Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Time Management via Google Calendar: A Week in the Life

In my last two posts, I explained a new time management approach that I've been using to try to corral my busy life and chaotic to-do list.  The approach combines scheduling Google calendar events instead of keeping a to-do list, with planning everything a week or two in advance.

I always used to plan my to-do list the night before, so it was pretty natural to start planning my week Sunday nights.  The webinar I originally watched claimed that it would only take 30 minutes each week, but with the complexity of my schedule I find that it takes more like an hour.  And then, of course, it's not "plan and done," since I find that I have to adjust my plans throughout the week and sometimes throughout the day when unexpected things come up.

This week, though, I planned out the week Saturday night.  I changed it because a whole bunch of our plans for the weekend changed, and it meant that some things got pushed back until later in the week.  I decided that while I was making those adjustments, I might as well plan the rest of the week too.

I mentioned already that I've been doing a hybrid approach where I have to-do list tasks, but I also schedule out the time to work on those things.  Maybe in time when I get through some of the tasks that have gotten stacked up, I'll start depending on the task feature less and the calendar blocking of time more.  But for now, I've found I still need those task reminders.

I'm also hoping that as time goes on, I'll get better at anticipating my time requirements when scheduling things.  For instance, I totally underestimated my need for down time on Sunday, and as a result I didn't get done all of what I had planned.  I also routinely underestimate the amount of time it will take me to do tasks or transition from one thing to another, although I'm already getting a little better now that I'm presented with a visual of my day with time blocked out for everything.

Of course, there are other times when I just need to allow myself some leeway to change the plan as needed.  I really struggled on Monday, partly because things didn't go as planned and partly because I struggled with motivation. I think it's important to give myself grace at times like that and remember that I'm only human.

I also really like that by changing the schedule in real time, I can look back at a day and see what I spent my time on.  It has been useful for determining hours spent on different things, and also helps me to see that it is not just that I'm not getting enough done - I can see for myself that I'm working on things, I just have too much to do!

Overall I think there are a lot of reasons to like this combined approach to scheduling and planning in advance, and I'm hoping it continues to work well for me.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Upping My Google Calendar Game: Part 2

I recently blogged about my new time management approach using Google Calendar.  The approach requires blocking out time for tasks rather than making an actual task list.  I've been doing kind of a hybrid approach, and blocking out time for my task list.

There's another, equally important idea I've been using in conjunction with the Google calendar, and that is to plan out your week in advance.

Another webinar I listed to basically suggested planning out the coming week or two over the weekend.  The idea is to do the most important tasks early in the week.  I'm assuming because the webinar teacher recognizes that things come up and you might not get everything done, but that if you plan the most important tasks early in the week, you'll have plenty of time to reschedule them even if something comes up.

What's working:

I'm finding that it really helps to look at the entire week, and even into the following week, in advance.  It's helping me to not try to put all the tasks on my to-do list all on the next day, because I'm recognizing that I have time to do all of those things.

What's not:

In theory, planning an entire week in advance sounds doable.  In practice, it doesn't work all that well for me.  Clients will assign me work that is supposed to be done within a few days, and families I babysit for contact me with last-minute requests.  I ride with a friend once a week, but it tends to be whatever day our schedules and the weather can agree on.  And the rest of my life tends to be constantly in flux as well.  It's not like I go to an office, work reliably for eight hours, and go home.

Additionally, I'm still learning what's reasonable to expect of myself and what's not.  So while my scheduling has gotten better and I have fewer changes now than I used to, I still have to adjust my schedule accordingly when I've failed to plan a reasonable amount of time, anticipate hurdles, or allow myself down time between things.

In my next post, I'll go into more detail about how I'm making all of this work for me, and what a typical week looks like for me so far.  Remember that I only just recently started using this combination of techniques, so I'm sure I have a lot of learning still to do about how to make it work for me - and, honestly, how to schedule my life so that I'm more likely to follow through with the original plan.

Monday, December 12, 2022

Upping my Google Calendar Game: Part 1

I mentioned in a post last month that I've been utilizing a new method of managing my time, but I haven't had a chance recently to revisit that topic and post about it.  I also feel like I've been still working on perfecting the approach, at least for my own personal uses, so I haven't felt ready to post about it.

It's ironic that I've felt too busy to post about it, considering this method is supposed to be helping me better manage my time, but I got really busy in November with NaNoWriMo, and it hasn't really let up much in December, even with NaNoWriMo over.  We no longer have write-ins to go to nearly every day, but I am still working on my novel every night, plus we've had a myriad of other things come up in recent weeks.

A few weeks ago, I went on a flurry of listening to free webinars for tips and ideas for growing my various businesses.  I did get some ideas (as well as a ton of marketing emails) and some of them were quite helpful.

One of the ideas I got has helped to revolutionize my to-do list.  Remember recently, when I said I'd been using the task feature in Google Calendar to replace my written to-do list?

Well, this productivity idea basically built off of that thing I was already doing.  Instead of setting tasks, however, the idea is to set calendar events.  Rather than having tasks to cross off your to-do list, you schedule your day around the concept of working on things.

Part of the idea behind this approach is that having a task list becomes demoralizing when you routinely don't accomplish everything you wanted to do.  We all have a tendency to make lists for more than we can actually get done, especially small business owners.  Even knowing that you've put too much on your list, it can make you feel like you're not good enough or productive enough when you don't cross everything off on your to-do list, day after day after day.

So the idea of using calendar events instead of tasks means that instead of having a bunch of (and likely too many) tasks to complete, you're just scheduling time into your day to work on the things you want to work on.  Nothing to cross off, nothing to make you feel bad about yourself.

Unfortunately, I felt like it's not really entirely practical for me to do it that way.  I still need that satisfaction of crossing something off, for one thing - but also, I need that list to remind me of what I'm supposed to do.  So instead of using only calendar events, I decide to use a mixture of calendar events and tasks.  That way I still have my to-do list, but I'm also scheduling out time to do the things on that list.

What's working:

I'm finding it's actually helping me to realize how much time I spend on things, and to build more realistic expectations into my day.  I'm still routinely overloading myself, because a habit like that is difficult to break, but it's no longer by as much.  Instead, I'm spreading out my task list throughout the week in a much more reasonable fashion, and by creating events for what I want to work on, I'm also able to see a visual representation of how long things take to do.

In addition, I also love the fact that my calendar is color coded according to my different businesses and personal endeavors, so I know just by seeing the color of a time block what I intended to work on during that time.

What's not:

I'm not a rigid, stick-to-the-plan kind of person, so even with my day scheduled out, and even with some flex time built into it, I'm routinely re-planning as I go.  I'm not sure that's how the technique is meant to be used, especially since it does often mean that I don't get done everything I intended to get done.

On the flip side, since it's easy to move around events even after they've passed, I can rearrange to reflect what I'm actually working on or what I did work on.  It requires a lot of involvement with my calendar throughout my day, but it also means that I'm able to look back at a day and see what I worked on and for how long.  And, more importantly, I'm learning as I go: learning to be more realistic about my expectations, to plan more time for tasks, and to leave time for things like coffee, lunch, dinner, and personal or flex time.

And actually, when it comes down to it, I'm not sure that changing my plans and rearranging my calendar on the go is a bad thing.  It may just mean that I've taken a technique and adapted it to be more usable by me.  I also think it's good that I am flexible with my time and can change my plans accordingly when I don't feel like doing one thing... assuming that I can get things done when I really need to, of course.

I've combined this approach with another technique that I think is equally important.  I'll address the second part of my new approach in a future post, and then sum up where I'm currently at with it.

Tuesday, December 06, 2022

Using the NaNoWriMo Site for Tracking Non-NaNoWriMo Writing Projects

I made an interesting discovery this year: You can now use the NaNoWriMo website to track other writing projects throughout the year, rather than only being able to use it to track progress during regular and Camp NaNoWriMo in November, April, and July.

So this year, following NaNoWriMo, I created a new project for my continuing rewrites after November ended.  I was unfortunately unable to just create a new goal for the same project I'd used during NaNoWriMo, but this works just as well since I had to adjust the word count to eliminate the words for some related writing I did during November that wasn't actually part of the novel.

I am really enjoying this new feature of the NaNoWriMo website.  I like having a place where I can keep all of my writing projects catalogued in one place, and track progress in all of them.  Plus you're able to set an end date for your goal, and the site calculates out how many words you need each day, based on current progress and end goal - just like it does during NaNoWriMo.  I am really looking forward to using this feature more than just during NaNo and Camp.

The one feature I wish it had was the ability to put progress bars on your website or blog.  In the "old days" of NaNoWriMo, there were word count widgets that pulled your word count from the NaNo site and allowed you to share your progress on your blog.  They've since done away with those, but I really wish they still had them, especially now.

