How to Work Less
Since August, I’ve been working two days per week and still earning full-time income writing for magazines. My goal, when I started this two-day workweek, was to spend more time with my now one-year-old son, have more fun, and do more volunteering. On my days off I do check e-mail just to make sure nothing comes up, and if a source can schedule an interview only on one of my days off, I’ll do it. But in general, I’m sitting down at my desk and working two days per week.
The first thing I did to cut my hours was quit a time-suck writer’s forum. I could spend hours on there every day because there were so many members that every time I clicked, there was a new message. One day I posted a question about freelancing (which was rare for me), and all I got back was snarky responses about how I should already know the answer. Right then, I decided to quit. I had my husband change my password and promise not to reveal it to me. For a couple of days my fingers kept twitching towards the keys that would bring up the forum, but then the urge subsided.
Then, on a roll, I found free site-blocker software for Firefox and blocked the other sites I spent a lot of time on, like iCanHasCheezburger.com and Failblog.
Suddenly, I had a ton of free time.
I soon came to realize that a lot of what we freelancers do is busy work. For example, I was in the habit of sending out e-mails to sources or editors in the morning, and then spending the rest of the day alternately clicking on “check e-mail” and surfing the web. Then, at 5, I felt that I’d put in a full day’s work, even though I really only worked for a few minutes and then spent the rest of the day waiting for people to get back to me.
So I stopped doing that. If I send out e-mails and can’t take action until I get a response, now I leave my computer, go off and do what I want to do, and come back later to check. Exact same results, but much less time “working.”
One week I felt stressed about all I had to do — I had several writing assignments on the go and was insistent on working three days that week at the most to get it all done. I asked my life coach about it, and she said that many of her clients feel they have too much to do, but then when they sit down and actually calculate the hours — or actually do the work — they realize it’s not so much after all. They had just built it up in their minds.
I called my goal buddy and set up what we call “boot camp” on one of my work days. On boot camp days, my goal buddy and I call each other every hour on the hour to tell each other what we did in the last hour and what we plan to do in the next hour. There are no repercussions if we don’t get the work done, but there’s something about telling someone else what you plan to do that lights a fire under your butt.
And guess what? That day, I got all the work I had been worrying about done in four hours. I didn’t even have to work that third day.
After 12 years of freelancing, I’m finally starting to come into the full power of the freelance lifestyle — the power to set your own hours and be the master of your own time. The eight-hour workday is so ingrained in us that it’s hard to envision working less and still earning the same income — but as Tim Ferriss said in The Four-Hour Workweek, isn’t it amazing that all over the world, no matter what job they do, every person needs exactly eight hours a day to get their work done? We freelancers are not in jobs where we have to be present all the time, like in retail. We can “disappear” and, using the power of technology, still be reachable if a client has an emergency (which they rarely do).
Granted, I’ve been freelancing for a long time, so I’m past the stage where I have to spend hours each week formulating ideas and pitching. I’m in many magazines’ “stables” of writers, so it’s easier for me to cut down my hours that it would be for someone just starting out. But even newbies can probably use their time more efficiently. C’mon, fess up — when you should be writing a query, are you 100% focused on that query or are you taking frequent web-surfing breaks? Do you bang out that pitch or do you procrastinate, yet still feel “busy” because you’re sitting in front of your computer?
So what am I doing with all this extra time? Well, in May I started a local parents’ group that now has 60 members, so I spend a lot of time hanging out with other parents and their babies. I read — a lot. I upped my weight training from two days per week to three. And I’m about to volunteer to be on a committee for an animal welfare fundraising event.
Every day I have to pinch myself — I can’t believe I was able to cut my hours down so much and still earn the same income. I keep thinking that one day, my husband is going to say, “Uh, Linda…we’re broke.” But it hasn’t happened. I’m going to keep up this schedule as long as I can…and the more I do it, the easier it gets. [lf]