April Moore on Work Habits (Part 2)

Go To Your Room
If I had known how much I could have accomplished as a kid when my parents sent me to my room, I’d have
a seven-book series by now. Today, I treasure alone time in my room where instead of plotting revenge on my
sister, I actually get quality time to write. Claim your own space, whether it’s a room, a corner, or a table. Your
area should also consist of only what you need to write. Don’t work at a desk where you pay bills, or do other
hobbies. You need to focus on writing. My area is the guest bedroom. I found a small desk at a flea market,
painted it and parked it by the window. The closet, situated behind the desk, houses my weapons of writing:
reference books, research, and all those extra office supplies I stocked up on. (You can never have too many
Post-Its). Make the space inviting—but only to you. You need to be left alone, so politely inform your spouse,
your kids, and your dog (who’s holding the leash in his mouth) to not bother you while you are in this special
space of yours. I’m one of those who needs a change of scenery every once in a while, so sometimes I’ll work
in the sun room, out on the deck, or on the living room couch. But inevitably, I find that I’m most productive
when I go to my room.

Break it Down
I tend to freak myself out thinking about the amount of work I have ahead of me. Nothing like a bit of fear to
kill your motivation. I must remind myself to take baby steps. Luckily, Folsom’s 93 can be broken down into
roughly 93 steps. So, I tackle one at a time, sometimes two. If your project feels like deciphering the Dead Sea
Scrolls, then break it down. Work on one scroll at time—or half a scroll. Don’t put more pressure on yourself
than you need to. Shoot for a certain number of pages a day to get done. Maybe it’s one chapter at time, or one
article a day, or the introduction of your book proposal. You will feel more accomplished and productive if you
take on only what you can handle that day. When I applied this method, I had those scrolls deciphered in no
time.

Reward Yourself
What does your little heart desire? (Think small for this, okay?) Maybe it’s a new book, a nice bottle of wine,
or going to the theater to see a movie. Now, choose the task or project you need to do and set a deadline. When
you meet that deadline, reward yourself. I know this may sound simplistic, but it works. Yes, you could give
yourself the reward anyway, but show some willpower, because trust me, that reward is way less satisfying if
you truly didn’t earn it. Write your deadline and reward on a board or post it on the refrigerator to keep you
motivated. Get the family involved to help support you on your journey because it’s even more rewarding when
others can share it with you.

With a bit of creativity, it’s possible to be a productive writer without fleeing to deserted beach house, or a
lonely cabin in the mountains.

 

Thank you, April, for this great advice for us all. And thank you, readers, in advance, for checking out April’s project when you get the chance. 

Accountability, Week Three

This was a rough week for accountability. I had a minor surgery that took me out of the action for three days. I made my goals with a combination of three actions:

  • I worked extra early in the week to get ahead.
  • I scheduled my weekend to include some blocks of family-free time so I could play catchup.
  • I held back a paycheck from some March work to apply to this week.
Planning is vital if you want to succeed as a freelancer, and especially vital when life conspires to make it difficult.
This week’s statistics:
  • Total Earnings Goal: $2250
  • Total Earnings This Week: $2,255
  • Earning Compared to Benchmark: 100%
  • Total Earnings So Far: $6,890
  • Progress Toward Long-Term Goal: 35%
Thank you all for providing some of the encouragement I need to stay on track. And, as always, thanks for listening.

Work From Home Dad: My Favorite Kind of Day

Saturday turned out to be my favorite kind of work day, the sort where I find myself at my most productive for the longest periods of time.

For me, that sort of day consists of blocks — about 45 to 60 minutes each — dedicated to a specific task, with consecutive blocks comprising very different kinds of work. An hour of writing might follow thirty minutes of yard work, and precede an hour of throwing a ball around with my older son. The blocks let me group like tasks so I’m not constantly interrupting myself, and the variety keeps me from getting bored. For the record, getting bored is probably the most serious threat to my personal productivity in any task.

The rest of my fam was out of town for Saturday, so I spent that day alternating between cleaning house, doing laundry, writing on assignments and exercise. By the end of a 10-hour “shift,” I’d completed more than that day’s goal for writing assignments, excavated the floor of the playroom and run three loads of towels, diapers and workout clothes.

It might be that this sort of schedule works for your. It might be that you’d find such rapid channel-switching means you feel like you stop just as you’re getting started. The important thing is to spend a little time thinking about how you work when you’re at your best.

Consider for a few minutes a few of those magic days you’ve had where you felt like you were on fire. You got everything done, ahead of schedule, and had time left over to hit the gym and make a nice dinner. And you weren’t even tired when you went to bed that night.

What did your schedule for those days look like? There’s a fair chance they looked pretty similar. If you plan your work to feel like those days, you’ll see your productivity explode.

One of the great joys – and most serious dangers – of working from home as a freelancer is you get to set your own schedule. Doing it wrong means spending too much time on tasks that don’t make the money that lets you keep staying at home. Doing it right means better productivity, more energy, more money and less stress.

Thanks for listening.

Writing Professionally: Time to Write

Professional writers are lucky – we don’t have to worry about squeezing time to write in the corners left over by our job. Writing is our job. For those who want to become professional writers, developing a portfolio has to take place between your other demands.

The hosts of “Writing Excuses,” a podcast I recommend in an earlier post, have this to say about finding the time to write…

If you say you lack time to write, what you mean is you value other activities more than writing.

In some cases, this valuation is dead on. A contest between my writing and my sons is by no means a fair fight. On the other hand, I’ve sometimes made the wrong choice between re-watching Firefly and working on an impending deadline. To find time to write that breakout novel, or develop your portfolio, it’s likely that you’ll need to set aside another activity – like television, video games or sleep.

