A Freelancer’s Month of Getting Nothing Accomplished

What I’m listening to: When September Ends by Green Day

It’s been a rough September.

Dad is ill.

Mom broke her knee.

The stepson, his wife and kids (ages 2 and 3 months) have descended on the house and show no signs of departure (which I normally don’t mind, but it’s been a week and I’m too overwhelmed for it).

I had too many deadlines on the same damn day.

I have plenty of other, non-work stuff getting in the way of all of it.

Let’s just say since the eclipse, I’ve had no rest whatsoever.

It must be going around. Jenn Mattern wrote about Freelance Writing When You Just Don’t Give a Damn a few weeks ago.

I’m there.

I’m right there.

That’s when, as Jenn put it on her blog, you just set your priorities. Jenn, whom you know helped out immensely here on the blog as my shit storm was hitting gale force, mixes it up to make things more interesting when you just don’t want to be writing.

But when you can’t? What then?

Break the day into segments.

Those times I’m here without people around, I find myself checking Facebook, fitting in a few games of Solitaire, doing some online shopping, reading Twitter and the blogs…

Right there is permission to use that time instead to regroup, particularly with a toddler and a baby in the house (and they scream when they want to, so I can’t really schedule that). When three sets of doors are shut between us and the fan isn’t even drowning out the noise, I give myself permission to get up and escape. I still get work done, and almost more of it because when I sit down, I’m much more focused.

Re-evaluate deadlines and workloads.

This week, I had seven things to accomplish. Only, there was no way that was happening. So I opted for five. The other two? I knew I could hold off until Monday because they weren’t due this week — I was just being an overachiever. So I spent the mornings working on the hard stuff (when the kids were most calm) and the afternoons on the smaller, easier projects. A surprising thing happened — tomorrow, I will finish that seventh thing. The time was there after I’d reordered my days.

Decline work.

With one client who’d offered two projects, I knew I couldn’t do both. The tank is nearly empty. So I accepted the one I knew I could get to and said no to the other one. I’d said yes to a friend’s request to be part of a proposal they were putting together. I didn’t regret it, but my weekends were in jeopardy. As it happened, the client rejected the proposal, so saying yes didn’t put my back to the wall this time.

Plan for the unexpected.

My dad’s health is precarious at best. I have to be ready to jump in the car and drive, so I’m working hard to get work done ahead of schedule (hence the trying to cram it all into one week). I could be called at any moment, and I’m ready for it. The work can come along, but the less of it to take, the better. It takes just a little more effort to put yourself in a place where the work will be handled, even in an emergency situation. And there are other writers already on speed dial should I need to drop out for a while.

Get the hell out of Dodge.

The reason I turned down work was simple — I’m finally taking a much-needed vacation. Every single one so far this year (and they’ve been snippets of weeks, not full weeks) has been working time off. So there’s an actual vacation — with a rental property and everything — in my immediate future. No laptops. No client calls. No anything other than a beach, a book, and walking shoes.

Writers, have you ever had to work with constant pulls on your time and focus? How did you handle it?


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  • Cathy Miller September 29, 2017 at 9:56 am

    Oh no, Lori. I didn’t know your mom broke her knee. What is it about fate burying us at all at once? As the caregiver for my mom, the constant pull on my time and loss of focus is continuous.

    For organized people like us, Lori, it is difficult to move past our plans for getting work done. But, I always say the best thing about plans is you can change them. Once I got away from being so locked into my plans (like when I do what), the rest became much more manageable.

    I do the bulk of my work in the early morning when Mom is still sleeping. I don’t ever schedule a call on Thursday mornings when Mom has an ongoing weekly appointment. I adjust my walking time to the weather and Mom’s needs. And then I change it all up when I have to.

    I view it as no big deal (which, trust me, was not always the case). It’s called life and, yes, it’s hard, but I think we make it harder on ourselves than we need to. I am so glad you are finding what works for you. Lori, and I hope you embrace your time off. Hugs, my friend.

    • lwidmer October 2, 2017 at 8:28 am

      Great advice, Cathy. I really do get locked in, and it’s a good reminder that I am able to adjust. 🙂

      Yes, my mom broke her knee. Long, strange story that ends with her getting her leg wrapped around a raspberry bramble and her hitting the ground, knee first. She’s in a walking brace and healing.

  • Paula Hendrickson September 29, 2017 at 11:56 am

    Your mom broke her knee, too? I think your family is going through the Cascade Effect where just when you think things can’t get worse, they do.

    I’m in a similar situation, but thankfully not in a caretaker position. Yesterday one family member landed in the hospital (he said he feels fine, but since he’s going through chemo the docs wanted to err on the safe side, thank goodness) and another family member is having major back issues. I spent yesterday making sure I didn’t take for granted that I was the only sibling who COULD vacuum and do yard work and do all the things I complain about having to do.

    I also broke my keyboard last week, which put me a couple days on transcribing and writing. I had deadlines Monday and Tuesday, but thankfully my editors understood and gave me more time. I turned Monday’s piece in Wednesday and plan to finish the other today. Tuesday was spend getting started on another project, which is busy work at the start because I have to ask several dozen people for information before I can start writing. I also have another article due a week from today.

    Oh, and my dog somehow got fleas despite being on a flea preventative, so add in at least one hour a day of extra cleaning time—and a dog bath today—because the vet said I can’t change her to a different preventative until I would have applied her next dose of the ineffective one (which will be October 11).

    Somehow, knock on wood, I’m keeping up with things. Soon I’ll be caught up enough to focus on next week’s article.

    If nothing else, Lori, times when family issues and work issues collide like this really force us to prioritize and learn to focus amidst chaos. (Not counting toddlers and babies. But maybe playing with them would be a nice break for you – kind of like doggie walks are for me.)

    Hope your dad is comfortable and that your mom heals quickly! (Remember, my sister broke her knee really badly last year, so if your mom needs any coping tips my sister is bound to have some to share.)

    • lwidmer October 2, 2017 at 8:30 am

      Dad is comfortable. Complaining, but that’s boredom talking. It’s so hard seeing him down like this, so I understand how he feels. He used to putter constantly — fix things, make things, enjoy his retirement. Not much joy left right now.

  • Mary Schneider September 30, 2017 at 12:14 am

    I’m there.
    A wedding. (Adult) kid having an emotional meltdown. Beloved facing some (thankfully fairly minor) health challenges, and a fairly major health decision (whether or not to have a surgery.)
    A 200yo farmhouse that seems to be falling apart around me some days.
    Foster kittens and cats.
    One. Thing. After. Another!

    Thanks for letting us know we’re not alone.

    For what it’s worth, I’ve been praying for you and your family since learning your dad is ill. <3

    • lwidmer October 2, 2017 at 8:31 am

      It’s worth a lot, Mary. Thank you. I’m sorry you’re going through a bit of turmoil yourself! My prayers for your family member’s health to improve.

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