I skipped out for a few days of lakeside vacationing last week (thanks to the readers who answered freelance writing mailbag questions for me!).
It was sort of a working vacation in that I did have a laptop along and was checking in with my freelance writing clients and Freelance Writers Den forums once or twice a day.
The sunny summer days unfolded in a daydreamy fashion. While my kids slept in, I’d get in a quick hour of checking email and deal with any emergencies.
Then, off to swim, bike, hike, dine, nap, and/or stand-up paddleboard all day.
At day’s end, I’d check in one more time, maybe answer a few Den questions and critical emails.
After a few days of this, I became fascinated by how this was working.
I seemed to be doing the bulk of what normally takes up much of an 8+ hour work day and getting it done in 2-3 hours.
I wasn’t trying to write any articles…but still. This was so much more efficient!
It led me to wonder…could my schedule be like this more of the time? Even when I’m not on vacation?
I suspect that it could.
Why work takes so long
Here’s my theory: When we have a “work day” mentality, our tasks seem to stretch out and fill that 8-hour block we think makes up the work day. After all, no rush — I know I’m going to be here all day.
When we’re on vacation but just wanting to keep up with work a bit, we have a different mentality. An “I’m only willing to give this an hour” mentality.
And what do you know — suddenly, the important stuff can get done in an hour.
Here are my vacation-inspired tips for getting our freelance work done in less time:
1. Ignore your email
I don’t know about you, but in an ordinary work day I might easily check email 10 or 12 times. (OK, it’s really many more times than that but it’s too embarrassing to say how often I really check it…so let’s say 10-12 times.) I was recently impressed with Jeff Goins’ remark that he writes something first thing every day, and then he checks email. And I thought…yessss!
The thing about email is it offers so many opportunities to get sucked off your own agenda onto someone else’s — to follow that Facebook message, read someone’s blog post, respond to some random question.
Also, have you noticed how efficient it is to blast through a big stack of email rather than dealing with just a few messages at a time? And have you also noticed how few emails you ever get that are true emergencies that can’t wait a few hours for your attention?
Yeah. So. Pick. Up. Email. Less. And don’t prioritize it over other, more important tasks. It can usually wait.
On this vacation, I actually started my email bouncer a few days before I really left! This allowed me to start disengaging from email early. I loved it and plan to do this again whenever I go out. Add a day on the end to give yourself more breathing room, too.
2. Redefine what you “must” do
Ordinarily, I feel obligated to read very widely. I subscribe to a bazillion newsletters covering many topics. I usually view this as a necessary activity, as I do need story ideas for my blog and the blogs I write for clients, and the feature articles I pitch to magazines.
But…on vacation, I felt empowered to delete a lot of this lower-priority stuff without reading it. After all, I could pass on scanning this stuff for just one week, right?
Next, I took a look at whose emails I haven’t read in a while and started unsubscribing — to dozens and dozens of newsletters. This felt just radical to me…and incredibly liberating.
I’d always felt I had to read all that…but really, I didn’t. I redefined how much research is required for my job, and immediately started saving a bundle of time.
Now, I’m down from getting about 200 emails a day to more like 120, plus I’m zapping a lot more of the remaining emails unread if the subject line isn’t enticing.
3. Increase thinking time
The most important thing we do as freelance writers isn’t write. It’s think — of story ideas, of ebooks we want to write and sell, of people we should collaborate with, of new clients we should target.
If we don’t take time to review where we’re headed and where we really want to go, it’s so easy to get off track.
On vacation, we naturally have more downtime, which I find always leads to a burst of great ideas. I get clarity on what I should do next — from big-picture issues like the types of freelance markets I should target, down to small stuff such as topics for blog posts.
Does it ever fail that we come back from vacation with more thinking work done than in a typical month or three?
I came back from one conference with the idea that I had to take the plunge and start the Den, for instance. On another, I came to the conclusion I should be writing business books. More than anything else, thinking time has the power to radically transform our business and grow our freelance earnings.
So that’s what to do with the free time you liberate by cutting back your timewasters: think.
4. Keep the part-time mentality
If you’re like me, you find yourself in a desperate, endless struggle to stay on top of how new media is transforming the freelance writing world. There’s pressure to be available 24/7, to learn to use Pinterest/WordPress/whateverelse.
Somehow, over the course of the past decade, it became cool to work all the time (at least in some quarters).
When I tell people I always take one day a week off, they look at me like I’m crazy. They believe it’s not OK to turn the computer off for a day a week…so they don’t.
Our expectations shape our work schedules.
I’ve learned I can change those expectations and end up working a lot fewer hours.
During my vacation, my expectation was I’d only work maybe 2 hours a day. What do you know, that seemed to be all that was required!
We can bring those altered expectations to our regular work schedule, too.
If your expectation is that work days should only be 4 or 6 hours long and aim for that, you’re more likely to organize your work to achieve that instead of letting work expand to 8 hours or more.
So kick the overwork addiction and define a shorter work day, even after vacation ends. You may find you’re still getting just as much writing work done.
5. Get more exercise
Let’s face it — sitting all day leads to a wide range of health problems, not to mention sluggish mental processing and slower writing.
This in turn creates a death spiral where we have to work more and more and we exercise less and less…and so on until we risk becoming a puddle of boneless goo on the floor by our computers.
On vacation, I was getting maybe three times my normal amount of exercise. I’d walk in the morning, swim in the afternoon, and bike in the evening. And I felt…amazing. Powerful. Creative. Unstoppable.
It’s hard to exercise all day during the work week, but carve out at least an hour for some kind of exercise, and you may see that your 8-hour work day can be accomplished easily in seven if you’re energized from a workout.
6. Limit social media
Yes, social media can be a great way to connect with prospects. It is also one of the most addictive ways to waste time ever invented. And there are plenty of other ways to market your business where you won’t tend to play around, such as sending marketing emails or making cold calls.
Take a critical look at what you’re doing on social media. Are you really getting prospects on Facebook and making useful new connections on Twitter — or just killing time following links and reading posts?
Be purposeful and strategic in how you use social media, and try to keep it to 20 minutes or a half-hour a day. On vacation, I probably didn’t spend 10 minutes a day here, and didn’t feel like I was missing anything.
Even if you’re new at LinkedIn or Twitter and trying to learn it, that’s OK — work on it for 20 minutes or a half-hour a day. Then stop.
Use schedulers if you really feel your presence needs to be felt in a social-media channel all day long. Set up your messages and you’re done.
7. Learn new tricks
One thing I always try to do on vacation is experience something new, whether it’s a food or an activity. This time, stand-up paddleboarding. (It rocks!)
It’s hard to get to those “wish I had time to learn” type activities — but it’s worth it.
Each month, prioritize just one new action — learn to use a new tool, take one class, hit one new networking group, or try one new kind of marketing. See how those new skills and connections might help you earn more.
How are you saving time in your freelance schedule? Leave a comment and share your tips.