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Living a Healthy, Happy Freelance Life, Part 2: Staying Focused

children's book editor Marlo GarnerBy Marlo Garner

So now we know when we can work, how do we stay both on target and in focus?

The List: The first task on my agenda each morning (and the last before I finish for the day) is making The List. Everything I need to achieve that day goes on The List. EVERYTHING (except things I obviously do each day such as bathing and cooking dinner). A typical day’s list might include:

• Walk Phoebe (my dog)
• Reply… (and I individually list each email I have to respond to. I add to this the moment an email arrives.)
• Workout
• 10,000 steps
• Finish and return Client Project A
• Call my mum
• Reach point Y on Client Project B
• Pay bill Z
• Post office and bank
• Clothes washing
• Write blog post
• Make progress C on My Creative Project X
• Etc.

Once I have a clear idea of what I need to achieve today, I can prioritize and start to chip away at it. The list, as well as providing a clear outline, helps provide accountability—it’s much harder to “forget” or ignore something that’s written on a to-do list in your clear line of sight.

The other benefits of using a list:

• Clarity
• Organization
• A sense of achievement
• A record of what you did on a certain day, which can be helpful to refer to later

I start my list the night before, and I write it in a lined journal (one journal lasts the whole year), but explore what method works for you. The moment I realize I cannot complete a task today, I begin my list for tomorrow.

The list also gives me a feeling of freedom. I know what I have to get done, but no one tells me what order to do it in. It almost becomes like a puzzle, a game of logic and skill I play with myself—how to fit it all in.

Email: It is my policy to answer email rapidly. Partly, that’s the nature of my competitive job—you snooze, you lose that potential client—but it carries through to all other emails as well. First thing each day, I check my inbox, delete what I can, file to specific folders anything I need to keep, and add those that need to be answered to my daily list. An empty inbox is a happy inbox.

• Eliminate nonessential emails promptly.
• Prioritize emails.
• Answer email promptly. Your clients will not only appreciate it, you will feel less burdened by a growing pile of unanswered messages.
• File emails as soon as you’ve answered them.
• Sure, all of this sounds completely obvious, but how many people do you know who aren’t stressed out by an overflowing inbox? It’s simple in practice—if you practice it.

Keeping up with the clerical work: I don’t have a secretary or an accounts department. The moment I receive payment from a client, I confirm receipt with the client, update my income sheets, and direct the money to where it needs to go (commissions, savings, working account). Don’t wait until tomorrow. Do it now. It’s too easy for such things to snowball otherwise.

Phone calls: If I have phone calls with clients, I schedule them within a two hour period in the morning or after Prime Time. Otherwise, I don’t answer my phone, which the nature of my business allows. The goal is to maximize uninterrupted, low-distraction time.

Staying focused in Prime Time: I use a Pomodoro style timer on my Internet browser called Strict Workflow, though a simple Internet search will provide many other free plugins for your browser. The Pomodoro method dictates 25 minutes of work followed by five-minute break.

It’s important to get up and move around during that five minutes to give both body and mind a break. Use this time for boiling the kettle, transferring the washing to the dryer, unpacking the dishwasher, talking to your pet, jumping jacks etc.—anything that moves your body and frees your mind a little.

Social media: In my industry, social media is very important for network building and info-sharing. It’s also great for eliminating the isolation that can come from working alone. I have a large number of friends in the publishing industry who also work from home, and we enjoy our visits to the “virtual water cooler” throughout the day. But social media can quickly become a terrible time-suck. There are plug-ins like I just mentioned that block the social media and other websites for the amount of time you specify—which is marvelous.

Deadlines: Nothing much to say here except, “Make them and keep them.” Your clients or your creative project will thank you, and you’ll be much happier, too.


 

MARLO GARNER is an editor, writing teacher, published children’s author, and working illustrator, and her multifaceted experience provides a unique perspective on children’s books and the children’s publishing industry.

Read Part 1: Time Management
Read Part 3: Work-Life Balance

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