One of my editing colleagues (from the north of Scotland, yet!), Sara Donaldson, has just written a post on prioritizing her workload because she’s been overwhelmed. Great advice (and sweet puppy picture as a bonus!).
Meanwhile, I’m seriously twiddling my thumbs when it comes to billable work right now. This situation generally leads me into 1) fear, and 2) distraction, which are both extremely counterproductive in terms of making the most of any “unscheduled” time off.
I know, you’re thinking about all those tasks that I could focus on while waiting for new work to come in. I get that, but overcoming the panic and the distraction of just doing busy work or binge watching on Netflix can be very difficult. I think the fear factor probably leads to using distraction as a self-medicating activity (Those old Fred Astaire dance routines on YouTube are so awesome!—go ahead, it’s only a couple of minutes long).
But this up-and-down in workload is a constant feature of freelance work, in the publishing industry and elsewhere. I agree with Sara, that one needs a plan to be able to best use the time available, whether we are overwhelmed, like she is, or underwhelmed, like I am at the moment.
The methods for both situations are, surprisingly in some ways, the same. Sara links to an excellent Tedx talk that explains three key strategies to train our brains: simplify, relax, and unitask. I think these strategies apply equally well when we are faced with not enough to do. The trick is to relax out of the fear of not having the steady paycheck, simplify the list of tasks we’ve been putting off until we had all kinds of time (here I am!), and take them on one at a time in the same way we would organize a day with billable work.
Which means finding and making good use of our best focused work time. For Sara, it’s in the morning after coffee; she saves busy work stuff for the afternoon. I find my most serious stretch of work time is in the early-to-mid-afternoon, largely because I live in the Pacific time zone of the USA. Since I moved here last year, I’ve noticed that because everyone else’s day is already well underway when I start my morning, my morning is the best time to communicate with clients and deal with email; later in my afternoon, the communication from the rest of the world goes quiet and I’m on my own to focus.
So, I’m taking this opportunity to:
- Simplify and reduce my social media outlets
- Get ahead on writing blog posts
- Finish an at-your-own-pace WordPress web design course
So, what are you doing to focus regardless of your workload?