7 More Ways to Gain Control Over Your Freelancing Life
Freelancing pretty much defines lack of control: We don’t directly control when we get assignments, how much money we make, and even when we get paid. It certainly gets frustrating at times, and can lead to a lack of motivation and, ultimately, burnout.
A few years ago I wrote a post called How to Gain Control Over Your Freelancing Life, which included several ways to control your work and your workday.
Since writing that post — which is one of the most popular ones I’ve ever written — I’ve come to realize that even if our freelancing life is objectively going well, if we feel out of control in other areas of our life, it will leak over into our work life.
The “broken window” theory says that when a neighborhood has a house with a broken window that the owners neglect to fix, it starts to attract vandalism and other crime; people assume no one cares, so they treat it that way. The same thing happens in our lives: We let bills and laundry pile up, we skip out on exercise and binge on mint chocolate chip ice cream, we put off getting the car inspected — and suddenly, our freelance writing work becomes out of control too. (Or, really, it just feels out of control, because our perspective has shifted that way.)
So…I’ve come up with 7 more ways to gain control over your freelancing life — most of which don’t actually have anything to do with work!
1. Clean something — anything!
Recently I had several (too many!) article deadlines, and I started freaking out. Sources weren’t getting back to me, one article required me to reference a book I couldn’t find, and tasks on my to-do list were mounting. So what did I do?
I cleaned out the pantry.
Even if I can’t control when sources get back to me, I can at least control my own pantry. Out went the expired Annie’s Bunny Pasta with Cheese. Out went all meat products, since we’re now vegetarians. What was left, I organized nicely.
Suddenly, my workload seemed a lot more manageable. Just knowing that one area of my life was unarguably under control helped me feel more in control of my work. Remember, a lot of feeling out of control is just that — a feeling. If you can shift your perspective with some quick cleaning, the problem is solved.
So pick one small thing and clean, organize, or polish it. Clean out your junk drawer, organize your clothes closet, go through your stack of mail and toss the junk, scrub the coffee stains from your mugs, or even clean up your computer desktop.
2. Don’t check e-mail first thing in the morning.
Checking e-mail as soon as your eyes open in the morning is a good recipe for a frazzled day. You wake up, and instantly you’re on call and responding to other people’s emergencies.
I’ve found that when I hold off on checking e-mail in the morning, even for only an hour, it sets a calm, controlled tone for the rest of my workday. In that first hour I may have breakfast, enjoy a cup of tea, read a book, or play with my son before he goes off with my husband or my mom.
Afraid you’ll miss something important? Me too. But when I hold off on e-mails, I find that when I finally do check, none of the e-mails waiting for me are all that urgent.
3. Create a “What I Got Done” list.
Recently I posted about the value of keeping a What I Got Done list. This is, well, a list of everything you got done during the day.
Often we feel like we spent the day spinning our wheels, putting out fires, and other clichés that mean we got nothing done. But when we take the time to write down what we accomplished, we’re often pleasantly surprised by how productive we were. Doing this makes us feel more in control because we know that our time is being spent wisely even if it sometimes doesn’t feel that way.
4. Go away.
Ever notice that when you go away for a few days, when you return you have a fresher outlook on your work? I just got back from a weeklong road trip feeling energized and refreshed, and my workload suddenly seemed far less scary.
You may not be able to go on vacation every time your work feels out of control, but do try to schedule regular short trips and even just hour-long breaks into your routine. Don’t feel guilty — you’ll be so much more productive when you return that it will make up for the time you spent drinking mojitos, watching Project Runway, doing yoga, or reading Game of Thrones.
5. Blast tolerations.
Tolerations are those little, nagging annoyances that drain your mental energy — a messy car, a phone with an unpleasant ringtone, a cat that scratches your favorite sofa.
When tolerations build up, it feels like your whole life — and your career — are spinning out of control.
My life coach Kristin Taliaferro inspired me to keep on top of my tolerations. Every once in awhile I go on a toleration-blasting kick, and this week was one of them. I deep-cleaned the house, ordered a few items I was running low on, found a Spanish tutor for the family, made a vet appointment for my cats, did my nails, and replaced those damn tweezers that never worked well but that I kept using for the last 10 years anyway.
The more I do this, the more in control I feel. As with cleaning the pantry, you may not be able to control everything that happens to you as a freelance writer, but you can control the rusty shower caddy, overdue dentist appointment, and undone photo album.
6. Get up early.
This is something I struggle with because I need a lot of sleep. But when I make the effort to get up earlier than the rest of my family, I’m rewarded with a sense of control that lasts throughout the workday.
The reason is twofold. First, I’m showing self-discipline, and research actually shows that self-discipline in one area is likely to spread to other areas of your life. For example, ever notice that when you exercise, you tend to also eat better that day? The other reason is that when you get up an hour or so early, you now have an extra hour to either get ready for the day or get some work done.
7. Set boundaries.
Nothing makes your work feel more out of control than when you spend all day fielding e-mails, drowning in research files, and dealing with friendly phone calls from family members who think that because you’re a freelancer you don’t actually work.
That’s why you need to set boundaries — even if you’re only setting them for yourself.
For example, designate certain times of the day when you check e-mail. Limit your research to just enough to complete the writing assignment. Use caller ID and don’t pick up the phone unless you’re expecting a work-related call. Use Freedom (10 bucks and worth every penny) to block the Internet and reduce random surfing while you’re working on an assignment.
Corralling time-sucks will help you regain a feeling of control over your work. And with that sense of control will come more productivity, motivation — and calm energy.
How about you — how do you get control of your freelancing life? Please add your insights below!
A quick note: One of my phone mentoring clients got two writing assignments and a phone meeting with an editor after following my advice! Interested in getting some of that for yourself? Check out the mentoring page to read testimonials, get details, and learn how to sign up. [lf]