Freelancers, You Can Sleep When You're Dead!

At my old 9 to 5, I would regularly put in a 8 – 10 hour day and then come home and continue to work until bedtime. I was on salary, so this gained no overtime pay — just made it possible for me to stay on top of the monstrous workload. Eventually I got totally burnt out and had to ban work from coming home with me at all. At first, I (and my former boss) expected this to mean that I wasn’t going to be getting as many things done. But what ended up happening is that I was less tired, less burnt out and less bitter during my 8 -10 hours in the office — therefor way more productive!

As a freelancer it can be really tough to keep a wedge between work time and personal time. They are so interconnected. Not only do many of us work out of our homes, but we ARE our brands. That can mean a lot of late nights and long hours.

Over the last couple weeks, I’ve been tackling client work during my regular business hours, then returning to the computer after dinner to hash out the final stages on the new site design — I’m exhausted! And If I wasn’t a total nerd for all things web, then I would hate my life. But I’m making an investment in my brand and to me, that’s worth the dark circles under my eyes!

We’ve all sacrificed some precious hours to get things done, it’s just part of the freelance life, but I wondered how far some of you would go – so I asked…

“What is the longest you have ever spent working*?”

* Stopping work to go to the bathroom, eat a meal, feed the cat, shower, check email, (+ other such comparable things) or take a nap under 2 or 3 hours does not count as STOPPING work.

“I think I am a workaholic type. Once I get into my work and if I feel very productive I will keep working until I am exhausted.” Athena Emily (Designer)

“I once waited so long to proofread an 800 page book that I had to proof for pretty much 40 hours straight, with my housemate bringing me meals. He was not pleased. That was 15 years ago.” Michelle Goodman (Writer/Blogger)

“when I wrote my first book, I worked on revisions for three days straight to meet the deadline, which I’m not entirely sure I met. ;) The whole time I kept thinking about how an officemate once told me that Quincy Jones worked on some composition for 72 hours straight and had an aneurysm when he was done.” Michelle Goodman (Writer/Blogger)

“the longest I ever worked was about 30 hours. Low pay content writing job when I was just starting out. I wrote a lot of content.” Aijalyn (Writer)

“I started working on it at 8AM and stopped working at 10PM; only taking breaks to use the bathroom, shower, and eat. Even worse, I still wasn’t done after all that. I ended up doing the same amount of work the next day!” Jake Mates (Designer)

“one day I had to be up at 7am to take care of something that took minutes and I don’t like going back to sleep once I’m up.. So I started working at 7:30am — and throughout the day I was working on new projects, making revisions, sending invoices to clients, sending orders to print and then I’m sure a lot of my time was spent being distracted on sites like Facebook and other spots – but I ended up just going all the way to around 4:30am which is pretty bad!” Andrew R. (Designer)

“I had a huge deadline for a client. I’m a web developer, who was working from home at the time. The problem was that I had been really busy with my personal life, got a new girlfriend, was buying an apartment all this stuff. So 3 days before the website was supposed to be delivered, I realized that I hadn’t done anything… so from that point on, there was a crazy scramble to get this thing done. I first took a day straight… I mean some 22 hours. Then I slept about 5 hours, guess I wasn’t panicked enough at that point. After I woke up, there was no sleep for the next 48 hours… as I just finished the project for the deadline… and slept for 3 days after that ” Gissur Simonarson (Developer)

“I have this friend, he is a businessman. I think he owns 3-4 businesses now, but the thing is, that after he launched a new company recently (an accounting firm) he needed some sort of channel to actually get to new companies that might possibly need some accounting service. So he asked me if I could do a web app for sending out ads. It had to contain an ad uploading option, creating groups for different firms, statistics about the clicks and whatnot. So, I’m the if-it’s-a-new-and-exciting-project-I’m-all-in type of guy. So I actually spent 26 hours straight behind my computer. Of course I took short breaks (15mins.) to go to the toilet and eat, but mostly, I just sat there and wrote.” Karl Sutt (Design/Dev)

“When I first started freelancing, I had about two weeks where I would quite literally wake up, make coffee, work, pass out on the keyboard, wake up, make more coffee, continue to work, get a phone call from my mother to make sure I was alive, work, realize I hadn’t eaten in roughly 36 hours, work, finally eat something, and eventually pass out.” Jason Lengstorf (Design/Dev)

“Longest spell was eight months at 80-110 hours a week working for a start-up marketing and promotions company into Toronto.The longest single workout was a 48 hour stint creating a web portfolio in a desperate time, not having any experience whatsoever with web, so basically learning and building as we go.” Brad Choma (Designer)

Have you pulled any marathon work hours to get a project out the door, or just cause you lost track of time? Leave a comment and share your story!


