TPS Report

Accountability went well this week on paper, but was primarily the result of a hard push this weekend. I seem to be falling into the habit of waiting until last minute, treating this weekly blog post like a college term paper deadline.  I may need to address the system and find a solution to that. Or get more aggressive about making sure I schedule my week appropriately.

At any rate, weekly progress report.

  • 6 of 6 “chunks” of money-earning content written
  • 5 of 5 acts of marketing: arranging link exchanges, applying for work, blog comments
  • 2 of 4 units of work on blogs. This has been a problem, but it’s not work load based. I’m stalling myself.
  • 3 of 3 units of work on book and article proposals.
  • 2 of 2 sessions of administrative work.
  • 1 piece of education action: expanded my understanding of SEO
Thanks for listening.

Time Alone, Part One

Virginia Woolf said that a woman needs “a room of her own.” This is true of writers, too, but you don’t need your own office. Our house is pretty big, but I share it with my wife, two children, two housemates, a dog and two cats. My “office” is literally a recycled cubicle set up in our living room. No door, but the walls form a kind of symbolic barrier. It also helps that, during the day, the house is empty except for myself and our baby son — who is kind enough to sleep for four to six hours of my work day.

With summer coming up, I’m going to need a new plan. As much as my family tries to respect my writing time, it’s hard for them to leave me out of what’s going on. It’s equally hard for me to want to be left out. Last summer, my wife — who is a public school teacher — would take the kids to the park during my work day to give me the time I need. We might do that again this summer, or I might move my computer into the bedroom and close the door for a few hours each day.

The point is that writers, like everybody else, perform better when we are allowed to focus. Tapping away at your laptop in the middle of a busy family evening isn’t conducive to focus. Neither is working at the local library. We all have our own flow style and work habits, but everybody needs some time for uninterrupted writing.

I’m curious: for those of you who write at home, what sorts of things do you do to ensure that “you time” to get your work done? I’ll answer with some of my other methods in a couple of days, but I don’t want to muddy the waters with my opinions until I hear from some of you.

Folks who read this, but aren’t writers, I’m interested to hear how you secure time for yourself when it’s at a premium — either at home or at work.

Thanks for listening.

Accountability, Week Seven

Back in the saddle this week. Still a little rocky, physically, but my energy and concentration are back. Apologies for no Friday update — had a fascinating family thing I’ll probably report on this week.

  • Total Earnings Goal: $2,250
  • Total Earnings This Week: $2,400
  • Earnings Compared to Benchmark: 106%
  • Total Earnings So Far: $14,145
  • Progress Toward Long-Term Goal: 71%
Thanks for listening.

The Power of Templates

As a writer, I find templates to be one of my most powerful tools. When working with tools, a template is a metal or plastic form that lets you cut out the outline of an object. When working with words, it’s an organizational form that lets your rough out the outline of a work.

In the context of web content, I have about a dozen templates — rough structures for articles — that I apply detail and personality to when I receive an assignment. This saves me hours every week, since I’ve gotten pretty quick at matching the right template with the right subject.

Templates do not stifle creativity or voice any more than a standardized rhyme scheme stifles creativity in poetry. It actually encourages creativity and voice by allowing me to put all my focus on the unique part of the article. I no longer have to think about the frame of the house, meaning I can focus on what’s living there and how it’s decorated.

Some authors use a template for their novels, producing entire series in which each book follows basically the same outline. Done poorly, they can be disappointing and formulaic. The best take that same outline and make each one a unique story by changing the characters, the dialog, the details.

You can also make life easier by building “time templates” into your day. This is a way of organizing your time and your writing. I work best from about 6 to about 9. AM vs PM don’t matter, so I schedule the rest of my day around writing during that block. Weekly and monthly templates can help you arrange less frequent tasks — for example, committing to posting certain kinds of posts to your blog on certain days.

Think about the writing you’ve done. If it helps, you can pencil a rough outline for a few representative samples. Chances are you also use templates, but may not know it. Once you realize you have such a powerful tool, you’ll be better able to use it to your advantage.

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.

Work at Home Dad

My wife and I reverse the traditional arrangement. She has a career-type job, 40-50 hours per week, and brings in reliable income and insurance for our family. I work from, writing. At this point, I do bring in a respectable income. I also take care of the house, the kids, the cooking and our budget.

I love it. There are days I don’t love, full of sick kids, frustrating repairs and tight deadlines. But my time is my own and I go to work each day with my baby in my lap. In another post, I’ll go into detail on work-from-home tricks that aren’t scams – ‘cos seriously, this is awesome and you should try it. Today, let’s talk about a few ways to make full-time daddy and full-time work not add up to full-time crisis.

Act Like You’re at Work

I don’t mean stand by the water cooler and make passive-aggressive remarks about the other people in the house. I’m talking about setting goals and holding yourself accountable the way your boss and team would in a work environment. Without this in place, you will not make enough money to sustain your work-at-home lifestyle.

Organize, Organize, Organize

I came to this lifestyle after years of running a small business, so it’s possible I’ve gone overboard on this. I have job descriptions for my cleaning tasks, profit and loss sheets for my budget and a pretty solid schedule organized by week, month and year. You don’t have to get that detailed, but the more systems you put in place, the less energy you’ll spend on figuring out what to do. Energy is at a premium as a work-at-home dad, so do what you can to save some.

Get to the Gym

Make a workout every day or two a priority. There’s a host of research indicating this will make you more productive, resourceful and patient. It doesn’t matter if you run, lift weights or play some pickup ball – but it does matter that you get out there. Most health clubs these days have a child care room, so you can get a short break if your kids are under school age.

Go to Lunch

The hardest part of being a work-a-home dad is the sense of isolation. Sure, you’re with your kids, but you need to interact with other adults. Make plans to grab lunch with friends – especially working friends on their lunch breaks – two to three times each week. This will keep you grounded and hedge against the depression that often hits stay-at-home parents.

Take a Day Off

For me it’s Thursdays – a day I found myself tired and frustrated during my business management days. This doesn’t mean you actually take the day off from responsibilities. Just avoid scheduling any tasks for one day. This gives you a chance for guilt-free relaxation and provides a window for catch-up on any projects that ran long.

There are hundreds of other little tricks for managing home, kids and time. These broad-stroke guidelines form just an introduction. I hope somebody, somewhere found them helpful

Thanks for listening.

Library

  • The Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss
  • The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Steve Covey
  • Getting Things Done by David Allen