Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Productivity Tip: Reframe Your To-Do List in Terms of Goals

I've been talking a lot about productivity lately and how to maintain it, and in that vein I'd like to discuss another tip for staying productive.  In my last post, about getting moving by doing something small, I mentioned that it takes finding ways to "trick" myself into being productive.  I feel like if I didn't make myself be productive, I'd probably sit here reading my book all day.  (Yes, my Kindle is open next to me right now.)  So it takes a certain amount of knowing how to trick myself in order to get anything done.

I'm always trying to find new ways to motivate myself, and I'm a big list-maker, so a year or two ago I read a book on how to write to-do lists that work.  One of the big takeaways from the book was that to-do lists work best when you write them in a way that reflects your goals.  The author recommended writing everything on your to-do list as a sentence that includes your goal at the end, which seems silly to me, but the message was valid: We are more likely to follow through when the items on our to-do list are meaningful to our larger goals.

For instance, I might have it on my to-do list that I'm going to update my website today, but that alone doesn't mean it's going to get done.  But if I reframe that to-do list item in terms of my goal - in this case, growing my business, which I want very much - I'm likely to feel more motivated to do it.

It works for client work too, and not just personal goals.  For instance, if I want to write an article for a client today, I'm more likely to do it if I'm thinking of both the benefits of doing it and the consequences of not doing it: I want to get paid sooner, have more time for other things later, and continue to grow my business, versus having to make excuses to my client or having to shuffle my bills in order to make up for the delay in pay.

Your goals don't have to be epic life goals, they just have to reframe how you're thinking about that task.  For instance, I want to clean my kitchen so that I can cook dinner and not feel like a slob.  They're not epic life goals, but they do the job of reminding me why I wanted to do that today.

Speaking of which, I'd better get going... I have some things to do.  But in the meantime, let me know in the comments: How do you make your to-do list meaningful and motivating?

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Productivity Tip: Start with Something Small

I know I've mentioned before that sometimes I really struggle with my productivity.  I'm a vicious procrastinator.  For me, deadlines are targets, not last resorts, and quite often they're my main source of motivation, too.  Most writers know the power of a looming deadline to break them out of writer's block.

It's not always ideal to wait until the eleventh hour to work on something, though.  For me, working on it sooner requires a little bit of tricking myself.  Basically, I need either motivation or momentum, so when the motivation is lacking I need to find a different way to build up some momentum.

For me, a good way to get going is to start with something smaller.  Like this blog post.  Blogging is often a good "warm up" exercise for me, since it's a way to get my writing muscles going, so to speak, without jumping straight into the deep end.  (And yes, I'm blogging right now as a way to warm up to writing an article for a client.)

Another trick I often use is prioritizing my to-do list.  Lately I've been keeping my to-do list in Google Calendar, which works well for me as it puts my to-do items and my schedule all in one place.  If my day gets hijacked or I find myself having a hard time getting to work, it helps to rearrange the items on my to-do list so that I'm thinking about what's most important to do next.  Once I'm thinking about what I need to do, often it's a little easier to slip right into doing it.

The final trick that I find helps sometimes is working on something in small bites.  I've found if I tell myself, "I'll just work on it for ten minutes," I get myself moving and often even forget I was only going to do ten minutes-worth.  Or, if I know I have a lot to do and the size of the project is overwhelming me, I'll work in small chunks of time with short breaks in between.  

Of course, sometimes none of these tricks work, and when that happens, I rearrange my to-do list, try to shake off my feelings of failure, and hope the next day will be better.  I think we all have off days, and it helps nothing to be hard on yourself about it.

What tricks do you use to get yourself moving when you're struggling with your motivation?

Monday, August 29, 2022

How to Set Reasonable Expectations of Your Freelancer

One of the things that defines the relationship between freelancers and clients is that freelancers don't work for just one employer.  We still have to report to our clients, so they are still our "bosses" in some respects; but since we have many employers we work for, instead of just one, it changes the balance of power in the relationship.

