Attacked After Hours: The Curse Of The Smart Phone


Smartphones make freelancing easier. They also make it very much more stressful. Apparently nearly half the freelance workforce relies on their personal phone for business use, which must make drawing the line between life and work tricky for many of us.

With all the best intentions to ignore everything once I’ve shut my computer down for the night, I still can’t seem to stop myself glancing at emails in the evening. I’ve been advised to remove Slack from my phone so that I’m not plagued by work demands in my free time. This is excellent advice, but I haven’t done it yet: much as I hate it, it can actually be really useful, if I’m out and about, to see what I need to deal with when I get home. But that pesky ‘ding’ after hours is like an itch demanding to be scratched. I can actually almost feel it physically, the little red icon of a notification taunting me every time I look at my phone. It’s not even that I feel I should be working when I see it – it’s more that I want to know what it is and why it’s creating an unsolicited to-do list for me.

Being able to see emails and messages when I’m watching a film or climbing a hill is not useful to me. It doesn’t make me more productive; it doesn’t change my working habits. So why can’t I stop myself from looking? Why can’t I bring myself to get rid of the Slack app and leave it on my desktop for office hours?

The smartphone is, in many ways, a great asset to the freelancer, but it’s also a curse. And, just as giving in to the urge to scratch an itch is nearly always a bad idea, giving in to the demands of the phone rarely leads to anything that you couldn’t have done better if you’d left it until the morning.

Taking Time To Power Up


Just as I know that getting more sleep would be good for me and somehow still don’t prioritise it, I know I should read more. You get out what you put in, be that to your mind, your body or your piggy bank. Wide reading is the fuel for good writing, and I know how important it is to do it; to constantly be learning and growing and fuelling the desire to write. But, just like going to bed earlier, it falls down the priority list easily. It feels like an indulgence; a treat; something to do to relax rather than a crucial component of developing as a writer. Finding work; doing work; staying on top of admin: that all feels more important, and somehow reading, for me, has slipped to become a weekend morning treat.

I love reading. The world is full of books that I want to read, and the rational part of my mind knows that reading them is good for me, both personally and professionally. I also know that sleeping more would make me a healthier and more productive person, yet still I don’t go to bed early enough. So how do we find the balance? How do we allow ourselves to accept that sometimes down time is part of on-it time? While the responsibility is ultimately on me, I can’t help but think it’s a cultural problem, part and parcel of trying to survive under capitalism. So urgent is the need to earn, and so engrained is the idea that we need to work all the time, that unpicking the stitches is difficult. Studies suggest that a shorter working day would lead to more productivity for businesses, allowing workers to be properly rested and fully engaged during the hours they’re on the job. I’m a big believer in working less and living more, and I know how important it is to fuel the fire. But still…

With reading, the short-term answer for me might be audiobooks. I’ve only tried a free one so far; I haven’t yet committed to a subscription. But listening to an audiobook in transition between one place and another seems like it might be the best solution for me, at least until I can find a better balance within the waking hours I have available. It’s a plaster on a wound that needs to heal properly, but sometimes dressing the wound is the best you can do in the moment.

As for sleep, that’s still a work in a progress.

Battling The Inbox


I have an inbox full of newsletters. Sometimes I do a bit of a clear-out, but there are a few that remain relevant, a few that I can’t justify unsubscribing from. So they sit there, and they build up. And occasionally, over lunch perhaps, I go through and find out how many deadlines I’ve missed.

The newsletters I keep are ones that link me to relevant, writing-related blogs and articles; they’re ones that list competitions; they’re ones that provide writers with advice; and they’re ones that list job opportunities. I also have a Mslexia subscription that arrives every few months and sits on my desk begging me to read it. I want to read all these things. They’re useful, and when I manage to do them in time, I nearly always find useful opportunities and tips. But how do you schedule these things in? They might lead to things that will generate an income, but they might not, and investing the time to read through them all and then follow up on things that need action can take a lot of time away from the working day. And I’ll be dammed if I’m going to read newsletters in the evening when I could be curled up on the sofa watching The Good Fight.

The answer, I think, is to carve out a chunk of time each day to go through the most pressing material: the job opportunities. Competitions can be done maybe once a week, or once every couple of weeks. But reading other writers’ blogs and news is something I’ve yet to figure out. I think what I’d like to do is set aside a half day once a week for general industry research; reading those things would slot into that time. But keeping a well-managed inbox is a challenge for most people, I think, and newsletters, while useful, are amongst the trickiest to keep on top of.

The Daily Jigsaw


One of the first challenges I faced as a freelancer was how to structure my day. I’ve spent all of my working life, in one way or another, tied to primary school life: there have been clear start and end times, and there’s never been any flexibility. If I wanted to go for a run, I’d do it before work. If I wanted to go swimming or shopping, or pop to the bank, I’d do it after work. Now I don’t have to do that: any of those things can happen in the middle of the day, if I like. And I do like. I love an empty swimming pool or a quiet towpath, and so I’ve been structuring my day, by and large, in two shifts: I work in the morning; I have a long break in the middle of the day; and then I work again until about 7pm. It’s one of my favourite things about my new life, and if I have to go back to normal work day structure, I’ll really miss it.

I actually thought that the tricky thing about structuring my own work day would be making myself do the work. The reality is, I’m too anxious not to have a strong work ethic, and so I have no trouble with this at all… my problem is not working. I’m pretty good at making sure I have one day off a week (usually!) but rarely do I feel like I can justify more than this. Balance is something I have to strive for going forwards. It’s tricky here at the beginning of the journey though: while I’m still trying to build up work and earn enough to get by in the process, I feel that I should be working all the time. Even my big break in the middle of the day feels over-indulgent sometimes, even though I know I’m clocking enough hours throughout the day.

The other element I struggle with is balancing projects. It’s quite helpful that I have a set editing commitment Monday to Thursday, and this is a job that requires a defined amount of time. But other projects, I struggle to timetable efficiently. How much time a day should I give this project? Would it be better to spend two solid days on that one? Am I spending too much time on this job? When I was at school, if a thing didn’t get done within the working day, it would simply have to be picked up again the next day. This doesn’t always work out in my new life: now, if something doesn’t get finished in the time I put aside for it, it’s on me, and it has an impact on other projects. Luckily, my work ethic means that it’s only me that suffers when I get it wrong. I will always deliver on time. I just might miss out on an evening or have to work solidly all weekend to achieve it. I hope this is something I’ll get better at going forwards.

Apart from when it doesn’t work and I have to abandon all my plans to hit a deadline, I strive for this by implementing certain rules for myself: I have to stop by 7pm; I have to go out in the world every day; I have to exercise every day: these are the ways I protect my physical and mental health and aim to draw the line between work and life. But it doesn’t work if I haven’t balanced the projects well. Hopefully, as I move forwards, I’ll begin to get a better feel for how long a job will take me and how best to fit the pieces of the day together to complete the puzzle. But for now, this is a work in progress, and one of the biggest challenges I face as I begin my freelance journey.