Being productive without a deadline

One thing about freelance writing is that it tends to go in spurts. Some days you have no assignments pending; other times, you don’t know which story to tackle first.

I’ve been trying for a while to figure out how to stay focused and productive when a deadline isn’t looming. Working at home means there are a lot of distractions. It’s easy to delay work because you know you can go back to the computer after throwing in a load of laundry, or cooking a pot of soup, or cleaning out a drawer, or running an errand, or… the list is infinite.

I love the flexibility of freelancing. I like being able to work coffee dates, appointments, and household tasks into my schedule no matter what time in the day they take place.

So I’ve resisted scheduling consistent work hours. I know there are advantages to having them. Family and friends will be less likely to interrupt your work, and scheduled hours impose discipline. Productivity is bound to go up.

I was relieved to learn at the most recent meeting of my freelance writing group that I’m not the only one who struggles with time management.

Yesterday, I decided to try something new. Not only did I slot “writing time” into the calendar on my phone, but before I left the computer at the end of my two-hour morning session, I slotted a second session for the afternoon.

It’s like going to the dentist. I book my next check-up before I leave. That way, I don’t lose momentum, and I don’t leave it too long.

I had a very productive day, and I’m back at the computer this morning. Could it be that simple?

Advertisements

Getting unstuck

I’d like to say that I’ve had writer’s block lately, but I think it’s more honest to say I’ve been stuck, or just busy with other things. However, I think the universe is conspiring to unstick me, or at least point me in the right direction.

Earlier this week, I found a post on Gretchen Rubin’s blog that included this quote from author Eric Hoffer: “When we do not do the one thing we ought to do, we have no time for anything else.”

A side note – Rubin is the author of The Happiness Project, a book about finding more happiness, and why it’s important to do so. I found it so interesting when I first read it on a plane, that I pulled out a notebook and started making notes.

When I read her post this week, I knew immediately that the one big thing I ought to be doing is getting my house organized, as I wrote in November after reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, by Marie Kondo.

Even though I didn’t make a formal New Year’s resolution this year, I decided that 2015 would be the year I tame my black holes, purge items I no longer need, and go through the last few unopened boxes from our move ten years ago.

And even though it’s only February, the decluttering and organizing have been calling my name more loudly than the writing projects have. Sigh.

I’ve been fairly consistent about decluttering, but there’s still a lot to do, and I’ve been reluctant to blog about it. My two main focuses in this blog have been writing and food. Decluttering would be a whole other blog. But, especially when you work from home, life tends to seep into your work, and vice versa.

I do have a freelance assignment that I’ll be working on this weekend, so that’s one thing that will move my writing off the back burner.

I also ran into a colleague the other day, and we talked about freelancing. I was curious about how he structured his day, and was inspired by his productivity.

This morning, I read Judith Timson’s column in the Toronto Star about “our stuff,” which made me feel better about my own stuff, and spurred me to write this post. The truth is, I haven’t put off writing this post  just because it’s outside the scope of my blog, but also because I’m a bit embarrassed by how long it’s taking me to deal with the “stuff.”

But one of the lessons I’ve learned since I lost my dad in 2008 is that things take as long as they take. Grief, for example. Decluttering, too.

I’ve found that getting rid of stuff isn’t actually hard. Deciding what to keep, and what not to, is the real difficulty, and sometimes the slowest part. Kondo’s book has helped me think differently about some items that I might have kept for sentimental reasons in the past, but the whole process is still a challenge.

When the one big thing you need to do could take a whole year, you have to figure out how to make time for other things that are also important.

Progress isn’t necessarily linear. You move forward, you slip back for a bit, and then you move forward again.

 

 

 

 

 

A taste of freelance (writing) life

It’s official, I’m freelancing. Last week, I interviewed Rabbi Miri Gold for The Canadian Jewish News. I just found the article online this morning.

Rabbi Gold – Miri – is the Reform rabbi in Israel who launched a 2005 court case seeking salary payment from the Israeli government, a benefit previously accorded only to Orthodox rabbis.

The interview is my first article since I was downsized last June, aside from a column I wrote a few months ago for my former CJN colleague Sheldon Kirshner’s online journal, about the role of Jewish food in my life.

In the weeks and months after being downsized, I spent a lot of time thinking about what I would do next. I set up this blog partly to help me figure that out, and I looked at a lot of job postings.

As time went on, I leaned more toward the idea of freelance work, combined with work on my blog and my book-in-progress. I like the variety and flexibility, and I’m willing to live with the uncertainty that goes with it, at least for now.

I couldn’t help thinking back to my first assignment as a CJN freelancer, before I joined the staff in the early 1990s. A couple of things were different this time: I wasn’t nervous any more (experience makes a difference!), and I didn’t have to run out to the local bookstore to see my article as soon as it appeared.

My interview last week fell into one of my former beats (religious issues), so it was easy to get back into reporter mode. I re-familiarized myself with the issues, changed the battery in my tape recorder, and bought a new notebook. I was all set.

But there was one thing I hadn’t thought about. When I asked Miri for her business card, I realized I no longer had one to give her in return. I guess I should put that on my list.

 

A month of moving forward

This past weekend, I took part in an intensive three-day social media “boot camp” at Ryerson University. The workshop was the last of four work/writing-related events I attended over the past month, as part of my post-downsizing journey.

Exactly a month ago, September 22, I began with Toronto’s Word on the Street festival, where I attended half a dozen back-to-back workshops offered by the Humber School for Writers. Next was a Canadian Media Guild panel discussion for freelance journalists, then a JVS job fair.

I didn’t seek out any of these events. I saw a newspaper ad for Word on the Street, and happened to notice the writing workshops being offered there. The panel discussion was announced on LinkedIn, and a Ryerson workshop – not the one I ended up going to – was also announced on LinkedIn, leading me in a roundabout way to the one I attended. I learned about the job fair from an email.

I like that serendipity played a role in my finding these events, and I like that they  all took place within a month. It was significant for me to get out of my dining room/home office and away from my computer screen.

I left my job four months ago not knowing what was next, but doing my best to be open to opportunities, and pursuing the ones that present themselves and also “feel right.”

Now that my calendar has cleared for at least the next few weeks, I think it’s time to consolidate and implement what I’ve learned over the past month.