For now I'm using a hybrid approach of updating my word count on the NaNoWriMo website to take advantage of the graph and tracking features there, and also using a word count widget I found online some years ago to show my progress on my author blog.

Monday, December 05, 2022

NaNoWriMo 2022 Recap

I have been focusing more on my author blog lately, since I've been working so heavily on my novel, and I realized I have forgotten to update here very often throughout November.  In fact, NaNoWriMo ended five days ago now, and I still haven't provided a recap!

The recap is that I won NaNoWriMo!  It was the most successful NaNo I've ever had, actually.  I had a few big word count days, but other than that I had a constant, daily pace that got me to the finish line on November 30th.  I could have probably finished earlier if I hadn't been determined to continue writing in order, despite needing to do some research in the last week or so.

As I've mentioned in a recent post, I've been planning to keep working on my novel post-NaNoWriMo, and I've been considering how to ensure I make time for it.  I wrote every day in November except for Thanksgiving, so I felt like this year had a good chance of having created a lasting daily writing habit.  And sure enough, I've managed to work on my novel every day in December so far.

Right now it's a little up in the air what will be happening with my other endeavors.  I also wrote recently about contemplating whether I wanted to continue or change my writing services.  My primary client hasn't yet assigned out work for January, and I haven't done any marketing.  I was going to wait until after NaNoWriMo to start marketing again, but if I decide to go that route, I think I'll actually have better luck after the holidays.

In any case, NaNoWriMo 2022 was a grand success, and may have done what I'm always hoping NaNoWriMo will do: Kick start lasting habits and produce lasting changes in my life.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Shifting Scope in Freelance Writing Services

I've come up against a hard question lately.  I know I'm juggling too many things, and I'd like to be able to focus on some of my other projects, such as finishing and self-publishing my novel, and working on building my doll business.

At the same time, I've lost a couple of regular clients over the course of this year.  I am seeing fewer jobs on the freelance platform I'm using, and have reason to believe they're on the verge of going under, which will take with it my last remaining regular client.

I was planning to start marketing heavily and transition away from using said platform once NaNoWriMo was over, but I've been tossing around some other ideas as well.

One possibility is to take a hiatus from writing freelance entirely, and focus on finishing my novel and getting it self-published.  All of that will require a good deal of work, plus I still have some other projects I'm juggling, so I expect not to have it published until mid-year next year.  Taking a break from freelancing would mean one less thing on my plate, which would hopefully allow me to finish those projects sooner.

Another possibility is to change what I do.  Right now I'm building (within the provided software) and writing a website for the stables where I board my horses, and I'm enjoying it very much.  It's as much visual design as it is writing, and I find the combination very satisfying.  I was thinking last night that I'd enjoy specializing in something like that.  Maybe I could offer blog packages or ongoing blogging as part of my website services.

I haven't decided yet what, if anything, I want to change.  I may just keep things the same through the holidays, and give myself some time to think it through before making changes early in the new year.

Saturday, November 26, 2022

The Simon Memory Game of Life

I feel like, ever since Panama started getting better, I've been playing one of those games where you add something every round.  You know, like the Simon memory game.  Remember the lighted button/tone correctly, and next time it adds a new one to the sequence.  And on and on, until you mess up.

That's what I'm doing right now.  Every time I master making time for something in my schedule, I add something new.  And on and on... except I don't get to exit this crazy game, I just have to make it keep working!

Juggling several businesses and projects can require a lot of schedule compartmentalization.  In the months while Panama was gradually getting better and requiring less care, I made a habit of blogging and working on my websites regularly, in addition to my client work.  And as I got a little more time back, I added some doll and photography stuff to my schedule.  Then he went back to his corral (requiring a lot less work) and I added novel writing to my daily schedule for NaNoWriMo.

Now NaNoWriMo is almost over, and I'm planning on continuing to work on my novel daily after November ends.  I do want to try to get this book published in 2023, so I need to keep working on it until it's finished.

But at the same time, I'm planning on adding another new daily thing to my life in December: I want to ramp up my work on dolls and start getting some of these projects done and out the door.  I also need to do better about taking pictures regularly, as that's part of the marketing for my doll business.

I have a lot that I do, and I don't really want to give up any of it, so that means I need to optimize my schedule so that I have time for everything when it needs to be done.  I don't always succeed, but I think I do pretty well.  I've learned some approaches recently that have made it easier, too, which I'll share in a future post!

I hope all of my US readers had a good Thanksgiving and are able to enjoy a long holiday weekend.  Back to work on Monday!

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

A Quick NaNoWriMo Check-In

I honestly wasn't sure how NaNoWriMo was going to go for me this year.  After the year I've had and all the struggles with my horse's care, I wasn't sure I'd be able to devote enough time to writing to be successful in the challenge, even with Panama going back to the corral just before November started.

As it turned out, though, I needn't have worried.  I don't know if the past year has taught me better time management skills, or just made me eager to do my own thing once again after six months of being at the barn almost constantly, but I dove right into writing and have been writing consistently every day since.  I've had some prolific days (a few 2,000-word days and one 8,000 word day), and some less prolific days (a few 200 to 400 word days), but I've made sure to write even just a little every day to maintain the habit (and to keep getting the achievement badges on nanowrimo.org for daily updating).

It helps somewhat that I've had a light work month as far as freelance work goes, possibly because of the holidays.  It's allowed me to devote more time to writing.  But I've also been managing my time a little better lately, I think - more on that in a later post.

Right now, I'm at 28,189 words.  That's more than halfway to the 50,000-word goal to "win" NaNoWriMo.  Of course, my personal goal is to finish a round of revisions and rewrites on the novel, so I will soon change my goal to be more reflective of what I actually want my finished word count to be - probably around 90,000 words.

We're halfway through the month, which makes it seem like there's a lot left, but in reality it's only a little over two weeks.  Once NaNoWriMo ends, I'll have to find a way to continue writing and working on my novel while still maintaining my freelance work and my other businesses.  I do want to keep working on this novel, and hopefully get it published this coming year, rather than petering out on it as I've done in the past.  Fortunately, it feels like I've hit my stride this time, so I'm hoping I'll be able to maintain this habit.

Friday, November 04, 2022

NaNoWriMo Whirlwind

Lately my client work has been a bit slow, but that's been just as well, since my entire week has been consumed with NaNoWriMo: Our kickoff party was Monday night, so much of Monday was spent in preparation for that, and I've really thrown myself into working on my novel this week.

The result has been worth it: as of right now, I have 11,682 words.  I think this might actually be a record for the fastest I've passed 10,000 words during November.

I'm enjoying immersing myself in my characters' world once again.  Ruby Ransome is a world I created over ten years ago (I wrote the first draft of the first novel in 2011), but it's been a long time since I've been so deep in it.  I am remembering how much I loved writing it.

I have other things to do in November, of course, but right now I'm enjoying the thrill I'm getting from working on my novel, and hoping I can maintain a good balance of progress on my novel and attention to other things on my to-do list.

Saturday, October 29, 2022

NaNoWriMo and My Changing Schedule

This past week was a rough one, which was part of why I haven't blogged as regularly lately.  My horse Panama went back to his corral on Monday, which ostensibly means that he's better and our lives will be easier now... once we're sure he's settled in and won't suffer a setback, anyway.  So although in theory this week was laying the groundwork for a better schedule, in practice it was rather a hot mess, as we spent a lot more time going to the barn to check up on him.

I am consoling myself that at least next week will be better, in that Panama will require much less of my time.  Unfortunately, next week will also see the start of NaNoWriMo, so that time I'm saving will be immediately dumped into a new bucket.

NaNoWriMo begins Monday night in a big way, with our annual kickoff party.  We always start the party at 10pm, after people have had a chance to do Halloween things.  We have a potluck and socialize for a couple hours with people we only really see in November every year.

Then, once November officially starts at midnight, we start writing.  The entire place suddenly and completely quiets down, and all you hear for the next 90 minutes or so is the clacking of keyboards.  The party officially ends at 2am, but people tend to start filtering out after 1am, usually, and we typically start cleaning up around 1:30 or 1:45.

It means that we typically don't get home until close to 3am, so we also usually take November 1st off work.

Then begins a month-long whirlwind of write-ins.  We have a big new Come Write In partner this year, Barnes & Noble, so I'm holding two official write-ins at local B&Ns during the week, plus my big weekend write-in at a local gaming cafe, and another write-in or two I'm planning on attending in a less official capacity (i.e., not running them).  I'll be doing a minimum of three write-ins per week, and as many as six.

It's going to be a busy month.

