Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Freedom and Time Management

Post by Jennifer Carter

Back when I was still just contemplating a move to full-time freelancing, I would waver between boundless ambition (I can get at least 9 solid hours of work in a day!) and hopeless laziness (maybe I just don’t want to work at all and that’s my problem?). Now that I’ve been reporting to my home office for a week, I see that neither of those is really true, and a new thing to worry about has evolved—effective time management.

It’s kind of exciting too, though. I had blamed 9 years of being chained to a desk for most of my waking hours for the encroaching hydrogenation of my body. I am determined, now that I have control of my own time, to take advantage of that flexibility to walk every day. So far so good. Last week I tried walking first thing in the morning, then mid-morning, then closer to lunchtime, and each time my actual time working would have to be adjusted. I have several things on my mind that I know I need to be working on, but I also have a tendency to want to focus on a single project once I’ve started it.

For example, I feel like I should get through all 30 hours of my proofreading project before I can do anything else, which means another project might go a week without my attention. And even though I felt like I was working diligently on this one project, I reviewed my time sheet for it, which I use to keep track of my own “billable” time, and it would appear that I’m not working quite as consistently as I had thought I was. In fact it might even appear that I’ve been, as they say, farting around. But where did all that time go? I was here the whole time, except for those walks!

So this week I have a plan: I made a list. But not just any kind of list, this is a multi-column list, and on it I have boxes as opposed to single items. Each box represents an “area of emphasis,” like Proofreading (which is important because it’s my primary source of income) and Writing (which is important because it’s what I really want to be doing with my life).

I have seven areas of emphasis at the moment and putting them down helps me not only keep track of them, but also prioritize them. And once I can see them all spread out, I make little sublists under each one to decide what writing I want to focus on first, or how many hours I have left to go on my proofreading project. This in turn gives me the information I need to write an effective schedule for my next day. I now know that I need, unapologetically, two hours for lunch so I can walk and shower and eat, and then I will get back to work.

My system may change as I get more used to working from home, but for now I’m enjoying the challenge of all this freedom. I’m still reading Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones and she says this: “I used to think freedom meant doing whatever you want. It means knowing who you are, what you are supposed to be doing on this earth, and then simply doing it.” Easier said than done, perhaps, but it’s a good reminder to me that freedom is not about not working and being lazy as I had feared. It actually requires a lot more work than sitting at someone else’s desk, at least for me. But I think of it like learning to ride a bike without the training wheels. It’s so much more rewarding to figure it out for myself—to find my own balance and learn to trust it.

What time management techniques have worked for you?


Lisa_Gibson said...

Great post! So much in life is about balance. Balance and timing. You'll establish your own balance.

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

I’m still trying to find time management techniques that I can actually use and stick to. I think it may come down to hiring someone to hold a gun to my head forcing me to stop one task and move to the next!)

Linda Osmundson said...

Balancing your time is an never ending quest. Everytime I think I have a workable schedule something changes it. Perhaps we just need to relax, take things as they come and not worry so much. Easier said than done!

Linda Osmundson said...

Guess I did something wrong. The link didn't work. I'll do it again.

Linda Osmundson said...

Guess I did something wrong. The link didn't work. I'll do it again.

Michelle Mach said...

I really found this to-do list tip helpful:


(You can search for "contextual to-do lists" to jump down to the right paragraph.)

It made me realize how unbalanced my schedule was. Still working on finding the perfect balance!

Maryann Miller said...

LOL, Jenny. I have struggled with time management since I started freelancing 100 years ago. The only thing that really works for me is to make a list and keep telling myself, "Just do it, Maryann."

It was easier when I had deadlines from newspapers and magazines, but now that I set my own deadlines, I struggle every day.

Jennifer Carter said...

Those are great tips, Michelle. Perhaps a little more sophisticated, but along the same lines as my multicolumn list. :)

Linda L. Henk said...

Time management changes with the seasons. I do something similar to your choosing your task categories (sorry, I can't see your post right now as I comment so I don't remember exactly what you said). I've divided who I am into "roles" and work on small goals week by week. The idea comes from Stephen Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. I talk bigger than I do, but I try!

Patricia Stoltey said...

I'm afraid I'm a lot like Jane -- a timekeeper with a weapon would be very useful. Mostly I rely on my overall To Do List with a daily priority list, which I follow...or not.

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