I believe in the value of the freelance experiment. One where we do different things to keep freelancing spicy and challenging. When I first started freelancing, I did so because I wanted to make being a writer my living. And this has come to pass, more or less. There’s also a little marketing strategy and other stuff added in for good measure, but the predominant focus has been words.
The main underpinning idea of that was to do more creative writing. I thought my “real job” was getting in the way. I would eagerly come home and belt out pages on a novel. Work would disrupt this. I thought getting rid of the job might fix it.
That, I have failed miserably at. I was naïve to think the job was really the issue. I’ve done much less creative writing than when I started nine years ago. I have completed a film and TV course, trained as a death doula, volunteered and set up Australia’s first freelance community with a focus on stress reduction and ending isolation. All good and worthy things, to be sure. But the creative writing, well, it’s waned and waxed and moved about as much as a sloth after a secret tipple in the Valium cupboard.
While I have managed to pivot my business a few times, manage all manner of disability and health issue and get a general satisfaction out of the work I do for my clients, I think I’ve also given myself some kind of weird burn out. And I think that’s largely in part because I keep asking myself the age-old question of “what do I want to do with my life?” while failing to answer it.
Call it Konmari for the brain. Call it an unshelling of previous processes that no longer serve me. Or you can put it down to having an extraordinarily strong coffee in my system this morning.
Whatever the case, I am putting down my freelance experiment plan to make small moves towards larger goals throughout the year.
· To get creative writing done- to actually make space for it and be there for it
· Nurture myself through this sensation of burn out by finding meaning in my work
· Cut myself some slack and give thanks for the progress I make
· Move solidly into sitting on my bum and making writing not only a living, but a joyous process
· Exploring new ideas without guilt or concern
Lofty? Let’s see what the plan is in the outset. I can come back to this in 2020 (with 2020 vision, ha!) and see how far I got.
Freelance experiment 1: Breaking the bad freelance habits
There are a couple of things I do struggle with as a freelancer.
Protecting my time better
I often giveaway my time for my projects to client work. I do set myself a buffer of time for client projects to overlap into my time. However, I have noticed certain work (and certain clients) tend to grow over like vines on a trestle.
· Finding a new challenge. I’m moving further away from day-to-day social media scheduling and more into social media strategy
· Aiming for client autonomy. Those that require direct support, I want to train off from depending on me within 3 to 6 months, depending on skill level
· Allocating my time better. I have booked in 2 creative writing days per month, 2 social media management days (mine and the clients), Wednesdays will be dedicated to managing the Freelance Jungle (including the Patreon, website build and general works to support a better experience for all members) and drawing the line in the sand. Basically, I am treating my business and my creative practise with the same respect I give a client
· Having a fun day where I learn. New skills, what’s going on with new articles (which in turn can fuel social media choices) and study are all part of the mix. This can float, depending on what is running at the time
Freelance experiment 2: Not feeling swamped
I have a nasty habit of writing lists and getting things down so I can get on with my day without them haunting me. Trouble is, I end up with all manner of list and idea following me around like Pig Pen from the Peanuts gang. This leads to feeling overwhelmed.
· Designing my week to fit the size of the work at hand. This is something I associate with Trent Reznor. On the Song Exploder podcast, he said “too many options lead to paralysis”. As paralysis is my creative enemy, allowing space to be able to kickstart the engine on particularly bad days really helps. No more than 5 tasks per day. New tasks to be scheduled with client knowledge that a new task needs to bump something else and/or wait for the next allocated day
· Return of the Monday morning meeting. I need to make sure I am ready for the week by having a meeting with myself about the focus of the week. Allowing time for fiddly emails and administration on Mondays, tax stuff and all that jazz to compartmentalise
· Centralising the overflowing thoughts. One giant parking diary with all the cool and creative ideas that can be picked up and used when time allows
· Creating another dirty list. A dirty list are all those small tasks you never have time (or motivation) for that can be popped into spare moments as you work
· Not allowing email to call the shots. Keeping email shut unless absolutely necessary and only checking in when work is completed. It’s an old habit I have lost, and I want to get this back
· Re-instituting lunch time and knock off time. The beauty of office dogs is that you tell them lunch is at 12:30pm and they get their lunchtime carrot or knock-off is 4:30pm for a game of ball, they’ll make sure you leave work for lunch and on time!
Freelance experiment 3: Packing up the tights and cape
Being a community manager and place-maker at heart, I am happiest when digging deep with the community I have created of Australian freelancers.
While the Patreon has begun creating space for this to occur, it’s still not enough. I am easily derailed by the Freelance Jungle. It only takes one cry for help for me to don the tights and ride on in with my cape. This in turn leads me to spending time giving to people on social media, via instant message, email, LinkedIn and wherever else people want to contact me. This in turn disrupts my thinking and gives me an excuse not to focus. While I am working to help others, I need to work smarter, not harder.
