By Marlo Garner
Dividing your workday into Prime Time and Distraction Time will create a much less stressful workday.
Distraction Time: Since my child is home by 2 PM, the energy changes in the afternoon, so I segue to activities I can tackle successfully in short bursts, those that don’t suffer from interruptions. I get a lot of the household chores done during this time, phone calls, more emails, and I also use this time to think about the projects I’m working on—I often have bursts of inspiration about how to solve peoples’ narrative issues at this time, for example, so I am frequently back at my desk during this afternoon period. I also work on my own creative projects then. It is much less structured, but equally productive in its own way. What activities can you schedule for your own Distraction Time in order to feel productive and successful?
Staying Motivated: It’s not always easy to stay motivated in any job, but here’s my trick for staying fresh: I like to have several projects underway at any given time. This allows me to segue to something else before I get stale and keep the deadlines turning over on time without real stress. It also allows my subconscious to solve some of the issues in other projects, without having to force it. Oh, and walking the dog—there’s nothing like a burst of fresh air and a tail wagging in front of you to keep you fresh.
Staying Healthy: Health professionals recommend that we each take 10,000 steps a day in order to stay healthy. For anyone with a sedentary job, this can be quite challenging to achieve, but for the freelancer it is totally doable if you plan accordingly. There are many pedometer apps to choose from that will keep track of your steps.
If the weather isn’t cooperating and you’re really pressed for time, your Pomodoro timer is your friend. In your five-minute break, you can add 1000, 2000, or even more steps by walking around the house, walking up and down the steps, running in place, etc. If you’re into using time as effectively as possible in order to maximize your creative downtime, why not use this five-minute break to do some dishes, put on another load of washing, move your body, and give your mind a break? You’ll be amazed by how many steps you add to your daily regimen and how much you get done. And if you’ve already whittled down the number of chores by the time you get to the end of Prime Time, you’ll find you have more time for your own creative pursuits—or for getting some “real” exercise such as going for a brisk walk or to the gym, etc.
Also, while I’m on the subject of staying healthy as a freelancer, I recommend making ahead a pot of healthy, protein-packed soup or casserole that you only need to heat and eat, and do eat at whatever you specify as lunchtime and snack time each day. It will help you avoid the urge to snack on less healthy items—but it’s even better if you just don’t keep those in your “office.”
Downtime: And in the evening? Any freelancer who wants to be successful has to be flexible enough to answer the occasional evening email; however, family time and downtime are vital. What I do do is start The List for the next day, but otherwise I try to avoid the office.
But for many of us who are trying to get a book written, our “downtime” may be the only time we have to write or to make progress on that project close to our heart.
Use little bits of downtime wisely. As you do the chores, keep a notebook or memo recorder at hand; inspiration often strikes at such times. If it’s takeaway night, offer to go get it and use the wait time to jot down ideas or sketch out new illustrations. And if downtime is the only time you have to work on your creative projects, learn to set boundaries. It’s Ok for you to occasionally request some time to work and shut everyone out.
Balance: My systems will not work for everyone and, clearly, your schedule will differ from mine, but day mapping, a list, and tools such as productivity timers/social media blockers will increase your output, just as remembering to move, eating healthily, and staying connected with friends and family will keep you mentally and physically healthy and far less stressed.
It’s all about balance. Good luck!
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.