Monday, September 29, 2008

Serenity Tips: Links Edition

Clutter, time management, money management, marketing: All a regular part of the business of freelancing. Here are a few of my favorite tips on some of these from around the web. In the future I hope to make these a little more focused.

I wrote last week about how passion has restored my energy and served as a surprising form of self-care. It appears Elaine Appleton Grant had some of the same thoughts. Here are some perhaps surprising tips on improving your writing by switching your writing medium. I especially like "the verb is your adjective." Interesting verbs illuminate reality in a whole new way. Give it a try.

Erica Douglass has a great guest post at the equally great blog Get Rich Slowly about finding more time in your day for the things you want to learn, like finance, decluttering and marketing. Hint: It's not sleep less.

Speaking of sleeping: Cheryl Miller has some great tips for dealing with a bad day. It doesn't have to be the day when an assignment falls through, an editor rejects your carefully crafted idea or when the stock market is about to collapse. It can be simpler than that. Sometimes it's just that being self-employed means we have no limits on our time and our bosses are slave drivers. Here are her tips for recovering from such a day.

Sometimes, though, a bad day at work results from lethargy or lack of energy. Didn't sleep well the night before, too worried about the economy to focus? Try some of Gretchen Rubin's tips for reenergizing yourself and making yourself more productive during tough times.

I know several people have told me that the thing that blocks their serenity the most is a messy, disorganized desk. Well, I'm a neatnik these days--a fact that never ceases to shock my mother, who regularly forced me to clear a path from my door to my bed in high school. Still, if you need to get started on something--decluttering in this case, but it can apply to other tough endeavors as well--consider Unclutterer's gentle but organized approach to getting started on decluttering.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

30-Day Self-Care Challenge: Day 7

Today's surprising self-care goal: Foster my passion.

Here's a shock: My passion is writing, words, journalism and storytelling. The proof is documented as far back as my baby book, in which my mother wrote of my 4- or 5-year-old self, "Little Heather is following me around complaining that what she's writing 'doesn't sound right.'"

In college, I joined the school paper and sank into the comfort of listening to other writers share their favorite word. Who knew other people had favorite words? I had come home.

I became a journalist because I wanted to write every day, but I didn't realize that would often mean covering planning commission meetings, procedural turns of the screw and, in the parlance of the newsroom, "reax" to the State of the Union Address. There's no music there, but hey, it's a living.

So is freelancing. Often I write stories I love, full of real people's lives and how they address the big challenges facing them. But just as often, I write fun, interesting and educational front-of-the-book shorts or service pieces. They aren't why I got into writing, and I know several freelancers who have burned out because they only write those pieces.

Who would have guessed the shot in the arm I needed to get excited about my business again would come from my iPod? I subscribe to literally dozens of podcasts on personal finance, self-improvement, entertainment, cooking and journalism.

Last night, as I was going from friend's house to meeting to home, during the long waits between buses, I found myself captivated.

Do yourself a favor and subscribe to Poynter's Writing/Editing and Writing Tools podcasts.

In Poynter's most recent Writing/Editing podcast, Cleveland Plain Dealer Columnist Connie Schultz described how she found her stories, how she incorporates video and blogging into her work and where she gets her inspiration. It made me want to look for those stories I know I'm missing now. It filled me up with a passion that pushed out the panic about the economy that had overwhelmed me the day before. It helped me focus on what I can control: the stories I seek out, my connection with the brave and articulate sources that are the heart of what I do and the hope that my work can improve people's lives in some small way.

Then I listened to several of several of Roy Peter Clark's Writing Tools podcasts, also available in his book of the same name.

Here are some of my favorites:

* Climb up and down the ladder of abstraction
At the top of the ladder is lofty ideas like "democracy" and "compassion." At the bottom is the utterly concrete, like "pop tops" and "red-and-black sneakers covered in a fine film of city dirt."

In the middle is the dregs of bureaucratic language--"single-family mixed use development," for instance. Or "full-time equivalent."

* Choose the number of elements in a list.
This fascinated me: Use one to emphasize what you have, two to compare and contrast and three to imply a sense of wholeness and completion. Four and more is just a list. In this way, he says, the mathmatics of language make three greater than four. Dig that, people! Now you know why writers are bad at math.

* Know when to back off and when to show off
When you're writing about something where the drama is already built in--say, writing about a person dealing with a life-threatening illness or the death of a family member--let your writing be understated. Let the story shine. If you're writing about something frivolous, let the writing shine.

There's an implied symmetry there, a balance that appeals to me.

What's your passion and how can it feed your soul today?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

30-Day Self-Care Challenge: Day 6

Today's plan for self-care:

Limit my exposure to the financial crisis.

I have personal experience with financial crises. Yes, I spent years hiding in denial and having trouble paying my bills, even when I was earning more than I am now. That was less a crisis than a chronic period of mismanaged priorities.

No, what I think about as I listen, watch and read about the economy reorganizing itself is 8th grade. While I was concerned with whether to wear the acid washed shorts or the acid washed skirt to class that day, the country experienced Black Monday. I was young, and it was exciting. We had just been reading about the Great Depression and the day in 1929 when bankers were flinging themselves out windows because they had lost everything. It was morbid, but alluring to me as a young writer. What an evocative image. It told us everything we needed to know abut what was happening then.

