Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Why I Think Most Productivity Advice for Creative Freelancers Is Complete Bullshit

If you're someone who only knows me through my professional writing, then you'd seriously never guess at what kind of person I really am underneath. You also would be unlikely to guess in a million years what my real writing habits and personal philosophies actually happen to be.

I get paid to write a lot of resource content that gives people advice on how to be productive at work, especially if they work for themselves or write professionally at home. I always say the same things time and time again because they're what "society" expects and wants to hear. However, I personally think it's all bullshit that doesn't really work... at least not if you're a creative, free-spirited sort like myself who only even writes the things that you do because you have to make a living.

That said, I think it's time I wrote an article on how to be productive that actually works for artistic types and pokes holes in all the standard advice you constantly hear, so if you're someone who actually considers themselves to be a business writer, a copywriter, or a technical writer at heart instead of a poet, a storyteller, or an artist who's just trying to keep the bills paid? Go read someone else's article. This one isn't for you and you won't understand a damn word I have to say.


"Work a standard 9 to 5 schedule even if you work for yourself at home."

This is one of the stupidest pieces of advice I've ever heard spewed in the direction of the creative freelancer. Unless you happen to be someone for whom a standard 9 to 5 business schedule actually works, then don't buy into the incredible load of hooey that all productive people get up early and start working first thing in the morning. Instead, ask yourself when you actually feel the most alert and produce your best work. If you're like most creative types (myself included), that's likely to be at night -- possibly very late at night. That's when you should be working -- when you're naturally at your most productive.

I'm a night owl, so that 9 to 5 bull crap everyone else considers ideal doesn't fly with me. I like to sleep in the mornings and typically am up writing and/or working in the afternoons, evenings, and -- sometimes -- late nights if my schedule is very full. My clients typically hate this because they would prefer to receive their deliveries in their inbox at the end of their business day, not mine. They want me up at 6 or 7 AM, ready and willing to give them instant responses to their e-mails, not out of touch altogether. 

You know what though? That's too effing bad. I'm the boss, not them. That means that I make the rules and other people can like them or lump them. I'm willing to try to accommodate people's needs, but only within reason and only as my personal schedule allows. Basically, if people want to work with me, they have to be willing to accept my oddball schedule as something that comes with the package.

"Put on business attire for work each day and work only at a desk the same as you would at a traditional job."

What type of anal retentive douche bag actually does this? More importantly, who on earth would actually want to associate with such a person? Seriously, I freelance instead of working a day job expressly to get away from nonsense like that. I hated having to get all dressed up every day just to go to work and I know I'm far from the only person on this planet that feels that way. I am at my best when I'm actually comfortable, especially when it comes to clothing. I never, ever dress up to sit around and type on my computer in my house by myself, I never will, and I'm proud of that.

Instead, I wear whatever I please. Some days that's an actual outfit with minimal make-up or something, but far more often it's just leggings, a big t-shirt, and my natural face -- a combination that's comfortable, as opposed to restricting. Occasionally, I don't even bother to put on pants to start (or even finish) my work day. I'm certainly not wearing any today and you know what? I actually feel more open to the idea of being productive and putting in a proper work day because of it, not less.

The same goes for the environment in which you work. I have a desk. Sometimes I set my laptop and work accessories up on the desk and work there... but often, I'm happier stretched out on my bed or sitting on the couch all casual like. Occasionally, I also like the distraction of some television on in the background or some of my favorite music. I'm really not what you would call a natural work horse, so the more I can make work time fun, comfortable, or casual, the better my attitude is about actually buckling down and getting things done.

"Schedule your lunch, schedule your breaks, and schedule every last minute of your work day."

Yeah, a big "no thanks" to that as well! As was the case with the completely unnecessary business attire and "proper" work area, I left my day job behind so I wouldn't have to work according to someone else's schedule anymore. I guess I just don't understand doing things without actual good reasons. In a real office environment, there are reasons why lunch hours and breaks are set up according to a strict schedule. You can't have everyone out of the office at one time or the place will fall apart.

However, when you work at home and are a complete one-man show, there's absolutely no need to abide by such stupid rules. Instead, try actually taking advantage of the fact that you work for yourself and making your own. I take my lunch when I'm at a good stopping point with my assignments for the day and when I'm actually hungry -- you know, when it makes sense to take lunch. I take breaks when I need them... period. Eating via a schedule instead of listening to your body and eating when you're actually hungry is a good way to wind up ginormously fat anyway, but I'm not even going to go off on that tangent right now. (Maybe in my food blog when I get around to updating that next.)

Footnotes on Scheduling

The only exception I would say I find it positive to make with scheduling is in regards to the days and times clients are allowed to contact you expecting you to work. I would actually prefer to just take days off as needed or wanted -- and I used to do that -- but in practice, it didn't work at all and I'll tell you why. After a while, I just got too busy and had too many clients on my roster. Without any boundaries or business hours they were expected to adhere to, not a single one of them seemed to see any reason why I shouldn't be at their beck and call literally 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.

That's actually when and why I started taking every weekend off. I also sorta-kinda have business hours now, at least in regards to when clients can contact me and actually expect an answer -- roughly 1:00 in the afternoon to about 9:00 at night. I might well be online working outside of those hours, but that's going to be completely at my discretion and it certainly won't be something I make known to other people.

Clients in particular are not allowed to contact me, drop assignments on my plate expecting them to be done by morning, or anything else. I tried being accommodating and answering clients as soon as I got their e-mails -- even if it was late at night, on the weekends, or over a holiday. That quickly led to this huge sense of entitlement on the part of those same clients... and when I say "huge", I'm not exaggerating by any means.

Before I knew it, I had people thinking it was OK to contact me at 10 or 11 on a Friday night with a 6000-word order they just didn't bother to ask me about sooner, totally expecting me to be on board with working on it through the night so that they could have it by morning. I'd also frequently wake up to e-mails and offline instant messages from clients who apparently tried to get a hold of me at 4 in the fucking morning and were actually pissed off that they didn't get an immediate response back. These same people who felt it should be all right to contact me that late at night also regularly expressed irritation that my being up at odd hours wasn't in addition to my also being awake and available at 7 or 8 AM when they were starting their days.

Yes, you are reading that correctly. My clients -- all of my clients -- literally reached a level of entitlement where they expected me to never need a day off, never have other plans, and never even need to sleep. I basically existed in their minds expressly to take care of their content and any failure on my part to drop everything else on my schedule for them (including family plans on major holidays like Christmas) was met with complete open annoyance.

If you don't want the same thing to happen to you eventually, I suggest you set strict boundaries with your schedule and demand that your clients respect them from the get-go. You'll be glad you did when you get to a place where you're busy enough that you're actually unable to take on every client or assignment that lands in your lap.

In Conclusion

At the end of the day, you went into business for yourself instead of sticking with your shitty office job for a reason and I doubt it was the peanut-pay most of us creative freelancers wind up living on. I'm betting that you're at least a little bit like me and wanted more freedom to make your own rules as far as how and when you work. Take advantage of that and set rules that actually work for you. It makes a huge difference when it comes to your quality of life, especially when it comes to avoiding burnout and other such situations.