For the most part I'm going to try to keep my novel writing to the write-ins, so it does mean that I'll have to carve out time on my own for any day where I don't go to a write-in.  This is instead of my original plan, to work on my novel first every day.  With the exception of a Saturday write-in I might attend, all of the other write-ins take place in the early evening, so it makes sense to spend the earlier part of my days on other work.

I can't believe NaNoWriMo is already nearly here!  As always, I feel supremely unprepared.  Hopefully I can get more prepared in the last couple of days before it starts.

Saturday, October 22, 2022

NaNoWriMo Incoming!

If you look at my resume, you'll see I'm not shy about volunteering my time when I care deeply about something.  One of the places I choose to volunteer my time is for NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month.

I blog about NaNoWriMo often, as it's an annual event that's close to my heart.  If you haven't seen my previous posts, National Novel Writing Month is actually an international challenge to write a 50,000-word novel - or 50,000 words of a novel - during the month of November.  It started out as a tongue-in-cheek writing challenge to show that writing a novel doesn't have to be super serious or difficult, but over the past 20ish years it has blossomed into a massive undertaking for millions.

I still run across people who don't know what NaNoWriMo is, but increasingly more often, the people I talk to around this time of year actually do know what it is.  I find both equally mind boggling.

As a volunteer Municipal Liaison, I function as an organizer for the local region, including writing email blasts, organizing local events, communicating with Come Write In partners (businesses who are offering to host events), and maintaining a calendar and social media presence for our local participants.

We've been in full NaNo prep mode for weeks, although for us NaNo prep is organizing our big kickoff party and coordinating with Come Write In partners to get other events set up.  We already have events going up on the calendar, not just our kickoff on October 31st (we start writing at midnight), but also write-ins throughout the month.

I can't believe that November is only a little over a week away!  It's coming up so fast.  For the most part I'll be blogging about NaNoWriMo over on my book blog, RubyRansome.com, but I'm sure it'll leak over onto this blog as well.  NaNoWriMo all but takes over my life in November!

Friday, October 21, 2022

Creating a Daily Blogging Habit (Again)

If you followed my blog long ago, or if you look through the archives, you'll see that I've had this blog for a long time.  I started blogging a long time ago, nearly 17 years ago now, back in December of 2005.  You can find my very first blog post here!  It's absolutely crazy to realize that my blog is old enough to drive, old enough to be a junior in high school, if I had given birth to a child instead of a blog.

Okay, that's slightly weird imagery.  But you get the point.  I've been blogging (and freelancing!) for a very, very, very long time.

Unfortunately, I haven't been blogging regularly this entire time.  I blogged pretty consistently the first several years of my blog, and then my posting frequency started to fall off.  It was pretty sporadic for the last decade or so, with only even a couple of posts to show for some years (if any at all).

What changed?  Honestly, I'm not entirely sure.  Looking back, I think I was in a slump with my freelancing.  For quite some time, I'd only been doing the minimum to keep my freelance career going.  Then last fall (a year ago now!) I started struggling with my energy levels and it was all I could do just to get the bare minimum done.

The doctor tested my vitamin D levels and found they were really low, so she started me on vitamin D supplements, and I started taking a daily multi as well.  My energy levels were just beginning to recover when my horse got sick, and then of course there were no more thoughts of whether I had enough energy for anything, because it was ALL PANIC ALL THE TIME.

I'm really glad that's over, of course, but as he has improved, I've slowly been regaining more and more of my schedule.  Instead of fitting freelancing in here and there as I had time, like I was when he was at his sickest, I've actually been able to focus on my career again.  In addition, I've started a new website and business that I'm really excited about, so it's been fairly natural to work more on my writing website and blog as I work on the new website and blog.

I've been blogging almost daily for a couple of months now, and I'm finding that I really, really missed blogging.  It has a way of keeping me grounded and focused on my career.  It also helps me to maintain a daily writing habit even when I don't have client work to do, and most importantly, provides a dedicated space for my own writing (rather than client-ordered stuff).

It's ironic that I'm getting back into blogging, when it seems like pictures and video are the more popular way to go these days.  I don't mind though.  I still feel like blogging has value (obviously, since I write them professionally for a lot of clients), plus I just love to write.

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Motivation Methods: Sidle In Sideways

Please note that this post contains affiliate links.  As an Amazon Affiliate, I earn commissions from sales made through these links.

This is my fourth post in my series about self-motivation.  I'm talking about ways to break out of the cycle of procrastination and get things done.  My first post discussed doing something else first in order to harness that momentum and get the bigger, scarier things done, and my second post talked about the (affiliate link alert!) "Eat That Frog" method of getting stuff done, where you create a prioritized to-do list and get the biggest, scariest, most important thing done first.

Those are two very different approaches, obviously, and depending on your personality one or both might not work well for you.  It's easy to get stuck doing mundane tasks forever while you fret about doing the thing you're actually procrastinating about, but it's also extremely intimidating to try to jump right into the worst thing on your to-do list.

Fortunately, there's another approach, which I think offers a pretty good compromise.  Instead of choosing between doing something else completely or forcing yourself to stare down your fear, I like to do what I call "sidling in sideways," where I start on just a small part of the big task I'm intimidated by.

For instance, if there's a client article I've been particularly dreading, I'll start by doing something relatively easy, like researching or outlining it.  Sometimes I'll even just focus on writing a title.  During NaNoWriMo, if I can't think of what to write I'll work on character descriptions or backstory (still word count that counts toward my 50,000 word total!).  If

It works for non-writing things, too.  For instance, recently I've been chipping away at cleaning up and reorganizing my kitchen after months of neglect while my horse was sick.  My dolls have overrun the kitchen, plus I wanted to reorganize everything.  It's a big job, and if I think about all the things I need to do to get it all cleaned up and reorganized, I freeze up.  Completely.  The only way I can get anything done is by doing something small.  I pick one stack, one mess, one cupboard to work on, and go from there.  Everything usually takes longer than I think it will, which adds to the overwhelming feeling if I try to look at the big picture - but by starting on just a small part of it, I usually get into it and end up getting more done in the end.

Dividing something up into tiny parts and starting on a small, less-intimidating part is a great approach if you can't afford the time to do something else first, but aren't good at "just doing it."

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Motivation Methods: Just Do It

Please note that this post contains affiliate links.  As an Amazon Affiliate, I earn commissions from sales made through these links.

This is the third post in my series about ways to motivate yourself.  In the last post, I talked about how extended procrastination can make tasks seem incredibly intimidating, but how you can do something else first and use that momentum to get going on the more dreaded task afterward.

For some people, though, that approach doesn't fly.  The dreaded task is usually dreaded for a reason, usually because it is high priority, and it makes more sense to put your energy into getting it done now.  Spending your time on other, less important tasks is a waste of time because it ignores the elephant in the room.  Some might even argue that the rush it gives you to get something else done gives you a false sense of accomplishment, because you're ignoring the thing that needs to be done the most.

I know that's a pretty harsh way of judging people who prefer to do something else first (ahem, like myself), but there's a pretty powerful motivational book out there that's about exactly this.  It's called (affiliate link warning!!) Eat That Frog, and it's all about how to accomplish more by getting the most important things done first.

The theory behind it is that you spend so much time doing other things first when you're dreading something, that you actually end up wasting time and doing things that you maybe don't need to do, all in a misguided pretense at "productivity."  So maybe that writer with writers block who's cleaning her house right now is spending time scrubbing baseboards with a toothbrush, something she wouldn't normally waste time on.

Unlikely, but you get the point.

The fix is, of course, to write a prioritized to-do list with all the biggest, most important, most dreaded things on top, and that's what you start with. By getting the scariest and most important thing done right at the start of your day, you start your day off by being the most productive you could be, and remove that drain on your motivation right from the beginning.

Personally, I've never been good at this approach.  I think this is a perfect method for motivating morning people, people who are at their best at the beginning of their day, and that is definitely not me.  I require some time to wake up, warm up, and clear the cobwebs from my brain before I can start to work productively.

There's an alternative that I think offers a good compromise between these two methods - doing something else first, and doing the scariest and most important thing first - and I'll talk about that in my next post.

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Motivation Methods: Do Something Else First

This is the second post in my series about methods for self-motivation.  My goal here is to compile methods for getting yourself moving when the moving is hard, because I have found that once you're moving, it's a whole lot easier to take that forward momentum to the next thing, and the next, and the next, and eventually to form a habit of getting things done.

We all have those big projects that we dread doing.  Sometimes they're not even that big, we've just made them big in our minds by putting them off for so long.  It's like the longer we procrastinate, the harder it is to do the thing, until it's nearly impossible to get going on it.

One of my approaches when I feel myself getting into this rut is, honestly, to just do something else first.  My to-do list is always eons long, so it's easy enough to find something else on the list that needs to be done, something I am not dreading as much, and sometimes even something else equally as pressing.