I felt like something significant was happening, that history was being made, that what was happening mattered. I had a lot of teen angst. I felt like everything was meaningless. This reoriented me.

Not long after that, my father, an entrepreneur himself, had to close his business. There was always low-level tension in my home as my parents struggled to balance their very different approaches to money, but when his business failed, the tension broke and crisis ensued. My dad, a proud, brilliant man, took a job at a retail store to keep bringing in money. My mom, a hardworking and diligent person, buckled down and worked summers and nights. As long as I can remember, my parents have always had more than one job.

My contribution to the family financial crisis was to worry. I had insomnia. I tried to help my parents by cleaning the house and listening to their worries. I wondered if we'd keep our house and what would happen to me.

The fact was that our family was fine, but the feeling was quite different. Just like in a lot of homes today, the feeling was of imminent doom, and that heroic efforts were required to avert disaster.

I share this story not to be self-indulgent but to illustrate a point: In times of crisis, we all revert back to our earlier selves. We revert to our primal instincts, and mine is to worry. So I don't see the news today and say, "Huh. Well, I'm doing fine. Just keep swimming."

I panic. I start feeling the need to rush about and fix things. Or, failing the ability to fix the national financial markets (of which I understand little), I feel the need to exert a lot of attention and energy on worrying and thinking of the worst thing that can happen.

FOR TODAY my plan is to:

* Switch off the news, delete news emails sight-unseen and avoid the great financial blogs I read daily.
* Focus on the truth for me: I have great work, great clients, and plenty of income.
* Focus on what I can control:
-- Building my savings in case of a downturn.
-- Increasing my marketing by a manageable amount.
-- Expressing gratitude to my regular clients.
-- Diversifying clients so if one goes under, I have others to pick up the slack.

What are you doing to take care of yourself around the economic crisis?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

30-Day Self-Care Challenge

Taking a tip from Cheryl Miller, I'm going to start a 30-day self-care challenge today. Please follow along, and I hope that this inspires you to take care of yourself a little better, too. The truth is, we're self-employed and our bosses can be slave drivers. So we've got to take the initiative to:

1. Step away from the computer.
2. Remember the things that recharge our batteries.
3. Make them a priority.

Why am I starting today? It's actually an important point:

You can start any time. An acquaintance said to me recently that he wanted to wait till the beginning of the month to take care of his finances because it's "magical" to him. Well, I've got news for you: The only magical time is right now because it's the only time you can affect.

So: Day 1

A trip to the chiropractor

If you're like me, you sit at your desk every day and don't necessarily do it in the most ergonomic way. Ever since the injury I got in May, I've been sleeping poorly and in strange positions to protect my back. Ergo, some really messed up neck and shoulder muscles--not to mention the usual lower-back pain I have from a stuck s-bone.

Today is my first day back to the chiropractor in almost four months and I'm so excited about it. Taking care of my body will help me sleep better and make me more refreshed and ready to go when I start my day at work.

What's your self-care priority today?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Warning to Spammers: You will be deleted

Talk about hurting serenity: When someone uses this blog to promote a franchise-buying Web site in the comments, it really gets to me.

So this is a warning to all those spammers out there. I'll be approving all comments on this blog and removing the comments aimed at getting people to buy businesses. In case you hadn't noticed, this blog is about self-employment not about franchising. I wish all the best to those who wish to franchise, but I have no experience with that and can't help those people.

Please direct your obnoxious, unoriginal comments elsewhere.


The Management.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Monday(ish) Mantra: One thing at a time

I don't know about you, but one of the side effects of running my own business is that I constantly have other things to think about and a litany of things to do. Lately, with my personal stresses, it's meant that I'm experiencing multitasking run amok:

I am in the middle of breakfast, but also checking my email. I'm making lunch and also trying to do laundry. I'm planning questions for my next interview while meditating. I'm working on a query and also responding to an email and also working on edits.

I'm, in short, making myself crazy.

So for this week, my mantra is: One thing at a time.

When my mind starts racing to the next thing I have to do, I think "One thing at a time." When I'm checking email, and remember that I also want to check my bank account to see if a transfer went through, I think "one thing at a time." When I am checking on an invoice and I want to also slip in that one change to a story that's in edits, I think, "One thing at a time." When I am writing a draft and want to check email or read my Google Reader, I think "One thing at a time."

It's not just me. Research has shown for years that multitasking makes us dumber and slower, not faster and more connected. There's a brilliant article in November 2007 Atlantic Magazine on this very topic.

We're all rushing around and it's out serenity that pays the price. That feeling that you'll never catch up? That feeling that you're not doing enough, that you could be doing more and that you're lazy? That's the lie of multitasking. In fact, if you're successfully supporting yourself as a self-employed person, you're doing a heroic amount of work over a very short period of time.

So far, it's working for me. I'm getting the same amount of work done, but I'm not nearly as harried.

So as you head into the crazy workload of fall, give yourself some credit.

Then do the next ONE thing on your plate.