sitting beside a riverFreelancing Balance

by Ann Harth

Just to put you in the picture: I'm sitting beside a river, the sand is warm between my toes, my son is swimming, my husband is fishing. I am working between the occasional 'Yes, I'm watching, Sweetie', and 'Are you sure there's bait on that hook?'

This is my office today. Is this enough incentive to work toward a career from home?

This month I'd like to talk to you about the importance of balance between building your business and living your life. When starting out, a freelancer often makes one of two mistakes: Burnout or procrastination. Sometimes an interesting combination of both can occur.  

Burnout

Embarking on a freelancing career is exciting. Your daily existence develops the glow of freedom about it. You feel like a super hero and you dive into your work and disappear. You don't sleep much and you eat less. Every waking hour is spent planning, thinking or talking about your work.

Beware the honeymoon period.  

For the first few days, weeks or even months, you're working on adrenalin. You get a lot done. You see your business as having the potential to become a burgeoning success. You replace family time with answering emails and the only exercise you get is when you need a new packet of copy paper from the cupboard on the other side of the room. Organising your office takes precedence over sleep and getting ahead on an editing project seems more important than eating properly.  

When you do leave your office, you accost family, friends and sometimes strangers with speeches extolling the virtues of your new office chair or the trouble you're having with your website host. You mistake polite nods for interest and glazed looks for fascination. 

The honeymoon period can be beneficial. The single-mindedness and long hours in the early stages of a home business can help to kick-start your career … unless you burn out. 

Freelancing takes a clear and organised mind. Though you feel virtuous for working until the glow of the sun peers over the horizon, your lack of sleep can make your mind fuzzy and your work sloppy or sub-standard. You may find that super human hours are actually wasting time, as you have to rewrite and resubmit your work more then once.  

Poor nutrition and lack of exercise can have the same effect. A packet of two-minute noodles and a chocolate bar may keep your stomach from rumbling, but it will not keep hunger at bay for long and it is definitely not conducive to clear thinking and good health.  

The most important thing you can do for your home business is to look after yourself. Eat well, sleep well and stay fit with regular exercise. Spend time with your family, friends and take time for yourself. If you can achieve and maintain a balance between business and the rest, you will use your working time more efficiently.  

The other side of the coin is procrastination.

This tends to be more common than burnout, especially if providing finances for feeding the family is not entirely up to you.  

A chronic procrastinator can be busy all day and into the night without accomplishing much at all. Let's take a closer look.  

Monday morning. 

You leap out of bed and make breakfast, pack lunches, braid hair and put the washing on. You bundle everyone into the car and wave goodbye. 

Instead of heading straight to your workspace, you see the breakfast dishes. Better do those or you'll get ants.  

As you're wiping the dishes, you glance out of the window. A huge weed is flowering in your rose garden. If you don't rip it out now, seeds will germinate and your weed problem will multiply.  

While you're heading for the bin dangling the offending weed, you notice that the bird feeder's empty. Better fill that, or you'll lose the resident finches that have recently discovered your garden. 

You fill the feeder and stand back, waiting for the finches to reappear. Is that the phone? Yes. You race into the house. It's your neighbour. She knows you're working and sorry to bother you, but how was your weekend?  

Half an hour later, you hang up and head for your computer. Time to get to work. Log on and check your emails. You have six spam messages, eight writing newsletters, a question from someone in your critique group and three personal emails wondering when you can get together. You block the spam, glance through the newsletters, answer the question and plan your weekend with the three personals. 

Time for lunch. Wander into the kitchen and crunch over some scattered sugar from breakfast. The vacuum comes out and, while you're at it, you may as well do the whole house. Silly to waste the effort for just a square metre.  

You hear the washing machine marching across the laundry floor on the spin cycle. Before you can get stuck into work, you may as well hang out the laundry. You're hanging up the last shirt and … is that the phone? Yes. Darn! Don't they know you're working? 

You race into the house. It's your sister. Do you know that it's your mum's 70th birthday this year? You need to plan a special party. Maybe a surprise. Forty minutes later you hang up and head for your computer.  

Log on, and check emails again. Three more spam, two more newsletters and a query for a quote for a manuscript assessment. Put an exclamation mark next to that one and read the other personal emails. Answer two and disconnect.  

It's really time to get to work now. Open the manuscript you're currently working on and settle in. 35 minutes later, you glance at the clock. Time to pick the kids up from school… 

Sound familiar? Probably not to this extreme, but you can see how easy it is to procrastinate when you're working at home. If this sounds a little like you, there are some basic things that you can do to change the situation.  

Never underestimate the power of routine. Set yourself time limits. The family leaves the house at 7:30. Give yourself one hour only to clean up, tidy, weed and fulfil your domestic desires. When that hour is up, you are at work. Check your emails when you first log on, once. Take one hour to answer, write, plan, etc. Then close your mailbox and open your work. If the phone rings, let the machine get it. If it's an editor or prospective client, answer of course, or ring back immediately. If it's a social call, leave it until later.  

Then…work.

Any domestic chores that aren't finished can wait until the kids get home or until the weekend. Social calls as well. Urgent emails have been dealt with and you have made a note of future action to take on the others.

Don't prepare for work by sharpening pencils, refilling cartridges or starting another to-do list. WORK. Write, edit, assess, submit. Uninterrupted. If you were working for someone else, you would clock in and out. Be firm with yourself, don't allow unfocused, wasted hours to drag your business down. 

Time saving tips: 

Delegate -- Just because you happen to be the one that is home all day, don't do it all. You are on-site so it makes sense for a bit more of the domestic duties to fall on your shoulders, but if you are serious about running a business from home, you must make sure the rest of your household is too. It's lovely to hear them say, 'we support you, we think it's wonderful that you're taking this on'. Get them to prove it. Enlist their help. Make a list of the daily, weekly and monthly chores and delegate. Hang up a calendar and include everyone. Encourage the idea that we live in this house, we must all work together to keep it up.

Inform your friends -- It may take a few weeks, maybe even months, but if you allow your friends to break into your working time, you're not taking your freelancing business seriously. If you don't…they won't. If someone rings or 'pops in' during your work time, you can be kind, but firm. "I'm sorry, but I really have to get back to work. Can I ring you later?" Simple, straightforward and understandable. You wouldn't ring them at work and chat for half an hour. Demand the same respect. If they're your friends they'll understand.

Set goals -- If you have a lot of trouble sticking to time limits, try using daily goals instead.

  •     I will write one thousand words today.
  •     I will submit two manuscripts to three different publishers and write a query letter.
  •     I will finish my short story and find a market for it.

Only when you have completed your goal, may you fill the birdfeeder or make your pumpkin soup. 

Be firm with yourself -- Read your long-term goals. Imagine them completed.

Taste the glow of success you will feel. Then be firm. You will get there.

In essence: To become a successful freelancer, maintain a comfortable balance and maintain your health. When you work, work hard, when you don't - enjoy. You will be well prepared for the long haul and a successful business. 

Next month -- time saving tips.

I'm off. Time for a swim…

© copyright Ann Harth. Comments and suggestions for specific topics pertaining to writing, editing or working from home are welcome. Please contact me at annharth@writing4success.com


Ann Harth is a freelance manuscript assessor, copyeditor, proofreader and ghostwriter as well as a published author. She writes in all genres of children's fiction from picture books to young adult novels as well as adult fiction and non-fiction. She has successfully completed several text-editing projects for university students and authors, and is the assistant fiction editor of www.moondance.com, a  literary on-line magazine. She is also on the creative writing staff of www.storydog.com, a website for children.

More information on the freelance services that Ann Harth offers can be found on her website at www.annharth.com.

 

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