One thing many clients struggle with is that they are not the freelancer's primary source of income, which changes our priorities somewhat.  Since we don't just work for one employer, we can't let any one employer's needs become more important than other clients' needs or our business's needs.

When you hire a freelancer, you are basically paying only for the finished product that you need.  Compare this to hiring a full-time employee to complete that product, for whom you would then need to pay the expected wage, provide benefits, set up work space for, and establish an employee culture conducive designed to keep employees happy.

Clearly hiring a freelancer is cost effective in many ways, but problems arise when clients expect freelancers to behave like salaried employees.  When we have many clients and many different projects we're working on, however, we can't behave like a full-time employee.

Here are a few of the most important things for clients to remember when navigating their expectations of their freelancers.

  • Give freelancers adequate time to respond to you.  Don't expect freelancers to be at your beck and call.  We don't have to punch a clock, and many of us don't have consistent office hours.  We'll get back to you when we are working next.
  • Provide ample time to complete the work.  Remember, you're not our only client, so order new work well in advance whenever possible.  This gives us the ability to plan it around our other client work.
  • Expect to pay extra on short notice.  Of course, sometimes you may need something back quickly, and that's okay.  It happens!  But do expect to pay a premium for a quick turnaround, as we may need to rearrange our schedule, put off other client work, and/or potentially work long hours in order to get your rush job done in time.
  • Let go of the control.  Above all, please do not try to micromanage us.  You've hired us to produce a finished product, so there's usually little you need to do in the meantime.  There's no faster way to destroy a relationship with your freelancer than to hover (even virtually) while we work.  We're not employees, often by choice, so if you try to treat us like we are, we're likely not to work with you again.
  • Ignore the client-centric attitude of content platforms.  While content platforms have become an easy way for freelancers to easily find clients, they've also perpetuated many of the unreasonable expectations clients have of them.  Content platforms tend to have short, tight deadlines and some even require that freelancers allow clients to 
The guidelines I've laid out above are often blatantly ignored by freelancing platforms, which is one of my biggest beefs with them.  They can be a good way to find clients, but make no mistake, the freelancer is not the platform's customer: The client is.  As a result, content boards often turn into a place where freelancers get taken advantage of and boundaries are ignored.  If you intend to use a content board to order content, that's fine, but remember these guidelines and be good to your freelancers!

Friday, August 26, 2022

Every Day Should Be Freelancer Appreciation Day

My recent post about "quiet quitting" had me thinking about how clients can show appreciation for their freelancers.  And then, in writing the title of this article, it occurred to me: IS there such a thing as Freelancer Appreciation Day?

Close.  It turns out there's an entire week for freelance writers: the Freelance Writers Appreciation Week, which takes place the second full week of February every year.  (Hopefully other types of freelancers have a day or week to celebrate them as well.)

But honestly, just like many other holidays we celebrate, there shouldn't be just one day or week where we show our appreciation.  Freelance writers create probably a majority of the words you read every day.  So if you hire freelance writers to help you with your business, now is a perfect time to consider whether you show them enough appreciation for what they do.

Need help with ideas to show your appreciation?  Here are a few.

  • Say thank you.  You have no idea how seldom we hear this.
  • Provide positive feedback.  Usually we don't hear any feedback unless a client doesn't like something, so it's nice to hear from time to time what a client did like.  Not only does it make us feel really good, but it also helps us to improve what we write for you.
  • Pay well.  Yes, we writers know you have a bottom line and need to ensure you maintain a profit.  The thing is, so do we.  Most of us depend on our income and need to make sure we can earn a living wage with our writing.  Show us that you value our work by offering that living wage up front.  Don't make us beg or negotiate, and certainly don't belittle us with offers for "exposure" or a chance to "do what you love" in lieu of making enough money to live on.
  • Acknowledge us on the holidays.  The best clients I've worked for have all at least acknowledged us on holidays and special occasions.  It's not necessary that you know every detail of your freelancer's life, but wishing us happy holidays, and if you know the date, a happy birthday can go a long way toward making us feel like we're people in our clients' eyes.  I've even had some clients send me holiday cards or little treats for the holidays.  Of course, if you can provide a holiday bonus, do that too, as there's nothing like a surprise bonus for making a freelancer truly feel appreciated for everything they do.
Freelancers may be just contract employees and not permanent members of your staff, but we still deserve (and crave!) recognition for our work.  And if we don't feel like we get it from a certain client, that's the first client we'll drop if we get a better offer.  Remember, the whole point of being a freelancer means we can work for whomever, whenever we choose.  So if you value your freelancers and want to continue working with them, make sure they feel appreciated for the work they give you!

