Freelancers’ Guilt, and what we can do about it.

This week’s post is addressing something I think a lot of freelancers feel.  That is the guilty feeling hanging over us, telling us we’re not doing enough, should do more.  

I hate the word should, I should get up earlier, I should be doing this or that, I shouldn’t go out because I should be being productive, eugh, it’s awful.  It SHOULD be banned from our internal monologue (I know we all have one).  

I have some theories as to why we feel this (I’m assuming I’m not the only one).  Here they are:

  • We often work from home, so there is little work/home separation.
  • There are no immediate negative consequences for getting up late/having an unproductive day.

Obviously long term there are consequences for lack of productivity – but there is a time delay – we pay for laziness later in ways we often can’t predict.

  • There is never a point that we can say ‘I have finished everything I have to do!’  There is an infinite amount to be done, freelancers are never finished, sometimes it can feel like a huge mountain to climb each day.
  • If there is nothing set in the diary, it’s easy to feel we can start later and before we know it, the day has gone.
  • With constant interruptions from phone calls/emails/technology/social media – it’s very easy to get distracted and not realise how much time is passing.  

What can we do about this?  Now I’m no expert, I only graduated a couple of years ago but I’m learning a few tricks that help my productivity immensely.  This is obviously written from the perspective of a musician.  These tips may work for you or they may not, but when it’s really important that I get as much as I can done, here’s what I do:

  • Write a schedule for the day, the night before.  Begin by listing everything that needs doing (I include things like ‘pay electicity bill’ and ‘laundry’ as well as ’emails’, and ‘admin’).  Decide when to get up and what is going to be done each hour.  For musicians – don’t just write ‘Practice’ actually write what is going to be practised, be specific.  This helps because if you have scheduled 3 hours for practice, it doesn’t seem to matter so much if you miss one.  But, if each session has a specific purpose, you’re more likely to get it done, as it might be the only chance you get that day to look at that certain piece/section/excerpt.
  • Set an alarm and put it far away from your bed!  This helps so much I’d actually say it’s the most effective way to increase productivity.  When the alarm is right next to the bed, it is too easy to snooze, then before you know it hours have passed and you’re still in bed.  Great.  This has another advantage as well, for most of us, our smartphone is our alarm – by placing it on the other side of the room it means we don’t google/facebook/tweet away half the night and can actually get to sleep a lot quicker.  I am a real sleepaholic (sleepophile?) so this one is difficult for me but it is so worth it!
  • Actually stick to your schedule.  Hopefully you’ve made it realistic and given yourself plenty of time to do what you wanted to.  Tick things off as you do them, and if you get ahead of schedule – great!  Time to chill later.  I generally do mine in hour blocks but half an hour can work too.
  • (This may be controversial) Keep your phone on ‘Do Not Disturb’ during working hours and set a time in your schedule to ring/text people back or listen to voicemails (put your email address in your voicemail greeting so people have another way of contacting you).  This also has the added bonus of stopping your phone going off every time something happens on Facebook – a potentially huge time-sap.  If you need to – schedule an hour at the end of the day purely for social media – particularly for freelancers who are trying to build an online presence.  
  • Try and get up at the same time each weekday.  For those of us who work from home (can be a blessing or a curse) it’s good to have a routine.  For example, you could get up at 8am every weekday, 9am on Saturdays and whenever you fancy on a Sunday… that way the weekend still feels like the weekend rather than each day feeling exactly the same.
  • If you can work somewhere else, do.  It is one of my dreams to have a separate bedroom, office and music room.  Three rooms.  Or maybe even an out-house where I can go specifically to do admin or practice.  Unfortunately this is the real world and I live in a small flat.  My bedroom has my harp and all my music in one corner and my desk and laptop in another.  It takes self-discipline to go to one zone and not get distracted when everything is just there – being all distracting.  You just sit down to practice but oh! laundry needs doing, ooh so does this morning’s washing up – ahh while I’m here I may as well tidy the kitchen… you can lose days like this so we must be strong and do one thing at a time.  Schedule a time for housework and do it later.

*My mum will be reading this and realise that I am in fact, turning into my father – I’m so sorry*

So these are the things I try to do, but I also try and remember the following:

  • Nobody is perfect.  We’re all just trying to make a living.  Let’s all just do the best we can, get stuff done then get on with enjoying ourselves.  None of this ‘should’ nonsense.  No more guilt.  You Only Live Once.
  • Mealtimes are rest times – no emails/phone calls during mealtimes.  It seems like ages but I always try to give myself an hour for each meal – it spreads the day out and gives time to prepare something vaguely healthy.
  • All hail wondrous coffee – there’s nothing like it to regain focus if you’re flagging mid-afternoon – or just struggling to wake up mid-morning.  I bought my first coffee machine a few weeks ago and have been more or less wired ever since.

