“There cannot be a crisis next week. My schedule is already full.” ~ Henry Kissinger
A “crisis” doesn’t have to mean a major war or a major accident. If you’re like me, it’s crisis enough to hear your e-mail beep when you’re rushing to finish the post you THOUGHT you’d left plenty of time to write. The freelance blogging vocation is full of emotional hells born from underestimating working time and overestimating life’s cooperation with your schedule.
Anger over that can hurt you mentally and physically. It can also hurt you professionally, if it poisons your overall attitude toward “interruptions.”
Opportunity Was Knocking, But I Resented the Noise
Have you ever had a potential high-paying client call out of the blue, and blown the opportunity because your brain was locked into a “Plan A” that brooked no alterations? I have. Silently fuming over the upset in how I expected things to go, I fumbled any show of enthusiasm and radiated the attitude “take your business elsewhere.” They usually did.
Actually, this is part of freelancing’s learning curve. The self-employed life, with its limited income guarantees and potential dozen-plus “bosses,” is a constant balancing act between doing your best at everything that needs doing, and leaving room on the to-do list for new opportunities. If you aren’t careful, overcommitting on “Plan A” can rob you of a “Plan B” that might serve everyone far better.
“But I Promised Myself!”
First, though, consider your overall attitude toward “Plan A vs. Plan B” conflicts. Creative and entrepreneurial people (which freelance bloggers certainly are) have a higher-than-average level of autism and other diagnosable mental issues. Believe it or not, mental problems can come with advantages: greater ability to think outside the box, perseverance in sticking to tasks, unusual levels of creativity.
Still, if not properly managed, these traits can turn into stubbornness, self-centeredness, and easy discouragement. I know how it feels to “count on” Plan A even when all logic proves it’s dispensable. Putting aside anything already on the to-do list doesn’t feel like just a course correction—more like an attack on your pride, your self-worth, your sense of completeness and covering everything. (Maybe part of the appeal of blogging is it’s less likely than traditional article writing to come with maximum-number-of-words requirements?)
If you recognize such intense emotional reactions in yourself, the best advice I can give you is to seek individual-specific advice from a therapist. The rest of this post is for those who have escaped the more obsessive aspects of overload, or are already managing them successfully.
“I’m Busy, Don’t Bother Me with a Better Idea”
A corollary to the Law of Attraction is that people sense the attitude behind what you say (and write) — and they react accordingly. If you’re thinking, “I don’t want new responsibilities cluttering my schedule,” potential clients will feel that you resent them and wouldn’t be much fun to work with.
Often, a “don’t interrupt me” or “let’s get this over with” attitude will creep in without your noticing. To purge your verbal and written communications of that tone:
- Begin every work day by affirming, “I am here to bless and be blessed by everyone I can help.”
- Ask a trusted mentor or friend to evaluate your communications.
- Include a couple of in-person networking events in each week’s schedule. Practice seeing how people react to what you say.
- Take regular breaks every work day—including a full lunch away from the computer. Hunger and fatigue bring out irritability in everyone.
- Smile while you work! It really helps.
- Allow some margin in your schedule. Don’t feel obligated to stuff every available time slot with something “productive.” Success also requires down time and “just thinking” time.
Are You an Overplanner?
The concept of not overstuffing the schedule deserves extra attention. On the one hand, entering freelance blogging with no business plan means you will likely become one of those put-upon bloggers who grab whatever work they can easily find, never learn to seek out three-figure jobs, and make themselves miserable writing for pennies because they lack ideas or credentials for moving up to anything better.
On the other hand, many writers who know exactly how many posts to write, and how many hours to work, are bundles of frustrated irritability. No matter if they’re sick or called for jury duty, or if the computer quits: if they can’t make room for every regular task in every day’s work, the whole week is ruined. These are often the people who make sustainable income from “content mill” writing—at the price of hammering out 100 posts per month at assembly-line speed, leaving no time or energy for developing better writing skills or long-term plans — and are afraid to risk the less predictable world of better-paying jobs.
Here are signs you may be planning too much and achieving too little:
- Regardless of actual hours worked, you never feel you have enough time.
- You feel that the larger world owes you “cooperation” after all the work you put into planning.