Thursday, August 25, 2022

"Quiet Quitting" from a Freelance Perspective

Lately there has been a lot going around on social media about "quiet quitting," and the inevitable backlash.  One side says it's a form of protest for how workers are somehow simultaneously expected to work extra, but also not recognized for doing so.  Another side says no, it's just setting healthy boundaries at work.  A third side says it actually shouldn't be confused with organized protest, which is actually called work to rule, and is intended to function as a sort of strike without any actual striking.  Work to rule is where the employees produce a significant slowdown of production by following all the rules exactly.

It's interesting to watch this debate take place not only as a freelancer, but also as a freelancer who has worked regular jobs in the past.  One of the benefits of self-employment is that if a client doesn't appreciate me or the work I give them, I have the freedom to stop working for them and find a different client who works better with me.  I can also set my own rates and refuse to work for less, especially when a client has unreasonable expectations about my time.

Fortunately I've known very few clients who weren't appreciative, but I have known some who had unreasonable expectations.  For instance, I've had a few clients who assumed that since I am a freelancer and set my own schedule, that it means I'm available any time they want.  I even had one client once who asked me to set up a chat service (I think it was AOL or some kind of Microsoft chat - back in the day before Facebook Messenger) so he could contact me any time he wanted.

I was a fairly new freelancer at the time, so I didn't realize the potential consequences.  At first I set it up, but I quickly discovered what a mistake that was.  I started not being available unless I was actually working, and when the client didn't like that, I eventually ended the relationship.

Of course that decision is a little tougher for full-time employees, many of whom get a lot of pressure to be available during off hours.  It's typically pressure that employers won't admit to, either.  For instance, at a former full-time job of mine, I was always under a lot of pressure to produce faster and faster, which initially led to me working on my off hours.  There wasn't a requirement that I do so, in fact if I asked my boss would have said not to; yet if I wanted to complete my work in time, I had to.  I still remember being so proud of my first fast turnaround, and my shock when my boss yelled at me that I was still too slow.

The natural consequences of that interaction were that I stopped giving my job anything extra, doing only what was required.  In fact, all of us employees banded together, putting forth only the minimum effort, becoming religious about taking our full lunches and breaks, and pushing back when our boss tried to cut our breaks or work us harder.  And one by one, we all found other work.

It's an important lesson for employers and clients alike: Make sure you show your appreciation for your employees.  Interestingly enough, appreciation doesn't have to mean extra money.  Most people just want to feel they are noticed and valued, and will gladly work a less lucrative job if that job also offers a healthier and more fulfilling work environment.

If you find you have a team of employees who won't do more than the minimum requirements of their job, you should probably ask yourself what kind of programs you have in place to recognize employees who go above and beyond.  If the answer is "none" or "just an employee of the month program," you will likely need to rethink how you show your appreciation for hard work and dedication.

The same goes for your freelancers, and perhaps even more so, since they can much more easily walk away from a single client.  Returning clients are usually a freelancers' bread and butter, so if you have a track record of freelancers only working for you once, I recommend honestly considering why that could be.

Ultimately, I agree with the memes circulating on social media, that "quiet quitting" makes it sound like employees are doing something wrong, when they're actually probably protecting themselves from burnout and potentially even making a bid for change in their workplace.  Our society has gotten to a point where the boundaries of a healthy work-life balance have become completely blurred, and employees are expected to give continually more and more of their lives to their jobs.  It's time we stepped back from the precipice and gave ourselves - all of us - some space to breathe and just live.