It's the subject of a running joke for writers, actually.  The joke is that you can tell when a writer has writers block because their house is clean (or some other normally-overlooked tasks are all done).  Doing something else makes you feel less guilty about the thing that you're not doing.

If you use it correctly, though, you can actually use the building of that momentum to launch you into the task you didn't want to do.  There's something very satisfying about getting something done, and it doesn't really matter what it was you accomplished.  If you turn your focus to the task you were putting off while you're still feeling good about having gotten done something else, you can harness that energy and use it to catapult you into the dreaded task.

Of course, once you accomplish the dreaded task, you usually feel a little underwhelmed and amazed that you let "that little thing" monopolize your time for so long.  It's often not as bad as you feared it would be, but either way, it feels equally good to get it done!

If doing something else first when you have a task looming over you isn't your style, stay tuned for my next post in the series.

Monday, October 17, 2022

Motivation Methods: A Series

This is the first in a series of posts I'm writing about how to motivate yourself.  I feel like self-motivation is a struggle for many entrepreneurs, especially freelance writers, and especially when it comes to doing parts of the job you don't want to do.  I conceived of this series when I was writing my post about the cycles of motivation vs. procrastination, which is all about how procrastinating tends to breed more procrastinating, whereas the satisfaction of doing things can help to motivate you to do the next thing.  Getting started is easier said than done, though, which is where this series of posts comes in.

Note: This series probably also applies really well to writers block, which is sometimes as much a motivate issue as it is a creativity "block."

There are a ton of books and classes and coaches out there to help people with productivity, so obviously it's a problem for a lot of people.  Some of the prevailing theories recognize that getting started is a major part of the battle, but they don't all agree on how to get started.  With each blog post, I'm going to give you a "trick" that will help you get started.

Once I finish the series, I'll come back to this post and update it with a list of links to the posts in the series.  Stay tuned!

Friday, October 14, 2022

The Cycle of Motivation vs. Procrastination

Recently I blogged about a day where I had no motivation and just wanted to do nothing, even though I had plenty of things to do.  I listened to myself, took a break, and then ran some errands to shake things up.  When I got home, I felt a little less blah, and got to work on a project.  Accomplishing something had the effect of making me feel more motivated to do other things, which I wrote an update about later.

I said I needed to blog more about it eventually, and here we are!

The concerns of too much focus on time management aside, there's a reason procrastination is such a vicious cycle.  There's also a reason why doing things - and feeling good about it - makes you want to do more things.  It's all about how those things make you feel.

Not doing things has a habit of making you feel worse, at least in my experience.  It saps your motivation and stalls your momentum.  There's a reason it's hard to go back to work and be productive when you've been on vacation, for instance.  Or why it's so hard to break out of a slump when you don't feel like doing anything and have been procrastinating for a while.

Doing things, on the other hand, tends to make you feel good.  It's the same reason why accomplishing things has a positive impact on self esteem, for instance, or why it's easier to move onto the next item on your to do list when you're already in motion.

There's a certain amount of energy that you get when you're productive, and it's easy to use that energy to get started on the next thing, and the next, and the next.  There's an extra boost you get when you do something that makes you get up and move around, too, I think, which is why frequently I find that going to the barn for a bit or running some errands can help me break out of a rut.

Take this blog, for instance.  Around the same time that I got burnt out on freelancing full-time, which I discussed recently, I also stopped blogging regularly.   I had barely updated my blogs for years, and I even let quite a few of them go (I used to have a horse blog, a book review blog, and a 1920s wedding planning blog, all of which I decided to shut down).

In the last month or two, though, as Panama started getting better and I started getting more time again, I decided I wanted to devote more of my attention to freelancing again.  I started focusing more not just on freelance work, but on branding and blogging.  All of the things I've accomplished have gotten me even more excited for freelancing again, and it's made me more motivated to get my work done quickly.  I've even been getting client work done right away, instead of scheduling my work calendar around the deadlines, like I used to.  It's been a new experience for me, and I find the more I accomplish, the more I want to do.

So in the spirit of my newfound productive energy, next week I'm going to do a series of posts of how to break through that do-nothing feeling, whether it's writers block or something else.  I still believe in the importance of listening to yourself and taking a break when you need a break, but sometimes we don't have the luxury to do that for long when we're self-employed.  So I want to write about how to get going on things when you're struggling with motivation, and how to harness that momentum so that you can keep it going until you get excited about it, too.

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Is Time Management Really Ruining Our Lives?

Despite all of my blog posts on productivity and getting things done, there's an alternative mode of thought that we're actually making our lives busier and more stressful by focusing so much on productivity all the time.  It's the subject of a book I've mentioned before, Do Nothing, and pops up occasionally in articles, such as this one by Pocket: Why Time Management Is Ruining Our Lives.

I've discussed Taylorism before in my series about the corporate pushback about working from home that has occurred in the wake of the pandemic: What Happened to Working from Home and Freelancers Prove that Working from Home Works.  Over a hundred years ago, Taylorism or "scientific management" was a novel way for factories to make the most of the money they paid their employees.  But as this article argues, it has seeped into our personal outlooks, too, bringing that more-work-for-less mania into our daily lives.

But as the century progressed, something important changed: we all became Frederick Winslow Taylors, presiding ruthlessly over our own lives. As the doctrine of efficiency grew entrenched – as the ethos of the market spread to more and more aspects of society, and life became more individualistic – we internalised it. In Taylor’s day, efficiency had been primarily a way to persuade (or bully) other people to do more work in the same amount of time; now it is a regimen that we impose on ourselves.

The introduction of Taylorism into our personal lives has created this myth that if we're more efficient, we'll have more time, somehow.  But as factory workers are constantly reminded, our bosses are greedy, and will always demand more, and more, and more.  The same goes for us with our own lives: When we achieve our desired levels of productivity, it's not enough.  We're always pushing for more productivity over more hours, until we're more stressed and busier than ever.

So what's the answer?  I think there's two levels we need to discuss this one: personal, and societal.  As far as the personal level, books like Do Nothing recommend letting go of our need for perfect productivity all the time.  I actually don't think the concept of productivity is a bad one; we just forgot to come up with boundaries to go with it.  If you can prioritize and draw a protective boundary around your personal life so that Taylorism doesn't cross over into leisure time as well, you may actually be able to reap the benefits of the extra time that being productive affords you.

Then there's the societal implications.  This is important, because as often is the case, it's the lower classes that suffer the most.  While the effects of Taylorism are felt across all levels of society, it's those who work lower wage jobs that suffer the most, because those are the jobs where employers push the hardest and pay the least.  So on a societal level, it's important that we start emphasizing the importance of the quality of work over quantity.

Unfortunately, there's no getting around the importance of time management as a freelance writer or small business owner.  Time is literally money when you work for yourself and don't get luxuries such as paid breaks or sick days.  Fortunately, as freelancers we are also in charge of our own boundaries, so it's important to establish strong ones that will protect our leisure time from the goal of perfect productivity.

Monday, October 10, 2022

Is Your To-Do List Realistic, or Wishful Thinking?

Are you a list-maker?  I'm an avid list-maker, but not really such a great list-follower.  Every evening I get my to-do list set up for the next day, and during the day, one of the first things I do is to review my list and make last-minute changes if needed.

Unfortunately, my list is always packed, and I rarely complete more than just a few things on the list, so I'm constantly rolling everything over to the next day, and the next, and the next.

Part of it is probably that my to-do lists are often more of a work of fiction than fact: They're what I would like to be able to get done the next day.  I use Google Calendar to keep track of my tasks now, since I can see them on my calendar and schedule them for when I want to work on each thing, but when I have another task scheduled every half hour, the harsh reality is that I just can't accomplish everything that fast.

I suspect I'm not alone, and a lot of writers - a lot of entrepreneurs - do the same thing.  I've heard that being late all the time is common with optimists, because you tend to optimistically underestimate how long it'll take you to do things or get places.  I think the same goes for to-do lists.  I put a bazillion things on my to-do list every day because I optimistically think (or hope) I can get it all done.

I've seen productivity experts recommend only having a max of three things on your to-do list, but for an entrepreneur that seems unrealistic, as there are always things that need doing.  Yet when I get to the end of my day, I've often accomplished only a few things on my to-do list, so maybe they are onto something after all.

I guess it's too bad Google tasks don't have a separate list for "evergreen" tasks, ones that don't have a separate due date, but still need doing at some point.  A lot of the tasks on my daily list are that kind of thing, but I don't know what else to do with them so I stick them on a day.  If I have time to tackle one or two of them, I do.

