Lessons Learned: One Year On My Own

shutterstock_344193899

It is one year today since I started working as a freelancer full-time. I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on the year and the lessons learned.

This time last year I had just come back from a trip to visit my lovely sister in LA. I had seen her living her freelance composer life and had been very impressed. Now it was my turn.

I had big plans. My freelance life consists of three businesses: the Ruth Amos author business (non-fiction), the R. J. Amos author business (fiction), and the Fix My English business (editing). The idea was that the editing would help pay the bills as the author businesses got off the ground. I had listened to a lot of podcasts and read a lot of books and I was eager to put it all into practice.

And it’s been a fantastic year.

There have been ups and downs – I wouldn’t recommend losing all thyroid functionality in the first year of starting your own businesses for one thing. But it’s been a joy to be able to run with my ideas, to see where they lead me, to experiment and try new things. I have launched two books in the last twelve months, both big highlights of the year for me. I don’t think that I have it all figured out by any stretch of the imagination, and I’ve heard that the second year of full-time life at home is more difficult than the first. I guess we’ll see. I’ll let you know this time next year.

Anyway, here are some lessons I have learned in the last year:

1) Having backup savings is really important.

Every piece of advice you see when you’re thinking of going freelance tells you to have at least three-months and even six-months worth of expenses saved. I could not agree more. It has been a great comfort in the lean times (like over the summer where I didn’t get an editing job for four straight months) to know that there’s a cushion to fall back on. It takes the pressure off and allows you to be creative in your activities and to think more long-term when you are planning your future undertakings. It takes away the panic, and we know that panic leads to bad decision-making.

the writing den

2) Streamline Online.

All of my work is performed on the internet. Without the internet I wouldn’t have any of my businesses. This has meant that I have needed to learn some online marketing techniques. And it was around January when I realised that the editing online personality I was trying to build was different from the author online personalities and that one of them had to go.

I tried keeping the editing on LinkedIn and just advertising the author businesses on Facebook and Twitter. That worked better, but it was a lot of marketing work for very little return.

In the end I decided to go a different route for my editing business, working with other businesses who source the work (academic and technical editing) and not trying to do all the marketing myself. This was less satisfying than doing it all by myself, but I had to decide which business I wanted to build up, and that is my writing, of course. I just had to let go of some pride.

So now I am myself on social media, like I am myself in my books. A bit silly, hopefully fun, caring about my friends, sharing ups and downs, sharing about God.

And as far as the editing is concerned, well, now that I’m not trying to do it all myself, I’m actually getting work and managing to make some money. So that turned out to be the right decision.

time money

3) Flexible time does not mean unlimited time.

I was very fortunate coming into this work that I had been trained as an academic. In the work I had done before I didn’t have anyone clocking me in or out, I was responsible for getting the work done. Working for myself was similar, and I knew how to discipline myself to focus. I have not been spending my days lost in social media, YouTube, or Netflix as some warned me I might be. But I have enjoyed the flexibility of being able to get out for a coffee with my friends and doing extra activities at church during the day.

When the editing load was light, this was fine. But as my business has grown and the workload has increased I have realised that I need to be much more careful with my extra-curricular activities. I think I need to read ‘My Year of Saying No’ again, prioritise, and then say no to some of my activities.

Priorities

Related to this:

4) Book holidays first.

The year has a rhythm. Unfortunately in Year One you don’t know what that rhythm is. As the year passed I didn’t know when would be a good time for holidays so I didn’t book any. In freelance work, if you don’t have work to do for a client, then you have work to do to get the next client. I just kept going with the writing, marketing, editing, podcasting, all the bits and pieces that just roll on week by week. This, of course, has led to me feeling very tired and lately I have realised what a bad idea a holiday-less year is. So I have now booked myself two weeks of holidays to be taken in a few months time when the Very Big Editing Job I’m working on now will be finished.

I have a bit clearer idea of what the rhythm of the year is like now, but even if the next year turns out to be full of opportunities for the whole 52 weeks, I realise now that I don’t have to take all of them. I will be booking holidays and sticking to them in the future. Rest is important.

teapot and cup

5) Exercise must be booked in too – incidental exercise doesn’t just happen.

I work from home. My desk is about ten steps from my bed and another few steps from the bathroom. I don’t have to walk up two flights of stairs to go to the staff loo anymore. I don’t have to walk the three blocks from the carpark to the office. I don’t have to wander down the hill to the café to get a coffee at lunch time. If I am not careful I can walk less than a thousand steps in a whole day.