In writing this article, I've realized a couple of other topics that I want to address: what's unreasonable to expect from your freelancer, and how to show your appreciation for their work.  Stay tuned for more!

Saturday, August 20, 2022

A Note on My Schedule

I've mentioned a few times lately things about the odd schedules that I keep.  It impacts my work schedule, so I think it bears explaining here.

I'm a bona fide night owl.  And as a self-employed person, I've taken full advantage of the ability to set my own schedule over the years.  I tend to "warm up" in the afternoon and work late at night, when I'm most productive and focused.  Evenings are spent with the people in my life who are not night owls or don't have the luxury of setting their own schedules.

What does this mean for you?

If you are a client or prospective client of mine, you might wonder what my schedule means for you.  As a freelancer I work independently, so for the most part it doesn't mean anything at all.  Think of it like me just having afternoon office hours, but instead of having meetings or focused work time in the mornings, I'm doing that part late at night.

It may take a little adjustment on your part, though.  For me, I tend to count it all as today until I've slept.  Which means that when I'm working late, say, Thursday night, it might technically be Friday, but to me, it's still just the end of Thursday.

Because of this, it's important to be super clear about deadlines.  If you need something on Wednesday, don't tell me to have it to you by Wednesday, as there's a good chance I'll be finishing it up after close of business on Wednesday.  Instead, tell me when exactly you need it on Wednesday.  If you need it by 8am Wednesday, for example, tell me that, so that I can adjust that deadline in my head to be Tuesday night instead - ensuring you have it by the time you need it Wednesday morning.

I know it probably seems a little weird, but after years of trying off and on to adjust my schedule to be more "normal," I've realized this is just the way I'm wired.  Fortunately, after nearly 17 years of freelancing, I also know it works quite well this way.  Most clients never even notice the odd hours I keep, unless of course I send them something at 2am!

Friday, August 19, 2022

Lessons from Do Nothing: The Down Side of Productivity

My last post talked about what productivity tools I use to keep myself from losing momentum and focus.  And it's true, I feel pretty good when I'm busy and productive, but I also forget that I need down time to recharge.

I'm already forgetting the lessons of a very interesting book called Do Nothing, which I read a couple years ago now.  It's all about how modern society makes us feel like our worth is in how productive we are at any given time, even our "down" time, and how modern an idea this actually is.

Unfortunately for me, it's not just society that makes me feel I need to be productive all the time.  It's also partly the fact that I've chosen the life of an entrepreneur, where hustling is literally how I get paid.  If I slack off, that's time I'm not getting paid for - possibly the biggest pitfall of self-employment.

The rest of being self-employed, I love.  I love that I'm up at nearly 3am writing this just because I felt like doing it.  I love that I get to sleep until late morning tomorrow, and even though I will feel a little guilty, I also know that it's primarily society's attitude toward night owls that makes me feel that way.

I also love that I can work wherever I need to.  The past few months, with my horse being sick, that's been especially helpful.  Before that, before covid, it was helpful because I could sneak work into odd pockets of time: when I was charging my car after taking my nanny kid to school, for instance.

But the productivity demands, the pressure to always be on and always be working, is definitely the most difficult thing about being self-employed.  I can always use the money, so it makes it hard to say no to any work or any chance to work.

I do try to take my rest where I can get it.  I sleep late, as I noted already.  I read every night before going to sleep, even if I'm too tired to read for very long.  I do things with friends and spend time with my horses (and I mean doing fun things, especially lately, now that my horse isn't as sick anymore).  I pursue my other hobbies, such as collecting and photographing dolls.

But it's good to remind myself sometimes that I need to slow down on occasion and give myself a little extra rest, that productivity isn't everything and it's okay to do something for fun rather than having to accomplish things all the time.

What about you?  How well do you manage the work-life balance?  If you feel like you struggle with it, or are too hard on yourself about getting things done, I highly recommend reading Do Nothing!

