No matter how many blogs, opinions or management seminars I'm exposed to, there's nothing that seems to be able to reduce my confusion about how I can manage my time while I'm completely free-lance. Hours and days pass with me accomplishing many things over countless projects, but internally I can't help but feel I can improve my efficiency. I could reach out to dozens of places for tips on this, but I'm starting to realise the answer's a bit more complicated than just some simple e-mail inbox rules.
Know Your Brain
I know. Easy right? Just have to know how your work and function internally. What could be simpler?
I have no idea about how my brain works. Really. I know I'm extremely capable of multi-tasking, but this never feels like I'm quite hitting my peak. Multi-tasking is great for administration duties, of which I have many, but it's absolute bullocks for my creative work, which requires lengthy periods of intense focus.
Irritatingly, I also need to switch between these two modes very quickly. I wish I could block out an entire week JUST to focus on a creative project, but admin and e-mails that surround other projects simply can't wait that long.
I've only recently watched my brain for long enough to be able to articulate all of this, and only after a concerted effort to look at the way I function. I've simply got to get the bitty admin stuff out of the way first before I can do a focussed creative activity. The problem is that my entire day can then become swallowed up by bitty admin and I've left myself no time to produce the content that actually supports the administration.
I'm on a continuing journey to figure out how to solve this. I've now blocked out days in my diary where I will simply write. I refuse to take appointments or negotiate on those days. Simple. When you're free-lance, there's a temptation to just work around everyone else's schedule, as you're usually the most flexible one in any given group. I've found this has led to a decrease in productivity, so I'm trying to deliberately set aside time for creative activities. Part of these days will involve one hour of admin. No more. No less. I'm hoping the time restraint will drive me to complete tasks faster. Which brings me to my next point...
I want to write a book. I want to be an author. I've written one book already, but this took many years in between other projects. I want to produce this book way faster than I did the last volume. Eventually, I want my main revenue stream to be because of books, and this means writing quickly. I have to get in the zone.
Problem is, no one's waiting on the book. No one is pushing me to write it. No one's expecting it from me. So at the end of the day if I haven't worked on it, I've only let myself down. The sting of guilt isn't nearly as strong if I had let others down.
If I give myself all of the time in the world, I know nothing will get done. If I give myself an hour, I know I'll smash through a mountain of work, simply because I need to.
For this to work, the deadline has to be credible. There has to be a real threat besides my own disappointment (which is becoming a stronger field of motivation in my 100% free-lance days). I haven't gone quite this far yet, but I'm wondering whether I should ask ones close to me to with-hold certain food or television shows if I haven't done my designated work load. If I can't watch an episode of House of Cards in the evening, I think that chapter might suddenly find itself written.
Be Kind to Yourself
I have trouble with this one. Particularly in a creative career, how much time off is necessary, and when? When is it time to pick yourself up and get on with it, and when is it ok to make a call to yourself and phone in sick?
Last week I took two days off because of a flu. If I'd been an actual employee in an actual working relationship, I wouldn't have blinked in taking two days off. In free-lance, however, I'm wracked by guilt and feelings of worthlessness. Oh, and I say 'two days off', I actually mean I took naps in between a couple of meetings and only sent half a dozen e-mails as opposed to the usual two dozen.
Working for yourself is like working for the best boss ever, so you don't want to let them down. You want to go the extra mile. But I'm in an abusive relationship with my boss. He doesn't acknowledge when I need a break and he makes me feel guilty when I need time off. This has triggered a metaphysical crisis which can only end with me yelling at myself in the mirror, and deeming the 100% free-lance experiment is a failure.
If it fails, it won't be because of external circumstances. It'll be because of the internal relationship I have with my workload.
I wish I could write a snappy blog with nine easy tips to better manage your time. Truth is, everyone's got to figure out their own way. It's a puzzle that won't sit still, and will answer back to your demands.
The mission continues.