Telling stories

Posts Tagged ‘time management’

The Positive Art of Saying No

Posted by southwrite on August 25, 2014

Engine start stopWe all really like to say yes. When someone asks you to do something – take on another job or head up another committee – more often than not we’re inclined to say yes. We’re flattered that people think of us – especially those who want to pay us for our yes – and we we believe that “the ask” is itself an indication that we can and should do it.

Far too often we’re wrong. We say yes to requests when we should be saying no. Saying yes becomes an addiction that gives us a short and temporary high that’s often replaced by guilt, stress and sometimes leads to failure.

Many of us have a hard time saying no – especially to people we consider friends or colleagues. I know I do.

There was a time not so long ago when I was feeling overwhelmed. I had a heavy work load of freelance assignments, but I had also taken on volunteer work for a non-profit. As I accepted more and more tasks to further a good cause, I was spending more hours every week on what became a non-paying job. As the commitment grew larger, it became hard to finish the work I was being paid to do.

I looked at the need and didn’t want to let people down. I thought “if I don’t do it, who will?” I saw others putting in hours and began to critically say “you’re not managing your time. You can fit it all in. You don’t want to let them down”

Guilt plays a big role in our desire to say yes. Take the ALS ice water challenge that has been sweeping America. Facebook and YouTube are filled with videos of the famous and the not so famous dumping water on their heads. While it’s certainly a good cause, a big reason for its success is the (small amount of) guilt that comes with being called out in front of all your social media friends.

It’s one thing to have ice water dumped on your head if you want to support a good cause. It’s another to give in even when you know you don’t want to do it and shouldn’t be doing it and it won’t benefit you in any way.

Most of us would be better off if we said no more often, but in a conscious and thoughtful way.

We have to start with the realization that saying no can be the best kind of yes. Blogger Courtney E. Martin in The Spiritual Art of Saying No describes a conversation she had with a wise taxi driver on why you should say no more often. “You got to, girl. If you don’t learn to say no, you’ll either be miserable or die. One or the other.”

Saying yes to too many of the wrong things can lead to early death – even while you’re still living. We all bring to the table a certain number of skills and assets. These vary over time – particularly as we work to make ourselves better. At any one time we have a finite bank of working hours, energy and other resources.

As we show up in the world doing good things – more work, more assignments, more volunteer activities – we spend those reserves. At some point we reach the end of our bank account. Just as you can empty out your checking with donations to one or another good cause, we do the same thing with ourselves.

It’s easy to reach a point at which we’re drowning in new assignments. As we work frantically to make one deadline after another, things being to slip. We stop putting in the extra effort to polish a sentence or we decide not to call that next source – isn’t three or four enough? We run out hours in the day along with the ability to manage our time and work more efficiently. We start saying no to things that we should be doing – like reading, exercising, and just resting – in order to do one more thing and please one more person.

Here’s a strategy to use when people ask you to take on some task that you’re not really sure about – particularly if it’s a nonpaying volunteer activity.

Follow the Chinese proverb: “When in doubt do nowt.” If you’re not sure, do nothing (nowt). Say something like: “That sounds like a great thing to do, but I need to consider it and look at my schedule and other activities. I’ll get back to you in a few days.” Then you can make your decision deliberately – away from peer pressure. There’s a reason why fund raisers take along a friend or colleague of the potential donor they’re soliciting. It’s hard to say no to someone face-to-face.

Plan how you’re going to spend your time and energy. Just as we know we should budget our money to meet our goals, creating a budget for your time is also essential. You decide what means the most to you. Do you want to support your local church or non-profit? By crafting a plan, you avoid the risk of becoming scattered. Investing your time in one or two organizations can make a much greater difference for them than squandering it with a half dozen groups that you have only a marginal acquaintance with.

When you have your budget set, then it becomes easier to say no to things that will only distract from your goals. “You have a great organization, but I’m already spending all my volunteer time with these groups.”

Some people have no problem saying no. They’re confident and aware of their own integrity. They’re already spending their psychic and physical energies wisely and putting them into the things that mean the most to them.

We can join their ranks.


Posted in Life, Working | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Running Your Business Like a Business

Posted by southwrite on June 26, 2014

computer moneyYou became a freelancer because you wanted the freedom of working for yourself, choosing your clients and setting your own schedule. That’s what being an entrepreneur is about, right?

Yet, many of us don’t act like businesspeople. We love the freedom, but don’t want to do the mundane things that companies do to be competitive. Sure you’re probably good at your core business – writing, design, photography or whatever – but, what about the business of business?

