Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Staying Focused as a Freelancer

Well, here it is... week seven (or is it eight?) of my freelancing journey is upon me. I apologize for the hiatus to the blog, but once I give a little back-story on the inspiration to this post, I am sure you'll understand what's been going on in my life!

But first, even more back-story! In July, my mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. To say this was world-shaking news for me would be an understatement. I remember finding out on a Sunday night, and the next day going through work without telling a soul, randomly closing my office door to have short fits of tears. It rained that night, and I very vividly remember wanting to walk outside and lay in the grass so it could pour on me and perhaps wake me from this sort of waking-sleep I was going through. But mom's prognosis was good, her medical team excellent, and I had a great group of people both at home and at the office to lean on.

Still, things had to change. I had been having great success working design and illustration gigs on my own, and Matt had long wanted to move closer to home, so we made the decision to leave our life in Columbus, Ohio to return to the backwoods of Pennsylvania, at about the same time mom had her first chemo. I had visions in my head about how it would be, then... Up early with the sun, a coffee in one hand and drawing pencil in the other. Finish a page of comic work before lunch, then it was off to do some writing. My days would wrap up by investing time in my residual income streams - perhaps my Amazon book sales, formatting more fairytales into collections for Kindle, or working on that new venture with RPG books and cards.

Well, after tackling two comic shows early in my first weeks of being home, mom broke her leg, Matt's schedule ended up erratic as he moved into a second job, and I had projects piling up. Though she was still quite mobile in her wheelchair, mom couldn't drive with her leg, and she suddenly had twice the doctor's appointments to go to than she had a week ago. My time spent with Matt is something I will always push other things out of the way for, so those moments when he would be home I could not miss. I won't even bother telling you how projects tend to come all at once and then simultaneously dry up into nothing... that's just a law of nature - like gravity!

It's been a learning experience, to say the least, and I'm most certainly still learning. But on to the meat of this blog entry, here are some ways I've found to help push back the distractions and stay focused through it all:

Do one thing at a time. And this is simply the old FOCUS mantra: Follow One Course Until Success. Studies have shown that people who multitask have the equivalent attention span of people who are stoned. I'm not kidding! It's easy to think we can or we should give everything equal attention, but that's really just a way to give equal attention to nothing at all. If you fall behind on one thing and the client comes knocking, be prepared to ask for an extension, or better yet - get an absolute deadline set ahead of time. Unless the client is particularly crazy or heartless, they'll be up front about their time expectations and you can work something out, easily.

Minimize distractions. Life's short, and distractions the likes of which are found on TV, the internet, and elsewhere provide a small satisfaction - entertainment, and the feeling of finding something interesting while browsing the web or cable guide can be as gratifying as eating junk food. But instead of empty calories, you're dealing with empty minutes, sometimes hours, spent searching for said content, and that can annihilate your work day.

I love Twitter, but I don't know where I'd be without Hootsuite. I take 30 minutes every morning to schedule my tweets for the day. Usually I stick to a dozen or so but I've gotten as many as 25 timely updates completed this way, before. Hootsuite is so great, it'll even auto-schedule my posts based on ideal times to tweet the information. All this can sound pretty robotic, but trust me - the only "trick" is keeping them sounding human. If I have a new blog post, then two of them will promote that. If there's a comic update, then I'll say something about this week's point in the story, etc. Whatever your "vice" when it comes to time management, I can pretty much guarantee with 100% certainty that there's a piece of technology to help you manage it!

Don't be everything to everyone all the time. It's hard when you have an active mother who can no longer drive herself around. Groceries need bought, banks need deposits, and appointments need kept. I am at the most, a block away from my parents' house when I'm working, which makes me extremely "available".

Now, I would rather be doing nothing else, but having to put things on hold so I can run errands started as a challenge. It took mom and I some time to work out our daily routine, as it were, but it was worth it once we had a few days to sort our priorities. Still, there were times when I had to tell people that I couldn't do what they needed (and mom wasn't exempt from that). This was hard, but it was surprisingly easy once I realized people were very understanding of my time constraints, which is when I learned another important rule of freelancing...

Say no. The only way to seriously commit to the above thing which needs done, is to say NO to everything which might otherwise take your time. How many times have you said yes to an irrelevant project? Everything can't be a priority, no matter how good you are at tackling everything. I'm not, but I've worked with some people who are great at tackling everything - While I am perpetually in awe of them, their secret is simple: They're not really doing everything, they just know how to say no and weed out what isn't necessary in their already hectic schedules.

Get to the point and get things done which must be done. You could wrap all the other lessons up into a little package and stuff them into this overall rule. You must know what will take care of what you need, and you must prioritize that. So if you're having a week where projects are piling up, you must prioritize working on them, even if it takes you well into the evening hours. If you are in a dry spell and need money, you must prioritize cold calls and/or amping up your promotions. Following the other lessons only amps your ability to do so.