Unfortunately, this has the effect of making me feel at the end of the day like I didn't accomplish enough.  Even though I can look back on my day and see that it was busy and full, and realize that I did do some important things on my list, I am faced with all of the things I didn't do and have to roll over to the next day.  It's demoralizing to do it day after day, but like I said, I'm not sure of another way.  And my current method of using Google calendar's task feature is actually helping me stay on task better, so I don't necessarily want to change to a different system.

What kind of list-maker are you?  Are you realistic, with just a few items on your to-do list every day?  Or are you optimistic, hoping you can conquer a long list of tasks, and being disappointed every day when you can't?  How do you handle tasks without a specific due date on your to-do list?

Sunday, October 09, 2022

Sunday Fun Day: My Series on Writer Burnout

I just got done publishing a series of posts on writer burnout, and decided that I wanted all the posts linked in one place to make them easier to find.  I feel like burnout is a major issue for freelance writers, right up there (and possibly one of the causes of) writers block, and so it deserves to be made more visible.

Of course, burnout isn't only a problem for writers.  Everyone is at risk of burnout, but especially those who tend to work too much, such as entrepreneurs and small business owners - a group that freelance writers naturally belong to.

I hope consolidating links to all these posts into one spot will be helpful for my readers!

Saturday, October 08, 2022

Saturday Bonus Post: How to Recover from Burnout

I don't usually publish posts on Saturdays (I've been trying to maintain a Monday through Friday schedule), but I wanted this post to follow the rest of my series on burnout.  Burnout is a big issue, not just for writers but for others too.  I've had to claw my way out of major burnout twice, personally, and I've had to combat minor burnout as well.  Understanding what causes burnout and taking steps to avoid it are helpful, but if you're already burnt out, you need something more.

Getting past burnout can be a long road.  Don't forget that the same symptoms of burnout can also be caused by your physical or mental health, so make sure you get checked out, especially if you see signs of your "burnout" leaking into other aspects of your life.  But if it's definitely burnout, here are a few tips for getting past it.

1) Listen to Yourself

Sometimes you have to push past a reluctance to do things, but other times it's good to listen to yourself when your mind and body say, "I don't want to."  If you're burned out because you were hustling too hard, for example, then you've surely earned a break now.  Sometimes taking a break - within reason - will help you muster motivation to work when the break is over.

2) Find Something You're Passionate About

I think this one is pretty key.  I've found the biggest motivator, the biggest way to get past a burnout, is to find something you're really engaged in - engaged enough to overcome the feelings of burnout.  This may not be client work at all, but a project for yourself that you feel strongly about, and that's okay.  When you're enjoying the work you do for yourself, you'll retrain your brain to focus and work hard again.  Plus, by getting excited about your work, you'll uncover hibernating motivational reserves that you can put to use in other areas, too.

3) Allow Yourself to Take Breaks

If you've been burnt out for a while, you're probably going to have to retrain your brain to work again - but retrain it the right way, with a healthy amount of brain breaks.  For instance, try adopting the Pomodoro technique: Instead of trying to work hard all day long and failing, work in short, focused bursts with breaks in between.  Typically the idea is to work for 25 minutes with a 5 minute break, but for work that requires longer focus sessions, you could work for 45 minutes with a 15 minute break.  Breaking up your work day into more bite-sized chunks will help you get through it, especially if you've burnt out from hustling too hard and ignoring your need for breaks.

4) Value Yourself for More than Your Productivity

This one is a hard one, because our society teaches us that our value lies in how productive we are, not just with work but with personal things too.  Think about how often people ask how your day, week, or weekend was, and your answer is all about how much you did or didn't get done.  Placing all your value on productivity helps to lead to burnout and keeps you from escaping once you're there.

Instead, try to shift your focus from how much you get done, to the quality of what you get done.  This is also part of why finding something you're passionate about works so well for helping you get past a burnout.  Feeling good about what you do is worth so much more than feeling like you did a lot.

5) Consider a Change

If you're really struggling, it might be that you'll need to make a major change in order to revitalize your focus and motivation.  It doesn't have to be a forever change; it may just be until you feel motivated to write again (or whatever you normally do).  For me, twice now, burnout has led to a partial career change: in 2011, when I started nannying part time, and in 2020, when I stopped nannying and returned my focus to writing full-time.  It's disheartening to try to force yourself to do something day after day, especially if you're unable to accomplish much, and just end up feeling unproductive every day - so find something you can do, and want to do.

Getting over burnout is tough, and depending how bad it is, it may take time or a complete change of pace (or career) to get past it.  But it's doable, especially if you catch it early.  Don't ever feel like your only option is just to keep pushing onward even when you don't feel like it - doing so can actually make your burnout worse!

This is the last post in a series - you can find links to all my posts about writer burnout here.

Friday, October 07, 2022

How to Avoid Writer Burnout

My last couple of posts have talked a lot about burnout.  I've dealt with a few life-changing bouts of burnout, and each time I've had to make major changes to my career in order to get through it.  I've learned through these phases how burnout presents and what causes it.  Now I'm going to talk about how to avoid it - and while my post is primarily written for writers, many of the ideas are applicable to entrepreneurs, small business owners, and others.

Also, because it turns out that I had a lot more to say about burnout that I realized, I'm going to write one more post after this, about how to recover from burnout if it's too late to avoid it.

In the meantime, here are a few protective business practices for avoiding burnout.

1) Work with People You Like

This seems obvious, but it's amazing how many times we overlook it.  We often get into a mindset as small business owners that we have to work for everyone and anyone who wants us.  This simply isn't true, and sometimes being a little choosy can actually help us.  It'll free up your time to work with people you enjoy and who appreciate you, and it'll prevent you from feeling unappreciated - which leads directly to burnout.  Have a difficult client?  Fire them!  Life is too short to work with people like that.

2) Establish Expectations

It's an important life lesson, especially for women, that setting your own worth is totally up to you - as a writer as well as in any other role.  You are in charge of setting your own standards.  If you accept less, others will behave accordingly.

This has so many applications, but as a writer, it means it's important not to work for too little.  It's important to say, these are the hours I want to work, and I'm not letting anyone else dictate otherwise.  Working too much and for too little is unsustainable and a direct path to burnout, so take care of yourself first.

3) Maintain Variety in Your Work

Are you sensing a theme here?  Freelancing is all about choice, and choice is your strongest defense against burnout.  Personally, I prefer to mix up both subject matter and the writing style of projects I work on.  Maintaining variety in your work is key to keeping your work interesting, and being interested and engaged in your work will help protect you from getting burned out.

4) Find Work You're Passionate About

Just like I discussed in my last post, feeling like your work makes a difference is important to our job satisfaction, and people who feel high levels of job satisfaction are less likely to burn out.  Find work that means something to you to help keep yourself invested in your work.

If you're a writer or entrepreneur, it's important not to lose sight of the fact that you do hold all the cards.  You control the scope of your business, who you work with, and what work you accept.  It can be empowering to remind yourself of this!  If you don't feel right about something, if a client is being unpleasant or you realize you're working too hard for too little, make a change now before it leads to a burnout.

Click here for links to the rest of my series about writer burnout.

Thursday, October 06, 2022

Writer Burnout: What Causes It?

This is my second post in a series of posts about burnout.  Be sure to also read the first one, When Writers Get Burnt Out.

I've decided that this post actually needs to be broken up into two: What causes burnout, and how to avoid it.  While the post is written mostly for writers, it's applicable to others as well.  I went through burnout not only as a writer, but also as an entrepreneur and a nanny.  As far as I can tell, all of my instances of burnout have similar causes.

Cause #1: Lack of Appreciation

It'll probably come as no surprise that one of the biggest causes of burnout is longtime feelings of being unappreciated.  I don't mean feeling unappreciated by one client or for a short while - I mean long term.  When I got burnt out as a nanny, I had worked for a series of fairly unappreciative, unreasonable, and demanding parents.  There were some in there that were great families to work for, but they weren't able to balance out the difficult families.  By the time the early stages of the pandemic shut everything down, I had been feeling burnt out for some time, so I took the opportunity to transition over to freelancing full time again.

Cause #2: Too Much Hustling/Too Little Pay

What I think of as the next biggest cause of burnout is too much hustling to make a living - or, put a different way, not being paid what you feel you're worth (and therefore having to work harder than you should to succeed).  This also often goes hand-in-hand with lack of appreciation, because when you feel appreciated, you're willing to work harder... and let's face it, the biggest show of appreciation someone can give you is in paying you fairly for your work.

I think hustling too much for too little pay was part of my early and most serious burnout from freelancing.  Especially early on in my freelance career, I accepted some pretty low-paying work, just because I was so happy to have work.  But low-paying work means you have to work harder, faster, and longer in order to make ends meet, so while it helped me to gain experience, it also contributed to my eventual burnout.