I have started using the pomodoro technique to help with this. This is a timer app I have on my phone. It runs for 25 minutes during which I work solidly, then it gives me a five minute break during which I jog on the spot, stretch, hang washing out, clean up the kitchen, and so on through the day. This is not enough, of course. I need to also make sure that most days I have a good hour-long walk, or head to the gym for some weights.

I want this lifestyle to continue on a long, long time. And to do that I need to take care of my body, give it good food, and good exercise. I am not just a brain and fingers, I am a whole person, spirit, soul, and body and I want to look after all of myself.

walking into sunset

6) Keep talking to your friends and family.

So much has changed this year and the change is continuing. I think that change is the only definite thing in my life.

In all this it has been essential to keep talking with Moz, to get an outside opinion on it all and to keep him appraised of all my goings on. He is not my boss, but it always helps to have a friend to share with and to be accountable to so that you don’t end up going off on a tangent accidentally.

The weeks slip by, the months follow them, and before you know it, a year has passed. By talking with Moz on the way through I have been stopped from spending too much time on the wrong activities, or pushing the wrong agenda for too long.

I have other family members I talked with regularly too that help me to see my life from the outside. And while I work online, I need to meet with my friends in real life and keep a grasp on what the real world is like. As I said, I love my coffee dates and the things I do for church.

Communication is essential. Community, both online and in-person is one of the most important things in this world. I hope that I am helping build that by what I write and what I do.

So there are a few things I have learned this year. There is so much still to learn. When I was brainstorming this list. I could think of so many things that I still don’t understand. So many lessons that I am in the middle of learning. Hopefully they will make it onto a ‘lessons learned’ list for a future year.

Thank you for being a part of my community as I walk this journey. I am hoping I will have many more years doing this, it’s great fun!

Are you missing some of my blog posts? They (usually) come out every Monday. Sign up to follow the A Quiet Life blog on WordPress, or you can sign up to my newsletter on www.ruthamos.com.au  and you will receive every post straight to your email inbox. You will also find my podcast, my book ‘My Year of Saying No’, and any short stories or other books will be up there as they come along.

If you would like to support this blog and the podcast then you can head over to Patreon.com/quietlife and help me out for as little as a dollar a month. Thank you so much!

Advertisements
succulent garden

Weeding Your Time Garden

succulent garden
This is my succulent garden. Ironically I had to remove a large weed before I took the photo.

I have a new metaphor for time management, and I’m not sure if I’m going to use the metaphor very well, but I’ll give it a go.

Time management is like gardening.

Now, if you’ve read my short story The Useful Plants then you might know just how much I like (or rather don’t like) gardening. But I have a little bed of succulents near my front door that I take care of so I know something about it.

The thing I’ve noticed about gardens is that you can spend time on them, pull them into shape, prune and weed and tidy, and they look wonderful. But if you then think, ‘The job is done’ and leave them alone, the weeds creep in, the plants get overgrown, and the garden becomes messy again and require a lot of work.

This is the gardening cycle that I have experienced in my lifetime. But I know that the frustration is my own fault. Because the better way to deal with a garden is to work in it regularly. Head out there every week. Pull the weeds while they are small. Tidy up a little. And then, and this is important, spend time out there enjoying the beauty of what you’ve created.

So I hear, anyway.

But I know for sure that the same principle applies to our calendars, to our time management. You can set up the best system in the world, but it is not a set-and-forget situation. Over time little bits creep in. Extra jobs appear. Worthy activities find space. And suddenly you’re living in an overgrown mess, running from one thing to the next, head spinning, feeling really busy.

And I think the main point of this metaphor is not to be surprised that this happens. It’s just the second law of thermodynamics in action: The entropy of the universe is always increasing. Things tend towards disorder and randomness. It’s the way it is.

So we should not be surprised that the schedule we planned in January is now out of control in March (as mine was). Instead, maybe it’s easier to accept that and then deal with it, than to worry about it getting out of control again. Like the weeds in the garden, it’s just going to happen. We just need to be prepared.

We need to regularly head into our time garden and weed. We need to check where we’re at and make sure that our priorities are being taken care of first. We need to make sure there’s space in the schedule for rest, and space for time with those we love, and space for time with God.

And then, and this is important, once we’ve tidied out time garden, we need to take the time to enjoy its beauty. To rest in the rest. To appreciate the calm. As Eugene Peterson says, ‘Leisure is a quality of spirit, not a quantity of time’.  We can have a totally clear schedule and still feel busy. It’s better to enjoy the restful activities that we’ve built in, to really be present when we go for an evening walk, to actually concentrate on the book that we’re reading, rather than to be always thinking about our incomplete to-do list, having the worry whir away in the back of our minds even when we’re supposed to be resting.