Here I’m talking about the common practices that companies follow to maximize profits and stay in businesses. You can run your businesses better and improve the bottom line – putting more money in our pockets – if we take a look at what companies do and adapt those practices to our own admittedly small time operations.

Be ruthless in cost cutting

Successful companies get to be successful not just by having a great product and sales team, but through the unglamorous job of keeping expenses in line. A good business will cut out unnecessary expenditures and search for better and cheaper ways to get things done.

One freelancer insisted to me that she needed a fax machine and second phone line. When I questioned how many faxes she actually received the number was less than one a month. When you calculated the cost of a fax [maintenance, ink and paper, and a second phone line] it was probably around $30 each or more.

More than likely you can scan your documents and email them. If you think you need a fax use an internet fax service. Although the service only costs $10 a month, over time it’s become increasingly inefficient. Few people send faxes these days and if you really have to send one your local office supply store can do it for you.

You can probably think of any number of cost saving measures that won’t cramp your business or your style. Did you really need the New York Times in the morning when every article [and more] is available on-line? The same goes for the magazines you buy. Nearly all of them are available online or e-versions on your tablet. Many can be obtained free through your local library’s ebook program.

Set a goal to identity common expenses – particularly recurring monthly charges – and decide if you really need the service or the product. If it’s a business expense, decide what it would mean to you if you didn’t have it.

Don’t drive when you can go direct

Do you have clients who insist on seeing you face-to-face? With telephone, e-mail, and Skype video conferencing, you really don’t need to actually drive to their office. The large companies that I’ve worked with never want to see me in person since all the work is begin done remotely.

It’s usually the small – and low margin – clients who want face time. Nudge them toward phone calls and e-mail. If they insist evaluate how much they mean to you fee-wise. I’ve sometimes found that travel expenses turned small jobs into money losers. It might be more profitable to stay at home and forego the job.

Better and faster

One of your greatest money savers can be you. How efficient are you at what you do? Are there graphic design programs that competitors are using, but you’ve only heard about? Research studies find corporation that invest the most in training also tend to have the highest valuations and stock prices. If you aren’t getting training and education, then you may be consigning yourself to the low end of business.

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Your Office Away From The Home Office

Posted by southwrite on June 22, 2014

Man working cupOne reason I started freelancing years ago was to avoid the daily commute to the office. Leaving the confines of a 9 to 5 job, meant setting my own schedule, finding my own work and clients, but most of all not getting in the car (very often) to drive somewhere in traffic that I hated.

So why then am I so fascinated by the coworking spaces that keep cropping up just about everywhere?

The truth is that after you’ve spent a few years in your home office – whether it’s the basement, a spare bedroom, a closet or even a brightly lit sun porch, you begin to miss the regular office. Not everything to be sure. Not the “boss” by any means. If you’re a freelancer than you’re the boss and you don’t like the idea of taking orders from anyone else.

You do find people  and stimulating conversation lacking. Not that you want to be back in the office with the same crew that sometimes made your life miserable. No, you want to talk to other freelancers and the self employed  about ideas. problems or maybe a collaboration.

Many of us feel that way and some are spending at some a few days in coworking locations. These arrangements usually involve a desk, internet access and lots of free coffee. But there’s usually much more. There are networking events in terms of formal programs and t the informal talks that can sometimes lead to something big.

Just getting out of the house for a while can do wonders for your creativity and peace of mind.

As I mentioned earlier, there are now many coworking arrangements. There’s probably one in your town or soon will be. Most have been set up by private companies, but now even city governments are getting into the act. I came across two good examples of coworking in suburban Gwinnett County right outside of Atlanta.

The small town of Grayson converted an old warehouse into a coworking and incubator space. The emphasis here is on fostering the development of new companies, more than providing an office away from the home office for freelancers. The goal is nurture growing companies that can jumpstart economic development in the town, according to Gail Lane, Manager of the Grayson Downtown Development Authority.

The 438 Grayson Parkway building in downtown offers both coworking space and Incubator programs for new businesses. Along with cheap space, the DDA connects the company with local mentors who can help them develop and hopefully avoid some of the problems that can hamper any new enterprise. She says that other professionals find 438 an “ideal for finding a quiet spot to either get some work done, catch up on e-mails with a cup of coffee, or for meeting with clients, having conferences and networking with other entrepreneurs. We’ve found the concept of “Getting out of the house and into Grayson” a overall positive experience for those who are part of our programs.”

