Has it really been almost five months since my last post? What have I been doing?, you ask.
Not writing blog posts, clearly.
The short answer is just that I’ve been working: getting new writing work, maintaining recurring projects, and logging off at the end of the week to leave behind the keyboard until Monday morning.
Considering the 2014 I had, that instead of using a free hour to blog, you’ll forgive my preference to go read, eat, watch a movie, take a walk, write in my journal, cook a meal, call my Mom, lunch with a friend, pack bags at the food cupboard, listen to music, mix cocktails, converse with The Husband…just to live life.
The long answer is, I learned this spring, as elusive as snipe hunting.
The Husband came home from work one evening and asked a completely innocent, benign, common question:
What did you do today?
I stared at him, stumped, and a tad horrified about being stumped. What DID I do today? I know I was at my desk, at my keyboard, on the phone, and generally engaged in what I would categorize as legitimate activities related to running my freelance writing business.
But I couldn’t for the life of me recall for him exactly what I had accomplished that day. The feeling was like falling in the dark—I just didn’t know how to account for my time, though my general sense was that I had, in fact, been “working” all day.
It was an awful feeling. Awful in the moment, like when you temporarily misplace something that must be here somewhere. Also awful upon reflection: Who am I accountable to?
I’m accountable for delivering high quality work as promised, by deadline. Day to day accountability, though…my elderly cat cares only that if I’m on my feet, I’m getting her a bowl of food.
As a freelance writer with a home office, it is too easy to go off the rails on a random weekday and spend a few hours doing laundry, going to the grocery store under the illusion that it’s “easier to go during the day,” and clicking from website to website reading interesting stories, because as a freelancer I can work any time of day (ha!). It can look like an indulgent life, but I’ll tell you truthfully that it can feel like a work-life WITHOUT balance.
Back to accountability: So I decided to keep track of how I spent my time each day.
Google “time tracking software” and 60.8 million hits come up. Free software, subscription-based software, customizable, linked to your web browser, email, and tasks lists, blah blah blah. Who knew the path to productivity could be such a time suck?
I was wasting too much time researching products to help me not waste time. So I went low-tech—I folded a sheet of paper in half, wrote the date at the top, and started:
8:30 Log in, email, check WordPress, check Facebook
8:45 Tasks list review
8:50 Prep for 9am call with X.
9:00 Call with X.
9:36 Reply to client emails
10:00 Drafting for project Y
…You get the idea. I even documented breaks to go get a cheese stick from the fridge, let out the dog, and documented the time logged off for lunch. The next day, I turned the sheet of paper over, wrote the date at the top, and started again.
Since near the end of March I’ve been keeping track of my tasks in this simple manner. And you know what, it works. If I take a break to check Facebook, I no longer fall into a trance not knowing just how long I’ve been scrolling my feed. When I write down the time I start, I do so knowing to watch the clock and switch tasks in 5-7 minutes.
I also have thumbed through my stack of scrap-paper-and-penciled days to find out just how much time I spent on a given project, making sure that I’m quoting projects accurately, to both confirm that my clients are getting their money’s worth, and that I’m getting paid fairly for my time.
The exercise of making a note when switching tasks is simply a brain trick of self-accountability. It’s as good as adding an already-completed item to a To Do list just to have the satisfaction of checking it off.
So, there you have it, this is what I’ve been doing. Living life, and taking notes.