I garnered this metaphor from an excellent book I read last week — Off The Clock by Laura Vanderkam. This is the most people-centred time-management book I think I have ever read. It doesn’t tell you how to structure your life to shut people out so that you’ll get more work done, instead it suggests ways of making the most of the time that you have so that you feel less busy (and still get the work done). I cannot recommend it more highly.

So happy gardening everyone! If you’re in Australia I hope you enjoy and make good use of your 8-hour day holiday, especially if the good use is resting. And if you’re in the Northern Hemisphere I hope that the advent of spring helps you to think about your time garden and how you can make it just as beautiful as the blossoms that no doubt are coming out now.

Do you like gardening? Are you surprised by the creeping disorder of the universe? What do you do to keep your time schedule under control?

Are you missing some of my blog posts? They come out every Monday. Sign up to follow the A Quiet Life blog on WordPress, or you can sign up to my newsletter on www.ruthamos.com.au  and you will receive every post straight to your email inbox. You will also find my podcast, my book ‘My Year of Saying No’, and any short stories or other books will be up there as they come along.

If you would like to support this blog and the podcast then you can head over to Patreon.com/quietlife and help me out for as little as a dollar a month. Thank you so much!

A gift to gladden the heart

Gold coast dolphin
This is a dolphin we saw at Sea World on the Gold Coast

There is a joint memory that Moz and I have from our teens of a house that made an incredible impression on us. I’m not sure why we were there, we only went once. I think my parents were visiting the couple who owned it but I’m really not sure why.

But this house.

I mean, I like dolphins and whales, I really do, but this house went way overboard.

The couple had dolphin wedding rings, dolphin salt and pepper shakers, a whale on the table cloth and a dolphin Doona cover. The mirrors were surrounded by dolphins, there was dolphin and whale artwork all over the walls and dolphin and whale sculptures on every surface. There was dolphin-themed stained glass on the windows and the walls were painted blue.

It was overpowering. There was no getting away from whales and dolphins anywhere.

I really like seeing dolphins and whales. I’ve been fortunate to have two whale sightings right here in Hobart over the past twenty years or so. One at Kingston Beach (close to my house, where I walk nearly every day) and one further up the river where a mother whale had taken her calf.

Dolphins, on the other hand, tend to stay away from me. I’ve been on two wilderness cruises where we’ve seen seals and albatross but no dolphins. I’ve cruised down the east coast of Tasmania on a yacht and seen no dolphins at all, though we did see some amazing luminescence in the water. I’ve spent hours on beaches straining my eyes without the sighting of even one fin.

Ok, as I write this I see that I’m the most privileged and spoiled person out there. My life has been filled with fantastic experiences. I’m not complaining at all. And I did see a whole pod of dolphins cavorting in the waves off Bicheno once.

I wonder whether the way I feel about dolphins is due to the rarity of the sightings, and if I’d become bored with them if I saw them more often. I know that after being in the dolphin house I didn’t want to see anything about sea creatures for months.

On the Saturday just past I spent most of the day sitting in front of the fire and reading. I was taking a day off and loving it. In the afternoon I felt like going for a walk and Moz came with me. We walked to the beach and bought a coffee and then I said, ‘What next? Will we walk along the beach?’

Moz suggested we just stand at the rail and stare out at the water for a while.

And while I was staring something caught my eye. Now, last time this had happened it was a seal enjoying the water and waving his flippers in the sunshine.

But this time … this time it was a dolphin.

I’ve been going to Kingston Beach for forty years on and off and this is the first dolphin I’ve ever seen there. And it was beautiful. It came quite close so we could see it clearly and then it swam away.

Kingston beach dolphin
This is me, and you can see the fin out there in the water. I promise it’s there!

Then a very light shower of rain passed over us, and all that meant was that where the dolphin had been there was now a complete rainbow over the water. The scene would have fit perfectly into the dolphin house art work, but this time it was real.

It totally made my day and I’m so glad we took a few minutes to stand and stare.

I guess there’s not much of a point to my little story, except for the encouragement to take the time to enjoy days off and to enjoy nature. That sometimes when you just stand and stare for a while you will receive a gift to gladden your heart.

I hope you all had a wonderful weekend.

Sign up to follow the A Quiet Life on WordPress, or you can head to www.ruthamos.com.au and sign up to my newsletter and you will receive every post straight to your email inbox. You will also find my book ‘My Year of Saying No’, and any short stories or other books will be up there as they come along.