The Suite Spot @ Sugar Hill coworking space

The Suite Spot @ Sugar Hill coworking space

In Sugar Hill, freelancers and startup companies are moving into a coworking space created in the old city hall. This marks one of the first times a city government has converted a city hall into a coworking arrangement. In fact, according to city spokesman Scott Andrews the town may be the very  first.

The structure became available after the construction of a new municipal center. Rather than sell off the not quite historic 1970s era property or turn it into a parking lot, city father saw an opportunity to foster development among the estimated 80 percent of local businesses that are home-based. The Suite Spot @ Sugar Hill was born.

“We see it as a business incubator model,” according to Andrews. “We want to get young growing company or home based businesses in there at a very inexpensive rate. Our goal is to have them grow with the city and move on to the other real estate we will have available very soon.”

Still in the process of build-out, more than half of the ten upstairs office spaces have already been spoke for and a tutoring company called Grasp Learning about half of the bottom floor. The front sector of the columned building is set aside for coworking space and will have a “Starbucks feel,” he explained.

“We’re trying to give it the trendy industrial look with glass and metal. Some place that people want to come and hang out and work,” says Andrews.

That’s just the kind of atmosphere that a freelancer  finds inspiriting and a good place for an occasional office away from the home office.



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Pardon my Distration

Posted by southwrite on June 7, 2014

Woman holding clock ice

I’m sitting in church on a Sunday morning. Up at the front of the auditorium, Rev. Alan is talking about what a strange sight it is to see people sitting together and starting intently at their phones – not talking to each other. Social media is making us all very unsociable, he implies. As I listen it takes an effort not to pull out my own phone. Maybe I should have checked-in on Facebook. Are there emails I should read? You never know when you’re going to get an important message form a client – early on a Sunday morning.

I’m not the only one who can’t focus on what is in front of me. I got up early and drove through city traffic to get here as I do just about Sunday because I think it’s important. Once I’m in my seat my focus can easily shift to something else. I think about the assignment I could be working on or the trip out of town that’s coming up later in the week.  I’m distracted.

One large workplace study found that 66 percent of workers can’t focus on one thing at a time. About 70 percent don’t have regular time for creative or strategic thinking while at work. This distraction is causing them to feel disconnected dissatisfied with their worklife even as they devote more and more hours to it.

We all seem to be trying to do too much at once. A couple of decades ago the multi-tasking trend popped up. To be more efficient we were all supposed to do more than one thing at time. A lot of people tried that and the results were obvious – multi-tasking made you less efficient and the results poorer than if you focused on one thing at a time.

Despite all the research bashing most people still seem to believe they should be ably juggling several jobs simultaneously. Maybe it’s because they have too much to do or because no one thing is sufficiently worthy of their time. When I look at my phone don’t really hear the sermon, but I also don’t give the email my full attention either. So the more distracted I am the more distracted I become.

Just like the office workers cited above, I find my distraction slipping over into work. Once again I’m checking and answering emails while on the phone doing interviews. It’s rare that any of these tasks are vital. My energy would be better spent listening to the experts who are sharing their time and expertise with me.

But I can’t stop. Even as I write this post, I’m stopping to look at the layout of an employee newsletter just arrived from the designer while checking notes for another call I’ll be doing in a half hour.

One of the reasons we’re distracted is that we have so much information coming at us all the time. Whether we’re sitting in front of a laptop or an iPhone, we have nearly limitless access to everything that’s on the web. We can read any article, see any video and check in with just about anybody who’s out there. With so much to choose from it’s hard to narrow it down. We’re afraid that we’ll miss out if we don’t immerse ourselves in everything.

No wonder we’re unhappy.

So what can we do? We need to learn again how to focus. The few who are able to do so are more likely to be better at what they do. They get superior results and – not surprisingly they also tend to be happier than the distracted many.

One way to get back to focus is to start small. Try setting a timer (your smartphone has one of course) for a specific period of time – say 20 minutes, but not more than 30. Then commit to working on one thing without distraction. If you need to write, write without editing or second guess yourself. And don’t stop until the timer goes off. Then reward yourself with a distraction – or a cookie.

I use this process and found it makes me much more productive. By giving myself permission to focus for a short period of time, I get much ore done than I would otherwise. So, give it a try and see how it works for you.

The timer method doesn’t have to be just for work. You can set aside a short period of time to do anything without distraction – talking to your partner or playing with your kids are all worthy your undivided attention. You can probably find others.

And, who knows. You may like those undistracted periods so much that they begin become the nrom.

