Know your limits by setting them

Today I started around 7am, I’m going to write until about 4pm, then I’ve various errands I need to do and I’ll cook at maybe 6:30pm. That’s nice.


This is new. It’s new for me or at least it’s fairly new since I lost my biggest single client as a freelance writer. Wait – I’ve just looked that up: it was three years ago next month. Unbelievable. Is that really right? Only three? Feels like a decade. It seemed like such a bad day at the time but, wow, I wish it had happened sooner.

Anyway, having a big regular client gives you structure in two ways, doesn’t it? There is the time you have agreed or are contracted to work with them. That stops you doing anything else, gloriously it also removes the churning as you think constantly about what is the best thing you could be doing right now. What can you do this minute that will help you? Nothing. You’re committed, you’re contracted. Stop churning, get working.

This type of contract also defines the rest of your time: it is the bits when you’re not working for them and so therefore must get all your other work done. What is the best thing to do at this minute? Work.

When that contract goes and you’re suddenly doing much more irregular and many, many, many more jobs all at once, the structure of your working life changes. I’d say for the better: I have come to adore jumping from one job to another, switching tasks a dozen times a day. Do note that I say switching: I will always and forever do one thing and then do the other, I will not attempt multitasking. I’ve learnt that much at least.

However, switching and jumping plus irregular and many, many, many more jobs does rather mean that you can be always working. I like this. I like this a lot.

But I have felt overwhelmed this year and when I’m being close to nasty about how good or bad my work is, I can’t help but note that longer days do not get better results.

So yesterday I tried laying out one hour on this, one hour on that, plus not checking emails until the top of the hour. This is all stuff I advocated in my book The Blank Screen and it is all stuff that I have learnt to do, that I have regularly done. But somehow doing it again in the midst of feeling under water, it helped even more.

I’m trying it again today. It means I know what I’m doing for the next several hours and I know when I’m stopping. Which means that for once I can tell you I will be having a very good time tonight relaxing with a copy of Pride and Prejudice.

I’m actually looking forward to that. The evening is now a thing to look forward to instead of just a different set of numbers on the clock.

Happy for me, isn’t it? But I hope you can do this too. Right up to re-reading P&P, though get your own copy. Obviously.

Crisis talks #5: did it work?

Yes. Compared to the start of the week, I am back working and back at least knowing exactly what I’ve got to do.

I’m not there yet and there is much still to do to repair the damage from delays, much to get me ahead again, much enough waiting for me that there are people who won’t believe I’m back.

I am, though, and as well as feeling better from the cold slipping away (after a month) I am feeling better for being on top of more things.

Not everything, not yet. But more. Nearly most.

Listen, this series has been an attempt to show you how to restart when everything has fallen down and you’re overwhelmed. I’d like to end it by telling you three lessons I’ve learnt:

Don’t hide from your To Do list. Especially not if it’s OmniFocus. Be more ruthless about what work you do and don’t take on
Take time off before you have to

They’re hard-won lessons but they’re won.

Crisis talks #2: Spokes in the wheel

I spent yesterday writing by the living room fire. Took my little Monday list and did maybe half of it. Didn’t do the tough one-hour job.

Caught up with one project, though just about the moment I did that, I was already behind on it again.

If I do this again today, I’ll be just about on schedule for that one project for this week too. So the plan on this Get Back to Work shtick is to do that. Sit by fire, write, catch up.

I will also have to do the tough hour.

But then I hope to spend this afternoon reviewing all my OmniFocus projects and getting back on track with the countless other things.

So. Lessons from yesterday. Doing anything at all is better than not.

More on being your own boss at work

Lisa Dill, a recruiter and trainer, has written a Digital Professional Institute article about how to impress your boss and I think her last one is precisely what I’ve been going on about today here and in the newsletter.

Here’s Dill’s take:

I’m sure we all want to be the individual in the office with the next great idea. Occasionally we may even find ourselves daydreaming about how to make certain aspects of what our company does better overall. Then, all of a sudden it hits you, and you’re ready to present your next big idea. Before you do, pause, think it through, and then bring it to your boss with a plan in mind of how you’d recommend getting it done. Ideas are one thing, but making them a reality is entirely different. Presenting your boss with a game plan is going to demonstrate to her that you don’t just have good ideas, but you can put them into action. This provides her with one less thing to think about in regard to how to get something accomplished, but it also gives you ownership of seeing your idea through and the praise when it’s implemented successfully.

Five Simple Ways to Wow Your Boss – Lisa Dill, Digital Professional Institute (undated)

Read the full piece for more specific advice on handling yourself at work.

Nervous habit

few minutes before you step into the situation that makes you nervous slow down. Walk slower to the meeting place. Move slower. Even stop for a minute if you like and stand still.

Then breathe through your nose. Take a little deeper breaths than you usually do. Make sure you breathe with your belly. Not with your chest (a common problem when people get stressed or nervous).

How to Overcome Nervousness: 7 Simple Habits – Henrik Edberg, Positivity Blog (5 November 2014)

Read the full piece.