original, with images and/ or infographics and delivered fully proofed and ready to go in 24 hours. Sounds ridiculous but it’s accurate and, sadly, there’s often a queue of sellers fighting to race to the bottom to get it.

    At those rates, it’s nigh-on impossible to earn a UK living wage without being tied to the keyboard 24/7. Burn-out follows shortly afterwards.

    The way to avoid it is for everyone to raise their expectations and their fees. Until we ALL do that, burn-out is inevitable, as is people returning to the 9 – 5 grind of working for someone else to make ends meet. Good work should command a good and fair wage and buyers should expect to pay realistically for what they get.

    • Kelly

      Hi Ann,

      Many thanks for your suggestions. I will pass them on to the relevant team.

      Please let me know if I can help you with anything else.

  • Oliver Higdon

    This is all too real it hurts….literally 🙁

  • Sally

    Thanks Ann! I couldn’t agree more! There are levels beneath which I will not sink. Pay peanuts and guess what you get?

  • Guy

    Great article Sally, thanks for sharing.

    Personally, my problem was my back. I invested in a Herman Miller Aeron chair. They cost a fortune but are worth every penny.

  • Saqib

    Thanks Sally,
    I recently started my life as a freelancer about 2 months ago after quitting job from one of the world famous company, i am lucky to find your tips in my very early stage as a freelancer about how dangerous it could be to sitting all the time on the chair. Basically i am web programmer and used to sit on my computer chair as long as more than 14 hours a day (due to my passion about to learn new technologies and i can afford because i am quite young) BUT now after reading your advice i have planned to start the gym right from tomorrow and will do proper exercise and also start running.

    I believe that if you are in good health, only then you are able to provide a quality work and of course earn good money, otherwise you would feel like 50 years old in your 30’s.

  • Zubair Khan

    Great article… I am gonna buy some standing furniture now…

  • Rami MD

    Thanks, Sally,

    I’m going to check what you suggested and will keep you updated. Keep your finger crossed for my success.


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