  1. Whoah, that’s insane! I’m sure I’ll have my own stories like this eventually but wow. I did have a project that I had a self-imposed deadline and I woudln’t allow myself to do anything else until I finished. It was a Mega Man iPhone theme to coincide with the release of Mega Man 9. I don’t think I saw completely straight for about 2 days.

  2. For the first Illustration project I did for one client, I received an order for 10 life-size halloween paintings, and had two weeks to do them. It doesn’t sound so bad until you consider that I work a day job 8 hours a day, plus an hour and a half commute each way. Basically, I had just over a day to do each one. I got up each morning at 5am, went to work, came home, ate at the drawing table and worked until 1 or 2 am each night for almost three weeks. (I pushed for an extension). Happily, the pieces came out fantastic and I’ve done 3 more projects (with more reasonable turns) since.

  3. Gee, I thought I was the only one working all kinds of crazy hours non-stop. You mean there are actually freelancers out there that work normal hours and actually have a life?!? LOL!!! I can relate to all of those stories above, glad to know I’m not alone.

  4. from 8:30am – 2:00am the next day, because my boss made 17897487874584 edits to the book and had to almost spend the night at work to finish it!!

  5. Hello!
    Very Interesting post! Thank you for such interesting resource!
    PS: Sorry for my bad english, I’v just started to learn this language ;)
    See you!
    Your, Raiul Baztepo

  6. The above stories sound like my daily routine. Of course, when you throw kids into the mix, it seems you *have* to work long hours. If I’m not working (i.e. developing), then I’m doing laundry, dishes, changing diapers, etc. One job to the next – and I generally get about 5-6 hours of sleep a night. It kinda sucks – the lack of sleep thing (before kids, I would happily sleep until noon, no problem.) However, I love every minute of it. it’s hard to juggle all of it, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

  7. I myself have been putting hours of work into everything I do. I believe the trade off with freelancing is that all you get out if what you put in. You can’t slack off like you do at your day job and expect to get away with it. I always think about how Bill Gates would sleep under his desk (or so I’ve been told by a coworker) and work long hours. I believe that if you have passion for something and you have discipline, you can make anything work for you. It’s best not to work too late into the night though. Try working during day hours and take breaks between. I believe it is wise to devise a list of tasks to be completed daily and from there on complete each task step by step. Then create a new task for the next day.

    One of the things I’ve learned is that how you manage your money is more important than how much money you make. I suppose in correlation how you manage your time is more important than how much work you get (obviously to a certain point before you might want a team).

  8. @Daquan

    I think that last point you made is spot on! In my years working as a junior designer, I put in so many hours I would regularly work every minute of the day that I was not sleeping or in the bathroom. Even meals were not a reasonable excuse for me to take a break — i’d just eat in front of the computer.

    This had its benefits and it’s set backs. The benefit is that I had a lot of work on my plate, so it taught me how to work smart and FAST! Once I was at a senior level, I had much more responsibilities on my plate, but I was able to make fast decisions and work in a smart way that helped me keep a more manageable work schedule.

    The set back of course is that for that period in my life I had no social life and I got very stress and burnt out. This is bad for your creativity and your health!

  9. 1-2- and even 3-nighters were pretty common in my carrier, but it’s happened to me twice in the extreme edition.

    First time in the US, when working on 2 massive projects for 2 different clients simultaneously. Work started on Monday morning at 7 AM and continued for solid 5 days and nights. Yes. I didn’t remember much from my last night, just that I have finished these projects and went to bed at 7:00 am on Saturday. I woke up around 4 PM thinking it’s still Saturday, but no, it was Sunday. I slept for 30 hours.

    Second time in Europe, when working for one local client and its 2 offices: one in Frankfurt, Germany, and second in California. Due to a very demanding client and a time zone difference (9 hours) I had to stay awake for the same amount of time as above – 5 days and nights. Basically, when the office in Germany was about to go home in the evening, the office in California was waking up and taking the work over. Not from me – I was the one doing the project. Slept between 30-36 hours when done.

    Advertising never sleeps – It’s the nature of this business and we have to live with it. Fortunately, I don’t have to do it that often anymore.

Comments are closed.