Cause #3: Too Little Variety in Your Work

I love working from home.  Anyone who reads my blog or follows me on social media knows that I love it.  But there is one disadvantage: It's far too easy to get bored with your work, if you don't make a concerted effort to maintain variety.  The days start to blend together, and not in a good way.  That was another thing that contributed to my major burnout from freelance writing, I think: too much monotony in the work I was choosing.

Cause #4: Lack of Passion

This is somewhat related to the lack of variety I discussed above, but it is not the same.  You can have variety without having any work you're passionate about, and that's just as bad.

That doesn't mean you have to be over-the-top passionate about every assignment you take.  It's not practical to try to maintain that, and you'd probably get burnt out on passion alone if you tried.  But it's been proven that one of the basic necessities of job satisfaction is feeling like you do work that makes a difference.  If you don't care about what you do, you're going to get burnt out very quickly - especially if you also lack variety, work too hard, and feel unappreciated.

Having all four of these is a death knell for a freelancer, but even a combination of just two or three factors can cause a mild burnout.  In my next post, I'll talk about strategies for avoiding writer burnout - but also small business owner and entrepreneur burnout.

Find the entire series of posts on writer burnout here.

Update to My Do-Nothing Day

I thought I'd write a little update about my day where I didn't feel like doing anything.

I let myself do nothing for a little while, like I said.  It wasn't for very long though before we had to leave to feed Panama his dinner and run some other errands while he ate.

When we got home, I had entirely shaken off my do-nothing mood.  We ended up working on a project this evening, and I feel pretty satisfied with what we got done.

We've had an ongoing goal to clean up the house, starting with the kitchen.  I'd had a goal at the beginning of the year to clean up and organize my house so that my doll spaces were easier to utilize, and we'd been making good progress before Panama got sick.  Since then, everything has gotten a whole lot messier, because for five straight months we basically had zero time (or motivation) to clean or organize.  We were spending so much time keeping Panama alive, that what time we had left had to be spent keeping ourselves alive (working so we could pay bills, and enjoying the occasional down time so we didn't go completely crazy).

I've been planning ways to reorganize the kitchen, and had bought a couple of pantry organizers a few weeks ago, but we hadn't yet had a chance to set them up.  We finally set one of them up last night, and the other one tonight.  As part of that, we cleaned up that section of the kitchen a little, and while there's still a lot of work left to be done, I'm quite pleased with what we accomplished tonight - especially given my do-nothing mood earlier this afternoon.

I have a few other things I could work on this evening, but I no longer feel reluctant to do so.  That's the secret of motivation, and why procrastination is such a vicious cycle: When you get things done, it actually helps to motivate you to get more done, so when you're not doing things, you're missing out on that energy that can help you feed into the next thing, and the next, and the next.

I should probably write a post about that eventually.

For right now, though, I'm going to go do some things before it gets too late and my motivation peters out for the night!

Wednesday, October 05, 2022

What Do You Do When You Don't Feel Like Doing Anything?

Today is one of those days where I don't feel like doing anything.

I find this often happens when I have a day (or days) where I have to spend a lot of time at the barn.  Today I got up early for a farrier appointment for my horses, so by the time I finished the appointment, fed Panama, waited for him to finish eating, and came home, my brain pretty much felt like puree.  It doesn't help either that I have no client assignments right now, so I have no deadlines to motivate me.

Writing a blog post isn't "doing nothing," I suppose, but it's like a writer cleaning the house when they've got writer's block: It's the path of least resistance, and easy to do when you don't feel like doing anything, yet want to feel like you did something.

There are definitely things I could be doing.  I haven't done much marketing this week - despite my good intentions, every day seems to get away from me before it should.  I also need to work on catching up on expense reporting, which means going through emails and receipts to put them into my spreadsheet.  (I used to keep up on this every year, and haven't in a long time, but I want to this year to make the next tax season easier.)

I could also be working on a massive cleaning and organizing project I've been chipping away at, a little bit every day.

Right now, though, all of it seems overwhelming, so I'm taking a little while to humor my desire to do nothing.

I know there will be lots to catch up on later.  And I know I can't humor these moods all the time.  But right now, I've got a moment, and nothing utterly pressing to do, so instead of procrastinating and feeling terrible about it, I'm allowing myself a little time.

What about you?  What do you do when you don't feel like doing anything?  Do you have tricks for pushing through, or have you found it's best to give yourself some time, as I have?

Note: While a lot of people might interpret doing nothing as being "lazy," take note of my last post, on burnout.  I've definitely found it's for the best if I listen to myself when I'm feeling overwhelmed and unmotivated.

When Writers Get Burnt Out

As I'm sure many freelancers have, I've dealt with a recurring cycle of burnout over the years.  The worst was probably in 2010 or so, and resulted in me getting an after school nanny job the following year.  But I've had other periods of burnout too.

Burnout has a way of sneaking up on you - in anything, really, but especially as a freelancer.  When you work from home all the time, it's easy to lose track of time.  You're home with your work all the time, and like many writers, you may choose to "warm up" by checking email, job postings, blogs, social media, or the news.  And then after a while, you realize you're "warming up" progressively longer before you get to work, procrastinating more on projects, and just in general feeling grumpy and lethargic.

Have you ever read the Melville short story, "Bartleby, the Scrivener"?  It's about a scrivener - a writer, essentially, although more of a copyist in the days when those tasks had to be done by hand - who starts refusing to work increasingly more often, with the words, "I would prefer not to."  I often think "Bartleby, the Scrivener" is the perfect fictionalization of what writer burnout (or probably most burnout) feels like.

I would prefer not to, indeed.

For a freelancer, burnout is especially dangerous.  When your entire livelihood is based on timely turnaround and actively marketing yourself to new clients, it's can be devastating to suddenly feel like you'd prefer not to all the time.  At a full-time job you can get away with a little slow work when you need a break.  Self-employment is called a hustle for a reason: You have to hustle, and keep hustling, in order to succeed.

If it's not resolved, burnout can be a death sentence to a career.  Certainly my major case of burnout set my writing career back.  I chose to freelance part-time for a while and worked part-time as a nanny and a babysitter, which did succeed in providing some variety that helped me climb out of the burnout.  Unfortunately, that period of severe burnout is also when I stopped marketing regularly, and when I took the part-time nanny job, I stopped marketing entirely.

Incidentally, I eventually got burned out on nanny work too - for some of the same reasons, but also for some reasons completely unique to nanny work.  I took the lockdown at the beginning of the pandemic as my opportunity to stop nannying and start focusing on freelance writing work again.

I feel like I've learned some things about burnout, what causes it (at least for me), and how to avoid it, and I'll share some of those discoveries in my next post on burnout.

You can find the rest of my series about writer burnout here.

Tuesday, October 04, 2022

Creating a Daily Marketing Habit

I started to title this post "For Writers," but I realized that it applies to more than just writers.  It also applies to entrepreneurs, small business owners, and anyone else who needs to market on a regular basis.

Years ago, when I was a newbie freelancer, I had an informal schedule where every morning (or after I got up - we'll just call that morning), I would "warm up" by catching up on other freelancer blogs and newsletters, and then I would search for new freelance work.  I did it that way every day for at least a couple of years.

Over time I stopped marketing on a daily basis.  I had a lot of repeat clients at the time, and it stopped seeming necessary.  Yes, I'd forgotten about the importance of marketing for freelancers, and honestly it probably set my career back quite a few years.

Another thing that led to me marketing less - and to my career setback as well - was that I got burnt out, but that's a good subject for a future post.

Fast forward to today.  I have squeaked along for some years on longtime repeat clients and one-off work from a freelance job board I frequent, but in 2022 I've lost two of my repeat clients.  I was already feeling the pinch after losing the first one early this year, and then of course after my horse got sick and I could barely find time to work.  For the past couple months, my horse has been doing a lot better, and I've been working more... and boom, I lose another client.

So obviously I need to start marketing regularly again.  Ideally I'd like to settle into a daily schedule again that includes time to market, just like I used to.  Unfortunately, my horse isn't entirely back to normal yet, so my schedule is still a little topsy turvy, and I'm not sure where marketing is going to fit in.  Additionally, I have a couple other business ventures now that I didn't have then, so my schedule is definitely much more complex.

Right now my routine is to get up, get a few things done at home if I have time, and then head out to the barn with my computer to feed Panama.  While he eats (which takes a while now, since he's finally back on hay) I can work.  Often I work on client projects during this time, but I'm thinking that it might be an ideal time to work on marketing.  Marketing requires a little less focus than client work, and sometimes the distractions at the barn can be bad, for one thing.  For another, going to the barn is often the first "real" thing I do with my day, and I like the idea of reinstating the goal of working on it first thing.