Posted in Culture, Social Media, Working | Tagged: , , | 6 Comments »

Are You Really a Writer if You’re Not a Night Writer?

Posted by southwrite on June 4, 2014

Owl Face

There has been a lot written on when is the best time to write. Some authors will tell you it’s in the morning, first thing, before shower or breakfast or even coffee. Others pack every word into a 9 to 5 schedule just like a day at the office. Still others – and there seems to be lot of them – tell me there’s no writing no writing time like night writing time.

Blogger Jonathan Manor speaks for this group when he says: “The reason that most writers — “good” writers — choose to write at night, is because their mornings, afternoons, and early evenings have filled their bodies with inspiration.”

In other words you need a day of living and experience before you’re going to have anything to write about. That seems obvious. You need knowledge and information. They form the raw materials that are then shaped into stories, articles and books.

I know many of these folks who write in the evenings. The incredibly prolific Jerry Jenkins, author of the Left Behind series of novels, says that he wrote many of his books (which number over 150) after putting his children to bed. In fact, that tidbit comes from his own excellent guide on how to be a professional writer – Writing for the Soul: Instruction and Advice from an Extraordinary Writing Life. The evening can be not only ideal, but the only time to write for those with daytime jobs or children that need to be cared for first.

On the other hand, if you’re like me, and feel wide awake early in the morning (I typically rise by 4 am), but start getting sleepy and sluggish by midafternoon, you might say no way. You need to do all your writing in the morning when you’re fresh. I thought so too, but research says not.

Consider this. In one study subjects were asked to perform six problem-solving tasks at different times of day. Surprisingly, those who self-identified as morning people did better on “insight” oriented problem solving – tasks that required original thinking – in the evening. Night owls’ performance was the opposite. Counterintuitive results to say the least.

The study authors say it’s easier to come up with an original idea or solution to a problem when we’re tired. During these times we’re more open to different information, and are less set on our own preconceived ideas of what’s “right.”

If your writing has come to an impasse, this process might help you find the solution as well.

I’ve tried this process myself, when I needed to tackle a project in the evening and found that sometimes my writing became freer and easier than it did earlier in the day. Of course, that feeling could also stem from the fact that a deadline was bearing down on me. To adapt a phrase: Nothing concentrates the mind of a writer quite like knowing a deadline is near.

For most freelancer writers it can be hard to limit your work to a particular time of day. I frequently have so many projects going on at one time that I have to write when I can in order to make a deadline. The actual writing – particularly for non-fiction – is always a smaller part of the job compared to all the research and interviewing you needs to do to gather information.

I encourage you to experiment with different writing times just to see how it might improve your work. If you’re a night owl try the morning. You early birds stay up late.

And see what happens.

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How to make sure Twitter isn’t a time waster

Posted by southwrite on August 10, 2009

[picapp src=”f/a/6/7/Microblogging_Site_Twitter_ae28.jpg?” width=”500″ height=”354″ /]

“Why should I care what someone had for lunch,” Maxine asked me at a recent writer’s luncheon. “And, why should they care what I ate?”

She was talking about Twitter that social media sensation. What good is it? From her perspective most people just seem to tweet about mundane personal activities such as the quality of the rigatoni. Why should that interest me, she wanted to know, and how is that going to help my business?

Now understand, Maxine is one of the most successful and talented authors I know. She’s published numerous books and articles. She’s serious about her writing as both a craft and business and that’s reflected in an impressive body of published work. She’s also no technophobe as she uses LinkedIn and other web tools. It’s just that constant tweeting that she can’t understand.

 I Twitter regularly so I know social media certainly has the potential to be a tremendous waste of time. It’s easy to compose tweets when you could be polishing a story or sending out a query. There’s nothing magical about these 140-word messages, but it is a tool and it can be a good one for branding and promoting yourself and what you do. To ensure that it’s not a time waser here  are some rules of Twitter that I’ve found work for me.

Before even opening up Twitter you should be asking: what am I accomplishing? If it’s just recreation to keep up with pals then don’t worry about it.  If you’re a serious freelancer you probably want more and here are a few reasons that Twitter may be a boost to your career.

Twitter is a 140 word microblog.

Here at Southwrite I can go on as long as I want – and probably too long – to make a point. On Twitter you have to get to the point and make it interesting. That’s a powerful discipline which can transfer over to your other writing.

Thomas Nelson Inc. CEO Michael Hyatt tweets for more than 35,000 followers and is consistently interesting. He calls it “a backstage pass to my life” through which he promotes his blog posts, shares interesting links and notes his daily running discipline. Clearly he has a large and devoted following that cares about the highpoints of his professional and personal life.