Thursday, August 18, 2022

My Current Favorite Productivity Tools

I have a love-hate relationship with productivity.  I love to get things done, but I'm also a horrible procrastinator.  I'm constantly having to play games with myself and rotate the productivity tools I use to keep myself from slacking off.

To-Do Lists

I'm also a big list maker, so one of my main tools has always been some sort of to do list.  For a long time I kept a daily written to do list, and then I switched to apps for a few years.  I had a hard time finding an app that worked well for me for very long though, so I switched back to written lists, except I started keeping it on an LCD writing tablet.  There's always been something I liked about physically writing out a list, and I liked the eco-friendly tablet, but after a while that stopped working as well, too.

And then I discovered that Google Calendar gives me the ability to add tasks.  So far this is working for me better than anything else has, because I can see my tasks on the calendar and schedule them around events.  The visual tool also helps me to hold myself accountable, and the fact that I can drag and drop the tasks on the desktop view makes it easy to reschedule when I overschedule myself (which I do often).

Focus Time

I'm great at making lists of what I have to do, but not so great about actually doing it.  I'm terrible about putting things off, but my biggest downfall is really that I just get distracted.  Being on the computer it part of my job, so it's inevitable that I get distracted while I'm supposed to be working.  I spend a lot of time on social media due to my other business, personal projects, and hobbies, and it's easy to get sucked into that when I intended to work on something else.  Not to mention I'm so easily distractible that I can start out doing research for something for a client, and end up following Google down the rabbit hole for 40 minutes instead.

Sometimes I do all right reminding myself to get back to work when I catch myself getting distracted, but when I think of it, I try to set a timer and work for 20 or 30 minutes at a time before taking a break.  Recently when I opened the timer on my computer, I discovered it now offered "focus sessions," where I can dial up how long I want to work, and it'll schedule breaks for me.  Or I can dial up a shorter focus session and do the breaks manually.  Even more useful to me, I can now minimize the timer and keep it on top of my other windows wherever I want on the screen, so that I have that visual reminder that I'm supposed to be focusing and for how much longer.

What Next?

Unfortunately, it seems like for me, whatever method or trick or app I use, it doesn't last long before it loses its power.  I feel like I have to rotate productivity tools often, otherwise I get used to them or learn to "outsmart" them, and they stop being as useful anymore.  Sometimes it takes a while for me to realize something isn't working well anymore, too.

For now, my current system seems to be working pretty well.  I'm getting a lot done and I'm pleased with that.  It's only a matter of time before I need to change it up again, though, I fear.  When that time comes, hopefully I'll be able to find some new productivity trick or method to jump start me again for a little while.

What about you?  What productivity tools do you use to keep your momentum going?

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Looking ahead to NaNoWriMo 2022

Well, I didn't end up participating in Camp NaNoWriMo this July, as you might have noticed.  I just had too much still going on, between taking care of my horse, figuring out what to do with my websites, and adjusting to a schedule that is getting busier now that I have a little more free time (read: time that's not spent at the barn).

My life is gradually getting back to normal, though, if I even know what normal is like after just over four months now of my horse being sick.  I'm picking up more client work again, and taking on other projects.  And I'm thinking about NaNoWriMo, which is coming up fast, as it starts in only a few months.  We're already getting ML emails from Headquarters to get us started thinking about November.  I opted to still be a municipal liaison this year, despite everything that's going on, as I think Panama is doing really well and will hopefully be back to "normal" (read: requiring less work from me) by November.

Still, I want to make sure I plan well enough in advance for NaNoWriMo that if he takes a turn for the worse, NaNo will essentially run itself.  My co-MLs and I are already starting to talk about November, although we're not planning out much yet, just talking about it.  Once the forums get wiped in October, it'll be easier to start planning in earnest, but it's good to get it on our radar now!

In 2020, the first year of the pandemic, we felt like participation was a little down due to the virtual format, but a lot of our regular participants were hanging in there.  Last year was rougher, with participation way down for the virtual events.  I'm hoping we can encourage more participation this year!

What about you?  Are you planning on participating in NaNoWriMo this fall?


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