I’m currently in the middle of an aggressive productivity cycle, one that requires so much work that I feel like I’m squeezing writing time into the corners left over by my writing job. It reminds me of when I was running a full-time business, and writing in my spare time. Here are a few of the steps I’ve taken to find the time I need to write as much as I want:

  • I get up two hours early. I used to sleep until my toddler son woke me up, but those two baby-free hours in the morning are seriously productive time.
  • When baby Gabe goes down for a nap, I’m writing again rather than relaxing with a video game or Ted Talk on the youtube.
  • Before I pickup my “bedtime book” to read myself to sleep, I take some notes on the assignments I’ll work the next day. This may be pure superstition, but I feel like my conscious mind works on them overnight.
  • I split my daily workload into three segments, then only allow myself to check email, facebook and my favorite forms after I’ve finished a segment.
  • I work out daily, except when I’m sick. A daily 20-minute bit of exercise improves how fast you work, and how you feel about the work you’ve done. Also, I get cranky when I skip a day – and the wife notices.

These steps have found the space I need to literally double my productivity for the past few days – and it feels like they’ll be sustainable until I’ve reached my goals. I also employ some hacks to how I use that time to best advantage…but that’s a subject for another post.

Thanks for listening.

They Said it Couldn’t Be Done

So here’s the deal: my family may need $20,000 by the beginning of June. By that I mean $20,000 more than we’re likely to have.

One of the great things about working as a freelance writer is that your income – once you’ve established yourself – is limited only by how much work you’re willing to do. In general, I prefer to work a little and spend time with my family. Although steering this course will mean less time with them, I plan to schedule most of it while they’re asleep.

Twenty grand in nine weeks. Every goal-setting advisor or other coach I’ve listened to says that making a goal public exponentially increases your chances of achieving it.

I have now drawn my line in the proverbial sand. As of today, I’m on track. I’ll check in from time to time with my progress, and some observations about setting and meeting goals – especially how that affects making a living as a freelance writer or other sort of stay-at-home dad.

Thanks for listening.

Writing Professionally: Paid Leave

One problem contractors often mention is the lack of paid sick leave or vacation time. When you work for yourself, your boss tends to be a harsh taskmaster. But we all get sick, want time off, have emergencies. There’s no getting around that. A freelancer needs time off without suffering financial hardship.

The trick is to treat your leave just as an employer treats an employee’s leave. Employees don’t get paid for not working – they get paid extra when they do work, and that extra is held back until they take time off.

As a freelancer, you accomplish this by working ahead. Do enough work to amass a savings account from which you can draw your weekly or daily nut while you’re not working. When you return to work, schedule in additional hours until you’ve refilled your bank of leave money.

This can be a problem for the less disciplined among us. With no boss or time clock to make sure we work, it’s easy to take time off when we don’t have any banked time to cover it. The only solution to this is personal discipline: don’t take the time unless you have it. If you have an unavoidable emergency or serious illness with no time, you will need to scramble for extra work until you’re caught up.

Planning, discipline and organization are important traits if you choose to take this approach to scheduling time off as a freelancer. If you don’t have them, you’ll need to practice them until you do – or get an “accountability partner” to bust your chops for you on a daily or weekly basis.

Thanks for listening.

Doing it Right Redux: Freelancing

I’m a professional freelance writer, and have friends who freelance as artists, web designers, coders, financial consultants and bodyguards. Freelancing can seem like a dream: set your own hours, charge more than the daily “wage slaves,” live with your work ethic as the only limiter to your earnings. On the other hand, nobody guarantees you a paycheck. If you do it wrong, you wind up not just broke. You’re broke with an embarrassing gap in your employment history.

Freelancing successfully requires a different formula for different people, but one rule remains true. This rule serves as a warning to many – but for those who do it right, it defines the fastest route for setting yourself apart from the pack. The rule is simple:

People who want to go into business for themselves are often the least suitable people to do so.

Traits that support success for freelancers include attention to detail, sweating the small stuff, working well with multiple bosses, being consistent in communication, and making decisions that help your team over decisions that support you the most. Most people who want to freelance have trouble with one or more of these categories – otherwise, they wouldn’t mind working a 9 to 5 job.

Because this is true, the degree to which you treat your freelance career like a regular job is the degree to which you will rise above the freelance herd. From talking with my freelance friends – both the successful and the struggling, I’ve identified eight habits for remaining professional while working from home in your underwear.

  • Observe a maximum one-day turnaround on emails and phone messages unless you’ve notified a client you’re unavailable.
  • Keep all your deadlines, from turn-in dates to promised communication.
  • Take your lumps with a smile. Some clients will behave in ways you find unreasonable. Working “for the man” means playing nice. Working for yourself means playing nice with more people, more often.
  • Set working hours: time when you’re “at work,” and times when you are not.
  • Remember marketing. In a regular job, you have to work to their specs. While freelancing, you need to spend some time every day finding your next assignment.
  • Observe business communications etiquette. Just because you don’t have an HR inquisitor looking over your shoulder doesn’t mean you don’t need to be polite.
  • Have a professional website, professional business cards and professional letterhead.

The majority of freelancers hit the market with a strong skill set and a bad attitude. Don’t be that guy. It might cost your ego a little from time to time, but it’s the price of admission for success. This isn’t the only key to making it as a freelancer – there are many, many (Many! MANY!) other requirements. But if you can’t see yourself observing these rules, you’re probably better off sticking with your day job.