Tweet Your Network

For the freelancer who spends most of his or her time in a home office it’s a way of reaching out to people around the world. Sure, it’s a rather limited conversation sometimes, but it’s still an effective way to build relationships with people you might otherwise never communicate with on a regular basis.

You can build those contacts and then use them as you would face-to-face networking. The people you follow and in turn follow you can help you to find work, a source or a piece of information. They can also support you. I’ll tweet about this blog when it’s posted. I’ll do shoutouts on other things I’ve accomplished because as we know self promotion is usually the only kind we may be getting.

Make Twitter Useful

Of course, Twitter is only as useful as you make it. If you’re only answering the question what are you doing then most people aren’t going to find your tweets very interesting. Unless, of course, you’re embedded with an Army infantry company on the streets of Bagdad. Provide material that is of value to your followers. Just as with any publication people will ask “what’s in it for me?” If you can answer their question with important links, incisive observations and witty quotes then I think you’ll gain lots of followers.

As for my own tweets, I also share some of the high and low points of my life, but I promise they won’t involve food.

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How to be a productive freelancer without giving up Twitter or Starbucks

Posted by southwrite on July 27, 2009

Image by Flickr user tonx. Used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.

Image by Flickr user tonx. Used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.

Virtually every freelancer who was once an office drone knows that he’s getting more done on his own than he ever did in a cube. We were only too happy to say goodbye to the endless meetings and the talkative co-worker next door.

Yet, we also found that a home office has it own time wasting traps. How many of us have gotten to day’s end with little to show. Oh, sure, we tweeted on Twitter, we commented on a Facebook friend’s status, and we cruised Starbucks, but did we finish that assignment?  If not, then we need to look at how we work, what distracts us, and how we can make those distractions help us.

The secret to productivity is to always keep the big picture in mind. Ask yourself: what is my purpose? The bottom line is completing assignments – writing a feature article, finishing a newsletter design or other task. The productive freelancer doesn’t ask ‘what should I do today?’ Instead the question is ‘what do I accomplish?’ The next question is how can I use the tools at my disposal to get to those finished projects?

Fortunately the very things – like Twitter, e-mail, and the like –  that waste our time can also make us more productive. That is if we manage them rather than letting them control us and our time.

1. Restrict your social media calories. Schedule specific times during the day to log onto Twitter or Facebook rather than checking in constantly. Ask yourself what am I trying to get out of each session. Is it to find a source, or a new client? Is to learn more about a particular trend or company? Don’t log on if you don’t have a purpose in mind. 

2. Reset your e-mail clock. The Post Office doesn’t deliver mail every minute and you don’t need to see every message as soon as it arrives. Reset Outlook’s automatic send/receive option to a long interval – say an hour or more. And, turn off the funny sound and icon so they don’t disturb your concentration. If you just have to be available for client e-mail make sure that only true business messages are arriving in your primary mail account. Create a separate Hotmail or Yahoo account for all those newsletter, Facebook and Twitter announcements so they don’t become part of the work day.

3. Make working an appointment. Block out time in your Outlook calendar for work just as you do a client appointment. Set 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. as a “writing appointment.” Then maybe follow it with “Check Facebook 10:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.

 4. Keep regular hours. I know most of us became freelancers so we could set our own hours. We all work best when we pay attention to our individual internal clock. Whether you’re up at 6 a.m. or just getting started at midnight, lock in specific hours that you’re at your desk doing what needs doing. Then stick to your work day/night — whatever those times are for you.

 5. Use technology that works for you – even if it’s not cool. Sure an iPhone is uber-neat technology, but do you really need one? Will a plain old cell phone work just as well? Letting others be trendsetters provides you with more opportunities to do real work. Do you really need a fancy time management program to record your billable hours or will a plain old legal pad do? Setting up software programs can consume more time than they save.

6. Get out of the office on a regular basis. In the beginning of this article I mentioned that daily trip to the coffee shop.  I know the critics say it’s a waste to pay for an overpriced cup of coffee, but there’s more in that cup than java, so don’t give it up. Getting out of the house will provide that change of scene that can re-energize you for more work – not to mention the effects of a shot of caffeine.

Put these suggestions to work and you can tame the technology beast, get more done and still have time for the pleasures that self-employment offers.

[picapp src=”8/8/7/1/Microblogging_Site_Twitter_84b8.jpg?;imageId=5320616″ width=”500″ height=”537″ /]

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