Note: For a lot of freelance writers, marketing means combing through freelance job postings, but not always!  Lately I've been working on my websites and blogs, social media posts, and videos.  For other (non-writer) small businesses, that's probably a lot of what your time marketing is going to look like.

What about you?  Do you schedule time to market to ensure it gets done?  What do you find works best for you?

Monday, October 03, 2022

For Writers: How to Streamline Your Job Search

When you spend a portion of every day job hunting and responding to ads, it can get a little time consuming.  Fortunately, there are ways to streamline your job search so that you can finish marketing and get to work on client assignments a little more quickly.  These are some shortcuts I used to take when I was marketing on a daily basis - and since I'm gearing up to start marketing more regularly again, things I am currently getting into place again.

Here are a few ways to make your job search faster.

  • Bookmark your favorite job boards and go through the list every day.  I used to have a short list of my favorite freelance job boards, and I would check each one on a daily basis for new job postings.  Typically I go through the job postings quickly, opening each new one into a background tab, and when I am done searching, I can get to work on responding to each one.
  • Have not just your resume, but also your cover letter ready to go.  I like to have a cover letter template with some boilerplate that I can tweak as needed.  I just copy and paste it into the email or web form as I apply, and then tailor it for the specific position.  It makes applying a lot faster to have the basics already written.
  • Have a list of go-to writing samples.  Some job postings will ask for specific writing samples, and they don't want just a link to your portfolio.  Be ready with a curated list of writing samples that demonstrate a variety of skills, subjects, and writing styles, so that you always have an appropriate clip on hand when asked..
  • Don't wait.  I used to fly through the easier applications, but I would put off any that required a little more work.  Unfortunately, I probably missed out that way, as the client had often already chosen someone by the time I responded.  Learn from my mistakes and try not to wait too long.  Freelance job posters are often inundated with responses, so you need yours to either really stand out, or get to them before they get too overwhelmed by the flood.
I'm starting to market regularly again for the first time in years, so I'll probably have more tips as I get back into the swing of things.  For certain I'll be talking about how to create (or re-create, such as in my case) a daily habit of marketing.  Stay tuned!

Friday, September 30, 2022

Learning My Own Lesson

I have been talking a lot about the importance of marketing lately, but guess who hasn't been actively looking for new clients?  This girl.

To be fair, I haven't exactly been doing nothing.  My horse got sick in April, and quite a few months of the year were spent simply keeping him alive.  I had no time to market; I was lucky when I was able to just get existing client work finished on time.

Since then, I've been working a lot on branding, websites, and my resume and portfolio.  So it's not like I haven't been marketing at all.  I've been working on getting all this stuff ready for potential clients to see, which is important too.

But I have not been looking for new clients, and it is coming back to bite me.

Early this year, just before my horse got sick, one of my regular clients went on hiatus.  They had something in the pipelines that they were working on, and needed to finish it before they could send any further work my way.  It was initially just supposed to be a couple months, but it has gone on and on.  I got a little bit of work from them a couple months ago, but that unfortunately didn't last long before they were back to the drawing board.  I'm still currently waiting to see when they'll be back.

And now, I've just lost another regular client, one I access through a writer site.  They've decided to stop offering client marketing as a service, so they no longer need writers to create marketing content.  It's unexpected and a disappointment, since I've been writing for them for about seven years - a pretty long time for a repeat client.  But it's also a significant loss of income, since they were one of two remaining regular clients.

The only regular client I have left does give me a fair amount of work, and has increased what they give me recently, but it's not quite enough to make up for losing not just one but two clients in one year.  So it's good that I'm almost done working on my website, resume, and portfolio, because I'll need to start actively hunting for more clients soon if I don't want to feel too much of a pinch from the loss.

Thursday, September 29, 2022

The Importance of Marketing for Small Business

The other day, I wrote about why freelance writers need to market continually.  Marketing on a regular basis keeps helps us to maintain our work queue, find new clients, and replace lost regulars.

But it's not just freelance writers that benefit from regular marketing.  Small businesses of all sizes also benefit from regular marketing.

Think about it for a moment.  If even huge, well known companies market themselves, how are the little guys going to ever survive with the big fish if they don't market, too?

Marketing looks a little different for small businesses and sole proprietors, of course.  Big companies can afford expensive prime time TV commercials, for instance.  It's their tremendous brand name recognition that allows them to spend so much on marketing, ironically.  Those kinds of ads will be out of reach for the majority of small businesses.

For many small businesses, marketing means having a stellar website, blogging regularly to keep it higher in search engine rankings, posting to social media accounts on Facebook and Twitter, building a mailing list and sending out emails and newsletters, and creating visual content for social media sites like Instagram and YouTube.  These are all free or low-cost marketing that have the added advantage of speaking directly to your target market.

Marketing for small business owners isn't necessarily expensive.  Aside from the cost of paying a writer or editor, most of the expense is in the form of the time it takes to run all those marketing campaigns, which is of course why many small businesses either have a dedicated marketing person or outsource their marketing.

However you do it, marketing is important.  No one is going to know your business exists unless you get it out there, and the client's or customer's decision to buy is often dependent on name recognition at minimum, if not a track record of following you on social media or getting your emails.

Marketing isn't all that complicated, either, once you zoom out a little.  At minimum, you need to figure out where your target market hangs out, find a way to reach them there, and get your business in front of them as much as possible.  As long as you can do at least that, you can give your business a fighting chance.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Using Canva for Social Media Marketing

In a recent post, I mentioned Canva, a design tool I've been using for everything from video editing to marketing materials.  I'm still loving Canva, and was super interested when a self-publishing author support firm whose mailing list I'm on posted a Canva for Beginners virtual class coming up.

I'm not entirely sure I'm a beginner with Canva anymore, but since I'm largely self-taught, there's probably still something I could learn in that course.  I'm considering taking it.  I really like that if you register for the class, you can listen to it live, but if you can't make it live you also get the audio file download afterward.  I'm terrible at making it to things like that on time, so I think I'd probably be dependent on getting the download later.

While I was looking for the My Word Publishing business page and event schedule, I did a little Google search and found a surprising amount of Canva tutorials for authors and small business owners.  I found tutorials for everything from creating ebooks in Canva, to social media marketing for authors.  I'm thinking about reading and watching some of those free YouTube videos before I decide whether to pay $29 for the paid course.  I'd be interested in learning as much as possible about how to use Canva, so I may end up doing all of it.

The other thing I found while looking up the Canva for Beginners online class is that My Word Publishing also sells access to recordings for past classes.  Click here for their list of events and recorded classes.  I'm potentially interested in the Basics of Email Marketing and MailChimp and Instagram for Authors recorded classes.  Perhaps not yet, but hopefully next year I'll have to start thinking about starting to market.  But again, me being me, I'll probably check and see how much of that information is available online for free first.

A note about My Word Publishing: I found out about them a few years back, when they reached out to the Denver area NaNoWriMo MLs to let us know they were having some free related seminars during October and November.  I went to one or two of them, just to check things out.  They were, of course, ultimately marketing their services to wrimos, but I remembering still feeling like I walked away with some valuable information.

The bottom line is: There is so much you can do with online marketing these days, and knowing how to use tools like Canva to your best advantage is so important!

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Freelancers: The Importance of Diversifying Your Client Base

Like my last post, this post is more for other freelancers, although some clients may find it applicable to them as well.

As a freelancer (or any small business person, really), it's important never to focus all of your work in one place.  Freelancing is about working for more than one client, after all, as working for just one employer would be essentially full-time employment without any of the benefits - and what's the point in that?

More importantly, though, spreading out your work between many clients is what protects your livelihood.  If you work for many clients, even if they are repeat clients, you have a buffer if you should lose one.  Yes, you might miss that income and you might have a tight month or two if it takes you a while to replace the lost work, but you will still have your other clients.  It's the modern-world equivalent of putting your eggs in more than one basket.

This is also why marketing is important for freelancers, as I discussed in the last post.  If you're marketing regularly, you should have some work already lined up.  Plus, if you're marketing on a weekly or even daily basis, you may even be able to fill the opening before you get through the queue and start to feel the pinch from the lost client.

Diversifying also has one other benefit that isn't often discussed: It helps protect you from burnout.  It's really easy to get burnt out when you're writing too much of the same thing all the time.  One of the benefits of freelancing is that we have a little more power over what we choose to write, so exercise that power, and make choices that keep the work interesting to you.

It takes a dedicated freelancer to juggle regular marketing plus multiple clients and a project queue, or perhaps I should say a dedicated small business person and entrepreneur - as that is what we are, after all.  If you feel overwhelmed by the many hats you have to wear as a freelancer, or if you worry that you don't have the skills to juggle all of this, find some productivity tools (like these that I suggested not too long ago) that will help you accomplish what you need to do to freelance successfully.

