Monthly Archives: April 2011

How freelancers stay motivated

What’s a freelancer‘s most important moment of the day?

Maybe it’s those few minutes you spend getting your to-do list ready each morning. Or maybe it’s the moment you hit Send to turn a story in to your editor.

For me, that moment is at 6:15 a.m. when my alarm clock rings. I’ve realized through trial and error that my first conscious moment of the day is also the most influential on my daily productivity. Go figure.

Why? Because that’s the moment that I decide whether I’ll jump into the shower and get dressed immediately, or keep my PJs on as I begin the process of ushering three kids out the door to school. Believe it or not, that single decision sets the stage for my entire day ahead.

I discovered this anew recently. Usually I’m dressed and pressed — makeup on, hair flat-ironed — by the time the last kid gets on his bus at 8 a.m. Then I sit down and begin working, and this raring-to-go mindset carries me through some crazy-busy hours.

One day last week, though, I lapsed on this routine. I thought, What the heck? I’ll just work in my jammies today. Nice and comfy.

Comfy, yes, but a veritable disaster to my motivation level. I ended up scrolling through Twitter and Facebook for about two hours as if it were Saturday morning before getting down to writing. I’d planned to finish two assignments that day, but only one actually got done because I’d squandered so much time on this weekend mindset.

Can I really blame it all on the pajamas? Yes, I think I can. There’s a subtle mental shift that occurs when I go through the motions of getting dressed each morning, a shift that makes me sharper, more prepared. Clothes and makeup = productivity. Pajamas and dirty hair = slothfulness.

People like to joke that freelance writers are lucky. “You can work in your pajamas if you want to!” some of my friends say admiringly. And they’re right. We can make that choice, and for some of us it makes no difference to our output what we’re wearing. But it’s funny how much what’s on the outside can affect what’s going on inside.

For me, the clothes really do make the woman — a woman whose success apparently depends on the very first moment of the day.


The WAHM life, then and now

I remember the moment I decided I would be a WAHM. I recently learned I was pregnant with our first child and wondered how in the world I could go back to the unpredictable hours of a newsroom with a baby at home. I loved being a reporter, and my husband and I needed my income.

But a reporter’s income would barely pay for the child care needed to go to work every day, and I was bereft at the thought of having my baby cared for by others. When I revealed my pregnancy to my editor at the three-month mark, I already had a one-page proposal in hand. I could work half-time at home, I told her confidently, sending my stories through a modem hooked up to my PC.

This was a revolutionary idea at the time (it was 1992). No other reporter at this daily newspaper had ever worked from home. Not see each other in person? Check in with editors each day by phone? How could they be sure I would get the job done?

The proof would be in my productivity, I said. They would know I was doing my job by the stories I produced — or didn’t. Couldn’t we just give it a shot?

A year later, at my employee review, the editor-in-chief sat back on his desk chair and smiled. “This has worked out far better than we ever anticipated,” he said.

And I knew it would. Why? Because I wanted it to work badly enough to make the sacrifices involved. When my baby slept (and thankfully he took naps like clockwork), I got on the phone, conducted interviews and wrote. At night, when my husband walked through the door, I often played pass-the-baby on my way out to a meeting I needed to cover.

The rest of the time, my son and I read books, took long walks, played music and went to play groups. I was the mom I’d always wanted to be, and felt I had the best of both worlds.

I still do, only now I work full-time-plus and have four kids. And fortunately, this attempt at work-life balance is not at all unusual anymore. I am one of millions of WAHMs, many of us writers, who never set foot in a corporate office and barely ever need to see the editors we work with. I now laugh at the thought of the blinking, screechy modem attached to my PC — my virtual umbilical cord before the rise of the Internet and email.

But the virtues that made a successful WAHM then are the same ones needed to succeed now: self-discipline, flexibility, determination and the optimism that convinces us we can indeed juggle all of this. I no longer need to convince my editors that I’ll somehow be able to do my job without constant oversight.

Then, as now, the proof is on the page.

What snow days, spring break and summer have in common for WAHMs

Gray. That’s the color of the sky today, yesterday, and supposedly tomorrow. It was pretty much the color all last week, too, when my kids were off from school for spring break. And the week before that, when they had a late-March snow day.

But all this gray is proving useful for one thing — making me think ahead to summer, when the skies had better be blue. That’s because snow days, spring break and summer all have one thing in common for WAHMs: our kids are around way more than usual.

I’ve developed a rock-solid routine of working nearly non-stop each day while my kids are at school. That means I don’t spend those six hours grocery shopping (relegated to a week night), lunching with friends (well, almost never) or  running errands (something I can do with kids in tow). But because I’ve gotten used to focusing so intensely during that time, the avalanche of snow days we endured this winter really knocked my work days off balance.

Ditto for spring break last week. Not that it was unexpected, mind you — it had been on the calendar for months — but as luck would have it, my husband also happened to be away on a business trip all week. So all kid- and house-related duties were mine. As were about 45 or 50 hours of freelancing.

By the end of the week, I’d gotten pretty used to having the kids around while I was working. I took interview calls upstairs, where an errant quarrel between siblings couldn’t be heard, and I learned to put up with regular interruptions when I was writing. It wasn’t so bad, except that it brought a quiet dread about the summer to come.

With me going full-throttle with my freelancing — and happily so — it got me wondering exactly how I will adjust to the constant household hub-bub four kids on summer vacation will bring. Granted, the two oldest boys will have jobs, and my daughter is enrolled in six weeks of day camp and a week of sleep-away. And Son #3 will be gone for two weeks straight with his dad on a grand Boy Scout adventure.

Still . . . there will be more dishes, and more food needed. More commotion. More friends ringing the doorbell. More nights holding dinner waiting for the last kid to trickle in. More . . . everything.

Is this a brand-new challenge? Certainly not. But it changes every year, as my kids and business grow side by side. This summer will require a fresh approach to running such a busy household and a profitable business simultaneously.

How do you plan to cope?