· Allowing the other admins the space to work and breathe. I have come along way with this, but there is still work to be done. I want the other admins to feel more comfortable too with being visible
· Creating the Patreon experience as strong and vibrant so others join. The more support the Patreon has, the greater my ability to focus on it. 2019 needs to be the year of getting shit done and giving with focus
· Remaining firm on boundaries. I have some 7 different ways people attempt to contact me with the Freelance Jungle. Everywhere I turn, they’re using their preferred form of messaging. This needs to be focused because I feel like I have no safe space of my own to escape obligation. This is an education point
· Leaving behind clients when necessary. I found myself twisting in my freelance career over clients I wanted to help but who didn’t have time for it. Or who didn’t want to get their hands dirty. Or put their business risk on me. I’m not responsible for how they tend to their business or apply what I do. I need to come to terms with the limitations of my influence and allow people to make their own mistakes more. And I need to jet when I find myself resenting their choices not aligning with mine. They are the expert in their own life and business, after all
Freelance experiment 4: Embracing constraints (and freedom too)
While I love the idea of being a rebel, I (like most people) work best when I have a set routine. I also need to vary that routine and cut myself some slack though as well. The balance here is feeling supported, not sucked dry, by the framework.
· Let go of unreasonable notions. I’ve joked with heaps of my fellow freelancers about throwing 2018 in the bin in July of last year and coming into 2019 happier. This was a joke that I started to invest in emotionally and it’s come back to bite me. I can however look at this new set of challenges not as a “why me?” but as a “what can this teach me?” – so that’s where I am shifting my head to
· Small checkpoints to look forward to. Working out of a café, changing the room in the house etc
· Reworking the work. If I am truly not feeling it, pick up the dirty list or simply choose something I would prefer to work on. That way, I get a sense of achievement. Then, applying that back to more pressing work
· Reworking my stressed out wake up times. Sometimes, I wake at 4am and lie fitfully, worrying about the day ahead. I need to get up, do the work or write some creative morning pages. I know my writing is the best salve for my anxiety, so I should stop pretending otherwise
· Create a giant DONE list. Remind myself piece by piece about progress by turning TO DO LISTS into something artful for the office and see 6 or 12 months of progress. Let it grow as momentum does
· Give myself play time. This morning, I felt hideous after holidays at the prospect of going back to work. This blog is the result of that feeling hideous (well, after the 2 hours spent lolly-gagging on Facebook gave me the poos)
Freelance experiment 5: Effective disruption
I tend to lock on to bad habits and whittle away the day, soaking in stuff I don’t care about because it’s easier than apply. I have worked out some effective disruptions for this and will continue to add more.
· Creative TV time. I had to buy a tea tray for the bedroom when I went to hospital. It’s now become a creative tray. If I feel like knocking off but my head is giving me a hard time, I broker a deal that says I can knock off, but only if I watch TV and create at the same time. This means a lot of itty-bitty tasks, admin that I avoided previously, creative doodling and kernels of ideas get sketched and planned out in front of Netflix
· TV time is cut in half. Unless it’s with my partner, I’ve tricked my brain into thinking TV means some level of work or study. This is a positive for a film junkie like me. Reading and podcasting invigorate my brain, allow me to learn as well as lower stress better. They aren’t easier to access, which is why they are often passed by. I need to make them accessible with lists of potentials, unread books on their own specific shelf and I dive into them for leisure instead
· Art supplies remain in the bedroom. This and the easy access to books and podcasts are both hang-ups from my time spent in hospital and recovery. But gee they work. By being surrounded by journals and art supplies, I have returned to drawing, poetry writing and creative writing. I almost changed this back at Christmas time but why fix it if it ain’t broke?
· Accountability buddies. While it might be a private joke between us, I am definitely serious when I say that it makes life so much easier when I have Nicole Leedham (fellow Freelance Jungle admin and bad arse copywriter) watching my internet usage or Jess Harkins is watching my play intake. It helps to check this with someone else seeing your content or being only an instant message away
Supporting the freelance experience by fortifying the fortress
Any freelance experiment is only as good as the amount of change you make to accommodate it.
I know it takes 66 days to develop a new habit. I also know that I cannot control all my time and how things go due to yet another issue with pain management likely to head to surgery this year. I also have some fairly heavy family impacts. But I do know that if I try, I can change some of the habits that haunt me and translate them into something useful.
Being kinder to myself, training out of bad habits, allowing for small progress and making that progress visible is super important. It’s tough when you realise the tank is on empty and that you have been punishing yourself for not getting to where you need to be. However, you can change your thinking. You can change the way you respond to the situation- and in my case, look for ways to trick yourself into problem-solving, despite paralysis.
It also means lowering contact with other things that give you a hard time. That means looking at:
· Less booze, less meat
· Making time for better quality experiences outside of work hours
· Moving away from toxic people and building boundaries around those who are inescapable as opposed to allowing it to be perpetual fear and surprise
· Practising gratitude for the things I have and the positive people and adventures in my life
· Helping those who want it and letting those who don’t or who are not ready yet continue their own journey unburdened by my desires
· Getting back into exercise and movement as soon as I am able
· Asking “is that necessary?” when someone hands me objects, attitudes and ideas that I may not need or want
· Committing to creating in volume- and understanding that I learn each time I do
I didn’t expect this blog to be as long as this or as open. And it might not suit you as a how to guide per se. I am hoping however that you can see sitting down and having an honest conversation with yourself can help you kick out some bad habits. And that you can attach positively to constraints, internal and external, with a little bit of trickery.
Have you considered your role in your business from a changing your thinking and clearing out the old habits for new and brighter ones? If so, I’d love to hear it, large or small.