What to do when you’re starved for time

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Ironically, right after my last post, which talked about how to use stretches of low-intensity time productively, a heap of Things landed on the top of my head. Tons of work. New clients. Sick kids. A house in shambles.

So let’s flip the coin. How do you cope when there simply aren’t enough hours in a day? Everyone has their tricks, but here are mine:

#1. I get up early. And I mean, really early, like when it’s still dark and the roosters are crowing. I know, I know, I’m not really THAT much of a morning person either, but I figured out my day is a lot more productive if I get the most difficult tasks of the way before the kids are even up. Which brings me to…

#2 Save your productive time for the important stuff. If you know that your energy and concentration ebb in the afternoon, don’t plan anything big for that time of the day. Complete the large tasks (whether it’s major work assignments or cleaning out the refrigerator) in the morning. I allot time in the afternoon mostly for mindless stuff like picking up around the house and maybe some admin tasks.

#3. Get the most out of your time. We all know what this means, right? Set the phone aside. No quick peeks at social media. No glimpses of the latest yarn arrivals at Woolstack (guilty here). And no hopping between tasks – if I’m writing an article, I don’t stop in the middle to answer an email (unless I’m convinced it really can’t keep an hour!). I don’t answer most phone calls, either, because an interruption of even a couple of seconds gets me out of the loop and makes me spend more time on whatever I’m doing.

#4. Get enough sleep. I don’t always follow that rule to the T, I admit. I used to work nights after the kids were in bed, but I don’t do that anymore, because I realized my health and sanity pay the price. If you overdraft on your “sleep batteries”, your brain becomes sluggish, everything takes more time, and eventually, you have to take a nap. I’m typically in bed by 10 p.m., which allows me to feel rested and ready for another day by 5:30 or 6 a.m.

#5. Reevaluate. How much of the strain is temporary and unavoidable, and how much is because of choices? I had to let go of clients and pare down some other commitments because they didn’t work into my schedule. Living under constant stress is unsustainable and not worth it.

Coping with freelance writing ebb and flow

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Every freelance writer knows that workflows can (and will) shift. One day, you have a steady trickle of work. Then you’re buried in an avalanche of projects that looks like it will keep you busy until next year. And a month later, you sit around wondering where your next gig is coming from.

I’ve been a content writer and editor for several years now, and I’ve mostly been very, very lucky to find extremely steady, reliable, and reasonable clients. Still, like everyone else, I get my highs and lows. Sometimes I put my foot down and say my work-at-home-mom schedule is as full as I’d like it to be, and sometimes I apply to new job listings.

When you’re sending applications and work/money isn’t coming in as fast as you’d like it to, and the electricity bill is due this week and your kids have outgrown all their shoes, it’s easy to panic. So here are my top five tips for those slow days/weeks.

#1. Don’t panic. Remember the time when you started from scratch? It was probably more difficult than whatever you’re facing now. If now you have a portfolio of work and some experience under your belt, you’re ahead already. Jobs are out there. You just need to land the right ones.

#2. Budget. It’s tempting to splurge when you’ve made a bundle on a big project, but if you have an unstable income, the smart move is to lay aside as much money as you can every month. You can also implement two types of monthly budgets: one for lean months, and one for periods when you can allow yourself some more financial leeway.

#3. Do useful stuff. Brush up on your resume. Make or update a spreadsheet of your earnings over the past months. Set your office in order or even give your house the nice deep clean it has been desperately needing. Vacuum your car. Take care of all the little things you never have time for.

#4. Expand your knowledge. Niche writers are in high demand. If you take the time to dive deep into a specific topic (whether it’s cryptocurrency or herbal remedies), you may gain an edge over your competitors. There are free courses you can take to learn more about interesting stuff you’ve always wanted to explore.

#5. Do your thing. Enjoy some peace and quiet while you can. Go on a hike or a picnic with your kids. Dig into personal projects, like getting your garden in shape or repainting your kitchen cabinets. During my latest slower period, I was able to finish editing and (finally!) publish my new historical fiction novel, Queen of Ophir.

