Archive for the ‘Planning’ Category

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Why business hours matter

October 25, 2009

At the typical company, everyone notices what time someone leaves the office and what time people get in. We’re still stuck in a workplace that was designed around producing widgets on an assembly line. As life moves more and more online, and new technologies are invented that allow traditional offices to be truly optional, the punch clock mentality will slowly disappear. By the time Gen Y is ready to retire, people won’t even know what a punch clock is, and maybe then we will finally be working in the environment that knowledge workers are meant to work in. ~ Ryan Healy of Employee Evolution

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One of the greatest rewards of being a freelancer is getting to determine your own work hours. You have no punch clock or sign-in sheet, no 9 to 5 grind you’re forced to adhere to. You can follow the natural rhythms of your body and work the most productive hours of your day, whether morning or night. You can accommodate your kids and be home for them when they’re sick (or pretending to be), spend more time with your husband, ensure the dog gets enough attention and doesn’t leave you a present on the carpet after being left home alone for over 8 hours. This sounds all fine and dandy on paper. In fact, most day-timers would be pretty jealous to hear we have such a privilege. But with freedom comes responsibility.

Until this month rolled around, I was an ugly mess. After being conditioned to accept and adapt to the 9 to 5 slavery schedule that existed in both my university days and employment days, when I hit the freelance road pavement, I didn’t exactly hit it hard and running. I felt like I just sort of got plopped there without a map or any guiding star to speak of. Talk about utter confusion. I was in completely unfamiliar terrain with no boss telling me what to do and when to do it. So what did I do? I floundered, I treaded muck, I put in too many hours on some days and hardly any on others.  I knew I had to figure out how to schedule my time more efficiently while maximizing my productivity or else I was never going to develop my business the way I wanted to.

Not only that, but to add to the equation I have a night-hawk boyfriend (in other words, he works nights). Trying to find quality time together while I was feeling out this transition stage promised me a one-way ticket to FREAK OUT CITY! Still…I’m not ashamed that it took me almost 3 months just to strategize with time management and get over the mental desire to quit. If you’re new to the game, I can guarantee you’ll experience this too.

As you can see, even if you do own the flexible schedule of a freelancer, keeping business hours is extremely important. In the beginning months, I was horrible at this. I wasn’t putting in enough productive hours, my sleeping schedule was chaotic, and my mental and physical health were suffering. Keeping a schedule is fundamental, but I love having the flexibility to innovate a schedule that works for me rather than have one dictated.

So I started experimenting with a schedule I could keep. This is how it turned out:

4am-Noonish: Sleepy time.

Noonish-5pm: I get up, but my brain isn’t working at its best and I’m easily distracted by MSN conversations with friends and daily going-ons. So I use this time to do non-thinky stuff like admin, invoicing, researching, marketing and interviewing. It also gives my clients a portion of ‘regular business hours’ to contact me. Usually I manage to get a workout in too.

6pm-10pm: Dinner and I usually can spend some quality time with the boyfriend before he has to go to work.

10pm-4am: This is when I do my writing. My concentration is best during this time – nothing good is on TV, the world goes extremely quiet, and everyone is asleep which means my friends aren’t distracting me with YouTube videos of dancing monkeys or juvenile fart machine pranks that I “just have to see”.

Rinse and repeat.

Everyone is different and there’s nothing wrong with keeping a 9 to 5 schedule even as a freelancer if that’s what works for you. Experiment and adapt your schedule to fit your unique circumstances and needs. What kind of schedule do you keep?

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Develop a business plan, already

June 12, 2009

Our plans miscarry because they have no aim.  When a man does not know what harbor he is making for, no wind is the right wind. ~ Seneca

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Every morning when I crawl out of bed with drool tracks smeared across my cheeks and my hair looking something akin to a sparrow’s nest, there’s only one thing I can imagine being worse than the annoying honk of my alarm clock at 5am. That’s trying to summon the motivation to go into the basement and pop in my kickboxing workout video. On comes some 4-foot-nothing blonde ball of energy, bouncing across my TV screen like those kangaroos on the Discovery Channel. She tells me we’re going to have “a great time sweating”.  I stare at her from the other side of the room, wearing Betty Boop pajamas and a scowl, thinking…I wonder how many Snickers bars it would take for me to get like that.

Still, there’s one thing she says to me every morning that resonates. She tells me you have to write down your goals if you ever hope to achieve them. She tells me I need a plan. And she’s right. When it comes to being a freelance writer, developing a business plan is essential. As someone who prefers the spontaneous side of things, I know many of you are probably thinking you’d rather be forced to listen to the “Ice Ice Baby” song for 5 hours straight (or, er, maybe that’s just me). But writing down your goals doesn’t have to be a daunting or torturous task.

It’s easy, really. I advise you to make a 1-year roadmap detailing your freelance goals (especially important if you’re a newbie, such as myself). Make a list of major goals you have, such as landing your dream client, putting more bacon on the table, or maybe even breaking into a new niche. Give each of these a start date and deadline so you have the end in sight. Next, figure out the sub-steps or mini-goals you’ll have to take to achieve your bigger goals. Write these as bullet points underneath your main goals. Whatever you do, make sure your goals are realistic. In other words, if it’s your first year of freelancing, no duh you aren’t going to win the Nobel Peace Prize for your first published work. Don’t make yourself feel like you’ve already failed by picking impossible goals to attain within the timeframe you’re considering.

You can write your business plan on paper and tack it to your wall or frame it over your office desk. You can record it on your blog. Whatever works for you. Personally, I prefer to keep mine in visible sight somewhere I’ll see it everyday, so I’m constantly reminded of what direction I’m headed in and how I plan to get there. I even like to give them creative names. My business plan for this year is entitled: How NOT to become Johnny from The Shining anytime soon.

Business plans are so valuable to freelancers because:

  1. They keep you motivated and on track.
  2. They give you a way to assess your current progress and evaluate whether or not you’ve put in the necessary effort at the end of the year so you’re always moving ahead and advancing in your career.
  3. They remind you of the reasons you blew off that 9-5 gig after all, just to sit in front of your computer for hours on end in cartoon pajamas and bird-nest hair, scooping mac&cheese into your open piehole.