Monday, September 26, 2022

Ebb and Flow: Why Freelancers Need to Keep Marketing

This post is more for freelancers, although small business clients who hire writers could use some of the marketing insight as well.

You may have heard other freelancers talk about marketing.  But what is it, and why is it important to keep it up?

Marketing can take many forms.  Cold calling or writing to clients is marketing, yes.  But browsing freelance job boards and responding to job postings is also marketing.  Reaching out to past clients or following up with current clients to see if they have more work for you is marketing.  Posting your resume, building your website, blogging, posting to your writer Instagram: all marketing.

Simply put, marketing is anything that gets your name out there and helps to build your brand.  Sometimes marketing may see immediate impact, such as cold calling, responding to job postings, or following up with past clients.  Those actions can result in work right away.  Other times marketing doesn't pay off for a while, such as when a client doesn't have any work for you yet (but your follow-up keeps you fresh in their mind when they do have some work).  And sometimes, marketing doesn't really have any direct payoff, but contributes to building your brand or online presence, so it's beneficial in a cumulative sense.

Lately I've been working a lot on marketing materials for my businesses: overhauling my websites, settling on visual branding, rewriting my resume, and updating my blogs.  It's been a ton of work, and there's no immediate benefit of any of it, but it's still important.  Once I get everything updated the way I want it, I intend to make a habit of trolling the job boards on a daily basis.

I used to search for work daily.  It was how I started out every day: I read email, I caught up on the blogs I followed (yes, this was when blogs were the primary source of social media), and I searched the job boards.  I would do quick searches of all of my favorite job boards, saving all of the ads I wanted to respond to, and then I would spend some time responding to each one.

I haven't done that in a long time, but I need to start doing it again, for the simple reason that marketing regularly helps you to avoid any gaps in work (and income).  Not every query or cold call or job ad response will lead to work, so doing a few a day ensures that a freelancer can keep plenty of work queued up.

I've gotten a little stuck in my routine and lately have been getting all my work from just a couple of clients on one freelancer site, but it's time to start marketing again, as I don't like being dependent on just a couple of clients.  I had a third client who stopped needing work from me early this year while they worked on their software, and the loss of income from that client has been really rough to deal with, on top of an already really difficult year.

With all of this in mind, my next post (also for freelancers) will talk about the importance of diversifying.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Create Your NaNoWriMo 2022 Project Today!

This just in from NaNoWriMo HQ: Project creation for November 2022 is up and running!  Click here to create your NaNoWriMo 2022 project.

You can see my project for November in my list of NaNoWriMo projects.  I'm linking to the entire project link rather than this year's project, just in case I change my mind on what I'm going to do this year.  I don't want to break the link if I change the project title, since the project title is in the URL.

For now I'm still planning on working on the Ruby Ransome rewrite during NaNo this year.  It makes the most sense, since 1) it's fiction, so it's more appropriate for NaNoWriMo, and 2) I would love to get that novel published next year, just for the appropriateness of publishing it exactly 100 years from when it takes place.  I think it'll be a lot harder to stay motivated and "win" if I work on one of my other projects.

I did think about working on one of my other fiction projects (I have several that are in various stages of progress), but decided not to add them to my list because as much as I'd love to finish them, there's less of a time crunch on those.  I have a couple of novels in progress, one that's part of a larger project that I was working on last year (but didn't get very far), as well as a shorter juvenile novel that's almost done.

Even though it's early, I encourage you to decide what you're going to write and create a project.  Even if you might change your project later (like I might), it's good to get started thinking about it now.  I've found that the NaNo projects I've been more successful with have been ones I've had plenty of time to plan.  Last-minute projects are much less likely to succeed, at least in my own experience.

What are you planning to write for NaNoWriMo?

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Choosing This Year's NaNoWriMo Project

It's that time of year where I'm starting to think about what I'll write for NaNoWriMo.  I have been working a lot on my websites lately, overhauling the older sites and developing some much-needed visual branding.  But that has brought to mind a lot of potential projects that I could work on this November.

Remember, I've often been a Rebel (someone who breaks the traditional rules of NaNoWriMo, and writes something other than a novel started on November 1st), so this opens up a variety of possibilities for me.

Projects on the table for NaNoWriMo:

  • Revive work on Ruby Ransome, my 1920s vampire series.  I determined a few years ago that the novel needed a complete overhaul based on something I realized about my main characters' motivations, but around that time I decided to shelve the project for the time being.  If I revived it for NaNoWriMo, I would have to read through the existing first novel prior to November, reacquaint myself with the story and my research, and mark out the passages that I want to rewrite (which is most of it, but there are a few I could possibly keep).  The big motivation for working on Ruby in November would be so that I could self publish it in 2023.  The first novel takes place in 1923, so publishing in 2023 seems appropriate.  On the down side, it wouldn't be income generating for a long time, and would be the start of a fairly time consuming project.
  • Work on my DIY doll stringing ebook and related tutorials.  I've had a restringing tutorial for sale on my DIY Doll Stringing website (formerly Doll Stringing Extravaganza) for years, and it desperately needs to be updated to reflect current ebook publishing standards.  While some of that would be updating the ebook template, some of the copy needs to be updated.  In addition, I've been planning on writing several related tutorials and expanding my ebook line.  Working on this in November has its draw because it would be income generating much sooner than my novel series.  Unfortunately, it wouldn't generate 50,000 words (which is what's needed to "win" NaNoWriMo), and I've found in the past that writing nonfiction during NaNoWriMo is much more difficult.
  • Blog-o-vember.  I've done this before, and used November to form better blogging habits.  It works well, but 1,666 words is a lot of blogging per day.  Possibly not a bad thing, since I've got multiple blogs, but still.  It feels like a bit of a copout, even though I know it's still valid writing work that I need to get done and that will benefit my websites.
  • Write what you will.  I've done this in the past, too, with somewhat less success: Made my goal to write 1,667 words a day, on any of my personal projects (client work doesn't count).  That might be blogging, working on my ebooks, or working on my novel.  I find that not focusing on just one project actually seems to sap my motivation during NaNoWriMo, though, so while it's a valid effort and not quite off the table, it's not my preference.
I am still going back and forth over what my goal will be for November, but most likely I think I'll either choose to focus on Ruby, or if I can't get organized in time, do a hybrid "write what you will" of business writing (blogging, ebooks, etc.).

Monday, September 19, 2022

The Challenges of a Virtual NaNoWriMo

I've already talked a little bit about how covid impacted workers in 2020.  I didn't work in an office, so it didn't really change anything for me there, but I experienced many of the same (but different) challenges in November of 2020 as an ML for NaNoWriMo.

We knew earlier in the year that HQ was mandating virtual only for NaNoWriMo.  Even though most places were opening up, NaNoWriMo didn't want any of their events to be responsible for people getting sick and potentially dying, so we weren't allowed to plan, promote, or even approve any in-person events.

This was a challenge for our region, which is typically a busy and well-attended region at local, in-person events.  We had a pretty good social media presence already, though, so we built off of that.  We offered virtual write-ins at the same times as many of our common, popular in-person write-ins, using a variety of platforms.  Some write-ins were on Zoom, some were on Facebook video chat, some were in Discord.  We also held a virtual kickoff party on Zoom.

Participation dropped, of course, which we expected, but not too badly.  We still had anywhere from four to ten people at most of the write-ins.  We didn't do as many write-ins, just a few a week instead of the one or more a day we were used to - which was actually to be expected, since we were planning and hosting all of the write-ins, rather than wrimos planning some of them as happens with in-person write-ins.

Last year ended up being virtual as well, and we noticed more of a drop-off in participation last year.  The feeling was that most of our local participants had the stamina to make it through one year of virtual, but not two.  There were many write-ins that weren't attended at all. 

We get it.  Some people really like the virtual format, and we've had Discord write-ins for years.  But others struggle.  For a lot of wrimos, the social aspect of in-person write-ins is what sustains motivation and momentum for the entire month of November, and virtual events just aren't the same.

Don't get me wrong, I think some people love the virtual write-ins and will still attend them.  I just think we'll do better with a combination of virtual and in-person.

This year will be our first in-person NaNoWriMo following covid.  HQ wants us to continue to offer a virtual component too, so we're planning on still doing a few virtual write-ins.  But we're excited to be able to offer in-person events again, as we feel like that's the life and blood of a successful NaNoWriMo.

Will participation still be down a little, even in our busy region?  HQ expects it to be, although I won't be surprised if we get a surge of participation at first from wrimos who have been anxiously awaiting the return of in-person events.  We'll have to wait and see how the forum and social media participation ramps up closer to November.  It's only September, after all, and not everyone is thinking about NaNoWriMo yet!


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