Working freelance one on, three off

Over the past few years freelancing I’ve been testing different styles of scheduling my client services. Typically freelance projects are either spread out (20/hours a week for 6 weeks) or are bunched up into large chunks (40/hours a week for 3 weeks). Neither of these have felt that good to me.

Spread out or in large chunks

The spread out projects almost always require that I have multiple client projects running at the same time. That causes quite a bit of switching costs when I jump from project to project. This switching cost isn’t billable so I end up losing that time, and feel panicked since I now have to make up that time.

The large chunk of time projects don’t have as many switching costs, but they have their own problems. The two big ones for me are

  1. burnout due to intense time demands and
  2. fostering the feast-and-famine cycle (start/stop/start)

The burnout problem I’ve been able to work around by not over-committing and keeping my days short (no 12-hour billable days for me, thank you very much). The start/stop/start problem is worse though.

I’ve finally figured out how to market my client services, at least well enough that I can find some great clients when work slows down. The problem is, it takes me a month or two to scale up my marketing from a standstill. With a large chunk project, that means I don’t have the time to keep my marketing running, so at the end of each project I’ve had to reinvigorate my marketing yet again.

A better schedule

I think I’ve found a better way to schedule client work though. One that works well with my schedule, my marketing, and my product development. That schedule is what StatusPage names the “one on / three off” schedule.

Basically, instead of working part-time on client projects and your product or doing full-time bursts of client projects with an idle gap in-between projects, you schedule projects so you work full-time but only for a week each month (the one on part). The other three weeks of the month you can work on other things: marketing, building products, vacations.

I’ve tried this for about two years now, with a few different clients. I have to say, I love it and it’s my favorite scheduling mechanism.


My clients like it too, despite the drawbacks at the first glance.

The 3 weeks off

As I mentioned earlier, the biggest benefit for me is that I can schedule around my week of client work. So if I need to build up Chirk HR or another product, I have 3 weeks to work on it. Or if I’m going to be scaling up my client services marketing again, I’ll have time to get it going before it’s critical.

Focus 100% on my client

With a solid FT week of client work, it’s also easier for me to focus and get into the flow with them. Usually a few hours is needed on Monday to ramp back up and see what’s changed in a month but my mid-morning Monday I’m already cranking away. That usually doesn’t stop until Friday afternoon. This means my attention stays at it’s peak and I don’t get distracted by other clients or other projects.


The nice thing about being on for a week from the client’s perspective, they will know when I will be working and (based on previous estimates) can predict how much I’ll get done during that week. That means the week before they can do all of their planning, get ready for me, and then just check back at the end of the week. Some clients will take a more active role in the project, wither it’s to attend a daily check-in meeting with me or to schedule open office hours for me to come to them with questions. Either way, since I’m only on for a week at a time their commitment levels are limited to that week too.

Emergencies and fire-drills

One downside I thought would hurt this schedule would be that my clients would need me during my off-weeks. Though they have needed help for emergencies, for the most part they haven’t had to contact me or schedule any non-standard days. With a few exceptions, most of the emergency fire-drills in projects are caused by someone rushing to do something that isn’t really urgent.

That’s my one-on, three-off schedule I’ve been using. Want more weekly freelancer training like this?


  1. curtismchale says:

    I’m just starting to experiment with weekly pricing. So I’d be on 1 project for 4 days a week with Friday left for business stuff and any emergencies (server down) from other clients.

    Context switching and juggling clients is just a pain I no longer want at all. It has meant such an increase in stress which also means a decrease in my quality of life.

    I’m not sure I can do the 1 on 3 off schedule quite yet though. Maybe I’m undervaluing myself, but I can’t charge enough in 1 week to cover a month and my other income from products isn’t big enough to cover that. I could do the reverse though, 3 on 1 off which is my first goal.

    • Eric Davis says:

      I didn’t jump into 1 week either. I started out with 1 week off and then 2 weeks off.

      The biggest part for me wasn’t the ratio of time on vs time off. It was blocking time in a week (or two) chunks at a time.

      The worst time I had was when I was working on 3 client projects concurrently (1 in the morning, one in the early afternoon, and one in the late afternoon).

      • curtismchale says:

        Yeah I’m trying to juggle 3 right now and see others that should be starting next week.

        This one huge one just keeps taking longer than it should.

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