Finally, it may be time to sit down for a re-evaluation. If waiting for work and juggling clients is too stressful, maybe you should look into a position that is less flexible but more secure. But that’s probably a topic for another post.

Why burning bridges isn’t a good idea

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Back in the day, when I was a starry-eyed young mom, I received an email from an equally young reader, a newlywed who wrote, “My husband landed an amazing position and I will never need to work again. Please give me suggestions on ways to fill my time until we have our first child.”

As far as I recall, I came up with various ideas for charity work, gardening, crafts, and housekeeping. Today, however, I would give that sweet lady – and my own daughters, when they reach the proper age -a completely different outlook.

I would say, Congratulations on your husband’s new position. I hope he will retain it throughout many years and provide the necessary financial stability for your family.

I also hope that your marriage remains healthy and happy, and that your spouse never makes you feel like ‘less than’ for not bringing in an income.

If you plan to stay home with your children, I applaud your choice. Children thrive when there’s a parent to be with them in their early years. Families thrive when one spouse has enough flexibility to keep the common ship sailing smoothly.

But no matter what, don’t put yourself in a situation where you’ve burned your bridges and locked yourself in. Keep something you can fall back on.

Whether it’s a flexible profession, a business you can upscale if necessary, or a degree that allows you to work from home, always have something to give you financial security in tough times.

This isn’t negativity or pessimism, any more than purchasing an insurance policy is. It’s just common sense.

We live in a hugely unpredictable world. Businesses fail. Wars rage. Global pandemics flare up. Economies flounder. People lose their health and earning capacity. And, sadly, sometimes marriages fail as well.

I have lived through this. I gave up on the ability to support myself, on the security of a husband’s good job and a house purchased outright. Then, when the job was lost and the house swallowed by a black financial abyss, I found myself in an isolated outpost, with no transportation, no stable internet access, and not even secure electricity or running water supply.

Eventually, I rallied and started fighting for financial independence (a process that’s still ongoing). But it was hard, and knowing that I put the torch to my own bridges didn’t make it easier.

You aren’t a less devoted wife and mother for having a plan B. Do what you must to protect yourself and your children. If you are lucky, you may never need it.

But if you do, you will be glad you prepared for every scenario.

For Freelancers: What Happens When You Set Boundaries

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For all who have wondered what cave I’ve been hiding in all this time, 2022 started off with a bang for me and I’m dealing with an avalanche of projects, not to mention sick kids and all the ensuing schedule disruptions. And, of course, whatever else happens, laundry hampers overflow, trash cans need emptying, and grocery shopping needs doing.

As I was doing my taxes for 2021, I passingly reflected on the importance of having boundaries as a freelancer/mom/household manager and all the many hats we wear.

I know many self-employed individuals struggle with self-discipline in a very straightforward way – it starts with “I’ll just check my email”, and three hours later you’re deep in a Twitter debate about animal conservation because there’s nobody to drag you to your desk and make you start working.

I battle a different affliction, commonly known as biting off more than you can chew. I apply to lots of different gigs and find it hard to scroll by when an interesting offer appears in one of my freelancer Facebook groups. However, I am pleased to say that I made progress in 2021.

In the early half of 2021, my income ledger showed entries from many different clients. I squinted at the chart a couple of weeks ago, barely recalling some names. Then I remembered. “Oh, that didn’t work out.” “This person wanted faster turnarounds than I could commit to.” “This one had unreasonable demands.”

In the second half of the year, I consolidated my efforts to a couple of steady clients – without losing income. Yet now I have more sanity, less frenzy, fewer emails to answer, and less juggling in my schedule. I also became far more confident in my communication: “I can do this and this by date X”; “I cannot commit to any day earlier than Thursday”; “I can promise X, but not Y.”

I used to be a huge people pleaser, which didn’t give me many opportunities to see how people react when you don’t give them what they want. In the past year, I saw how it goes: some walk away, leaving the ones you get along with. I believe it’s true in the personal as well as professional sense.

Today, I sleep better, read more paperbacks, take more walks, and have more time for my kids, all while being more productive.

I hope everyone has a nice, cozy January with a mug of hot cocoa and a stack of good books (except you in the Southern hemisphere – enjoy your summer!).

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