UX Research Freelance Work-Life Balance(or How To Make Your Life As a Freelancer the Best It Can Be)

Original presentation by Cory Lebson on August 12, 2021, via Zoom

Click to view the recording of Cory’s presentation.

Cory Lebson has been a UX research freelancer exclusively since 2008. He has a microbusiness, Lebsontech LLC, with a few subcontractors. His book, The UX Careers Handbook, will be out in a second edition in early 2022. He has been a leader for the international and Washington, D. C., chapters of the UXPA. He teaches classes on LinkedIn Learning and has a blog.

These Are Anxious Times The state of the world is stressful, but now is as good as any time to become a freelancer. Lebson became a freelancer in the midst of The Great Recession. Outsiders often think freelancers are off having fun in the sun and that they can work from anywhere. But the reality is that freelancing can be really lonely. Often there are no colleagues, and no friends around, especially during Covid. While this can feel isolating, there are things to do to find a balanced, happy place.

Staying Busy There is a level of risk in freelancing, but there are risks in any job. One of the stressful parts of UX research freelancing is getting enough work to keep busy. Lebson’s work philosophy is that there are many small puzzle pieces that fit together for a successful UX research freelance career. His favorite approach is mixing things up by not putting all the eggs in one basket. Having a big contract can be wonderful, but it was difficult when it came to an end overnight. It’s important to pay attention to other, smaller projects, and keep many irons in the fire. It’s okay to take a big contract, but it’s critical to put out feelers for future work even when you are busy with current work.

Being an Introvert or Extrovert Doesn’t Matter If you are interested in UX, you care about people. Their goals and needs become your priority. It doesn’t matter if you are introverted or extroverted because ultimately, you still have to do the work.  People are the most interesting and challenging part of the puzzle. Meeting and interacting with them is important.

Is Remote Work Forever? Before the pandemic, Lebson enjoyed traveling for work and the mental reset of dropping into a new place. His happy place is high-touch, customized research. Covid made that hard because of reduced travel. Ultimately, he was able to continue research in person by observing Covid protocols and social distancing. Will place matter again? Yes. Place matters. UX will not remain fully remote. Observation matters.

Being Flexible Is Key to Workplace Happiness Flexibility is another puzzle piece. In UX research freelance work–and in any UX work–being able to fit into multiple situations is critical. Build in buffer time to your schedule. Work-life balance is important for a UX research freelance life. Do not try to fill every moment of your calendar. Balance the ramping up and the ramping down of projects.  Lebson tries to book work 3-4 weeks ahead and keeps buckets of time available, which allow him to say yes to small projects (or other things) that come up. It is always disappointing to have to say no to projects that are too big, but maintaining balance is key.

Another tip is to be flexible with travel plans (when anything can happen) so you don’t miss any scheduled work. Be flexible when scheduling testing so you don’t knock yourself out. Build exercise into every day for physical and mental wellness. Don’t pack your schedule; you will get overwhelmed and that is not good for physical or mental health. Develop materials (testing scripts, etc.) that are adaptable using tools such as Google docs on Google drive, so that last-minute changes can be accommodated.

Remember to Let Things Go It took Lebson half his career to learn that you can’t put too much emotional energy into saving the world all the time. Do your best, and that’s good enough.

Keep Learning Happiness is keeping UX work going even when not getting paid. This is different than not getting money. You might get training or other value in exchange for your work, so you are not just working for free. If work slows, figure out a way to keep learning: presentations, LinkedIn Learning, videos, podcasts, blogs. Even when working, spend 2-3 hours a week learning something new about UX.

Get Involved Wherever you are, join your local organizations for UX research freelancers or your chapter of UXPA. Connect with the people. A loose association with other UX peers will be beneficial within whatever industry you work. Really attend events and connect with others. Find your virtual community, too. Use #UX to find conversations and engage in the UX community, regardless of Covid. Be a leader because helping others ultimately helps yourself. For Lebson, involvement in the UXPA for social connection ultimately helped freelance business. Share your thoughts on blogs, publications, websites.  People will find you. You create your own serendipity.

Beyond Work Another tip for work-life balance as a UX research freelancer: Find your happy place and figure yourself out. The lockdown did prompt a lot of soul searching. Lebson discovered he needed more outdoor time, as well as more sensory and visual stimulation. He bought exercise equipment, biometric monitors, and a VR headset to improve work life during the pandemic.

Past Events

How to Make Your Life as a Freelancer the Best it Can Be, August 12, 2021, via Zoom
– UX Research Freelance Work-Life Balance

UXr Guild is Meeting UX Researchers in New York City, July 8, 2021, New York City
How to Become a Freelance UX Researcher