When we sense our life is out of our control, we tend to feel anxious, worried, and depressed, and our motivation suffers. We feel as if life is happening to us, and that we’re just reacting to what life throws at us. On the other hand, when we feel in control of our time and our career, we feel confident, motivated, and happy.
The bad news is that the freelance life is all about lack of control. We can’t control how editors will react to our communications, how much work we’ll get and when we’ll get it, when sources will be available for interviews, if and when an editor will come back to us with a major revision, when our work will be printed, how our articles will look once they’re in print, or even how much or when we’ll get paid. To freelance, we have to be ready for anything at any time, and that can bring on a case of major demotivation.
Luckily, even if we can’t control many aspects of the freelancing life, there are ways to gain control over various parts of it so that we can gain a sense of having authority over our career.
Set your morning routine. Instead of sitting down at the computer first thing in the morning and merely reacting to “urgent but not important” tasks all day, such as answering e-mails as they come in, set a definite morning routine. Jenny Cromie of The Productive Muse wrote a great post called Is Your Morning Routine Ruining Your Productivity? That should give you some tips to get started.
I find the following advice to be really helpful. I was one of those get-up-and-check-e-mail-all-day people until my coach at The Yoga of Writing retreat in New Mexico gave me a morning yoga practice. Now I get up and do just 20 minutes or so of yoga poses before heading downstairs to make my tea and get on with the day. Though the yoga practice isn’t work-related, it helps me clear my mind for the day and focus on those tasks that give me the greatest bang for my working buck.
Time your day. For one week, keep a time log of how you spend time each day. This helps you weed out unproductive uses of your time (like reading Blogging Project Runway every day) and gives you a sense of control over how you spend your time.
Make a list. Get everything you need to do out of your head and onto paper. This past year I posted an extensive Q&A with David Allen, author of Getting Things Done. He recommends doing a mind dump of everything you can think of that you need to do. All those to-dos are cluttering your mind and keeping you from focusing on the most important task at any given moment. Put the first step for each of these to-dos on separate lists for different areas of your life, such as “To Call” for when you’re near the phone, “Errands” for when you’re in the car, and “Computer” for those tasks that need to be done when you’re at your computer. This will help you feel in control of all those little tasks that were previously clogging your brain.
Take a shower already! We freelancers joke about working in our jammies, but nothing makes us feel less in control than sitting at a desk unshowered and unbrushed at three o’clock in the afternoon. Take a shower in the morning and put on some nice but comfortable clothes. If you’re a woman (or a guy, if you’re into it), you can even put on a bit of makeup and some jewelry. This will help you face your workday feeling put together and ready.
Revamp your job. Make a list of every task you do in your job, such as setting interviews, researching, and writing queries, and then brainstorm ways to revamp and improve those processes. Experiment with the new ways of doing things to see if they work better. We often do the same things over and over again out of habit, even when we aren’t using the best methods. Looking at those habits with a fresh eye will help you come up with ways to improve them. For example, could you schedule your interviews 30 or 45 minutes apart instead of an hour apart? (This one works for me because I realized that my interviews take under half an hour, but I would schedule them an hour apart “just to be sure” and then sit there twiddling my thumbs for 40 minutes.) Instead of transcribing interviews the way you usually do, could you hire a transcriptionist to do it for you, so you can concentrate on something you’re better at, such as writing queries?
Do a blitz. Need work? Don’t wait for it to fall into your lap. You can’t control when editors give you assignments, but you can influence how many assignments you get and when you get them by stepping up production in a concentrated blitz. Pitching editors is a numbers game—the more pitches you make, the more likely you are to have success. Spend a day or two doing nothing but churning out queries, resending old queries to new markets, following up on queries you’ve already sent, and e-mailing letters of introduction.
Delegate it. I wrote about this in a post called 7 More Productivity Hacks for Freelancers. If there’s something you’re not good at, or that you hate doing, find someone who does it better and delegate the task to that person. This will give you a sense of control because you’re choosing what you will and will not do in your career.
Make a schedule. Instead of doing tasks whenever you think of them or whenever you happen to have free time—which perpetuates a sense of being at the whim of others—schedule important jobs into your day. For example, you can decide to send a letter of introduction to an editor every day at one o’clock. Or maybe you can schedule interviews only between nine in the morning and noon every day so you have the rest of the day to research and write. This is something I need to do. On a typical day I may have interviews at eleven, one, and four. It’s hard for me to concentrate because I’m always anticipating the next interview, even when it’s two hours away. Talk about feeling out of control!
Set up an admin day. It’s hard to feel in control when you spend all day putting out tiny fires as they come up. Designate one day of the week, or certain hours of a day, to clear out administrative tasks like signing contracts, invoicing, copying clips, and filing.
Beat the clock. Here’s one from Steve Pavlina’s new book Personal Development for Smart People: “Estimate how long a task will take to complete. Then start a timer, and push yourself to complete it in half that time.” For example, if it normally takes you four hours to write 1,000 words, see if you can write them in two hours instead. You can revise, but you may be pleasantly surprised by the quality you can turn out in half of your usual time.
Article reprinted with permission. Look under our Opportunities to find out about a magazine-article-writing master class Linda and Carol Tice are kicking off this month.
Linda Formichelli is one half of the Renegade Writers, the co-author, with Diana Burrell, of The Renegade Writer: A Totally Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing Success and The Renegade Writer’s Query Letters That Rock. (That’s Linda on the left enjoying the freelancing lifestyle with Diana, who’s on the right.)