- Every line on every day of your calendar is filled weeks in advance.
- You spend more time planning than carrying out plans. When you hit a roadblock, your first thought is to scrap the whole plan and look for a more foolproof one.
- You feel listless and depressed when there’s nothing “productive” to do.
If that description fits you, it’s time to re-evaluate your planning approach, talk to a business coach, or study essentialism principles — and probably to pick one marketing approach and have someone hold you accountable for sticking to it over a minimum of three months.
And When You Do Get Solid Long-Term Work …
It may seem contradictory that the same person can cling desperately to tiny details, and change course on a whim with larger-scale plans. But most people with obsessive tendencies are perfectionists—and perfectionists value quick results. So if results don’t happen quickly, the perfectionist rarely wants to wait longer: it’s easier to try something new that might gratify more instantly.
However, once perfectionists do find an approach that yields consistently acceptable results, they’re happy to live by it indefinitely — which means they feel most comfortable with long-term contracts that offer consistent levels of work and pay. If that’s you, probably one thing that attracted you to blogging was that clients need new posts on a regular basis and are glad to offer guaranteed work on a set schedule. It can be mutually beneficial: such a writer rarely misses deadlines.
The primary danger is you can overcommit yourself, especially if your first clients are relatively low payers. If you jump at every offer of $100 per 1,000-word weekly post, you may find that three clients on that level fill up all your work time for what amounts to a below-middle-class income — and if you’ve signed twelve-month contracts with each of them, you may feel pretty stuck, and pretty bitter, when someone offers you the same sort of work at three times the pay. Even if all your contracts are high-paying — adding up to $50,000 or more a year — consider what might happen if you took a “set for life” attitude toward that and put aside all marketing and networking — and then someone decided not to renew a contract, leaving you with a sudden hole in your budget and no idea of how to fill it.
By all means consider long-term contract work, but manage it by the following principles:
- Have two budgets, one to fit your current income and one waiting in the wings in case of sudden loss of income.
- Put at least 10 percent of your earnings into savings.
- Never allow credit-card debt to accumulate.
- Negotiate blogging contracts carefully. With first-time clients, consider whether it might be better to start on a pay-per-project basis, or a shorter-term contract period, until you both know you work well together.
- Plan on 10–25 percent of your income coming from one-time jobs and semi-regular clients.
- Market yourself to large organizations with active content-marketing departments; they pay the best and offer the best mutual advantages, including the likelihood of having extra projects available when your other income sources are slow.
- No matter how much you’re making, never let marketing and networking slide completely. Remember, you won’t get severance pay when a freelance client doesn’t need you anymore.
Of course, not all sudden income changes are for the worse. You may suddenly be getting one new request after another, all unexpected, all high-paying — and all terrifying. When interruptions and course corrections reach unprecedented heights, it’s a sign your blogging career is ready to take a step forward.
It’s a good problem to have, but all significant change comes with stress. Will you be able to meet the higher expectations that come with higher pay? Will you wind up with more work than you can handle? Will you have to let some longtime clients go — and how can you do that without hard feelings?
At this stage, it’s time to take your old Plan B and Plan A and merge the best of both into a new Plan A (and the second best into a new Plan B). To weather the special challenges of transition, make sure you also:
- Take good care of yourself. When life is overloaded with new activities, it’s easy to neglect exercise, sleep, and healthy eating — DON’T. You need the best of your physical strength, now more than ever.
- Consider trade-offs. Don’t make “higher pay” your sole criterion for decisions. Know what changes may be needed in your working and non-working schedules, and how you’ll budget the new income.
- Get input from everyone who may be affected by the change, especially your family. You may need to rearrange chores, mealtimes, and other routines; you’ll almost certainly have to make extra effort to keep relationships strong. And your loved ones need to know you value their opinions.
- Remember that, no matter what happens, you aren’t in full control of your world. This is valuable advice at any time, and transitional periods deserve thanks for reminding us. Most people’s tendency is to demand that the world change so they won’t have to — the exact opposite of managing what you can control and rolling with what you can’t. You’ll be a lot happier, and more successful as a freelance blogger, if you concentrate on maximizing your best traits and using them to meet the real needs of each new situation.
And remember: wise planning is a virtue, but demanding complete control is a vice.