So there we have it – freelancers, how do you increase/maintain productivity?  Please share tips & tricks in the comments!  


Festival No. 6 2013

Between the 12th and 15th September I was in Portmeirion playing for Festival Number Six.  This was a real experience and, considering I hesitated a little when originally asked to do it – I’m so glad I did.

The first day was chaos.  There’s no other way to describe it.  I thought I’d be clever and set off super early to allow for ‘getting lost’ time once we’d arrived.  I was giving a lift to horn player Joel Roberts – hi Joel! – and we set off around 8am.  The postcode we’d been sent to was an empty business park (later we realised it was only empty because we were so wonderfully early) – so we drove on to the main festival site – which I later realised I wasn’t allowed to drive on to … naughty me.

Anyway, fast forward about an hour of wondering if we’re in the right place we’d managed to find the Cassia String Quartet, fresh from driving up from the South of France, as well as our artist wristbands:

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After being given wristbands I was told there was no way I was getting my car on to the Festival site to drop off the harp.  Just no way.  They offered to take it by golf buggy – I politely declined.  I ended up having to put my harp into a Volvo four by four.  I couldn’t believe it fit!  The driver of the Volvo – Sid – was lovely and said they were there to give lifts to the artists when we needed them.  I think he somewhat underestimated how busy they were going to be over the next few days as I was only able to use a Volvo at the beginning and the end of the Festival.

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I left my car on the football field in the photo above – unfortunately due to the crazy weather this field turned into a muddy mess – it took me ages to get my car off the mud and onto the safety of an actual road.  Getting off the field involved taking a ‘run up’ to the curb in order to get up the muddy slope and onto tarmac.  There were three Welsh car park attendants egging me on telling me to go faster – I was so not in the mood for that.

My harp’s home for the next few days was the Town Hall.  It wasn’t until later that evening that we (the ensemble) found our home for the weekend.  ‘Artist Camping’ – when we eventually found it, was about 15 minutes walk from the main village, and completely devoid of showers/toilets.  Not to be deterred though, we set up our tents in some sort of circle – some quicker than others.  Joel had the unpleasant experience of a drunk festival-goer tumbling into his tent in the middle of the night, who somehow managed to crawl in between the inner and outer part of the tent… how?  I have no idea.

So the camping part of the trip was cold.  I won’t lie.  It was cold, windy and damp, but I had my inflatable mattress and memory foam pillow, as well as lots of layers for the night.  We’re talking strappy top, t-shirt, long-sleeved top, hoody AND blanket as well as sleeping bag.  The weather got progressively worse as the weekend went on (Saturday – lovely then rain, Sunday – rain and so windy I saw three tents blow away).

The playing part of the weekend was great.  The Cassia Quartet, formed of Amy, Tori, Laurie and Josh, as well as horn player Joel and percussionists Delia and Graham, along with myself we formed the Festival Number 6 Ensemble directed by Joe Duddell:

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The ensemble was to accompany a few different acts during the festival. Daughter, Jackie Oates, and Cathal Mo Chroi (aka Chas Smash from Madness).

Working with Cathal was certainly fun. He did a set of six songs: Love Songs No. 9 and 7, A Comfortable Man, Do you Believe in Love? Goodbye Planet Earth, and The Wren’s Burial. The harp was needed for everything, yay! There’s also a youtube video of my favourite, which can be found here.

I remember during one of the breaks, Cathal met up with us in the cafe and showed us some poetry he’d written and recorded – very amusing and well written (and naughtily rude). The overall vibe I got from working with Cathal is that he’s very chilled out, and definitely doesn’t take himself too seriously. It’s so nice when the people you’re playing for actually make the effort to hang out and talk to you backstage. It doesn’t happen all that often.

Playing with Daughter was amazing as well – not only were they incredibly professional, punctual and efficient in setting up all their equipment – they also had a pleasing attention to detail in rehearsals.  As well as that, they are absolutely lovely people, a real pleasure to work with.

The Daughter gig was on the Saturday night, which was followed by some drinks and dancing – loads of fun.  On Sunday the weather turned really nasty.  I was so worried my tent was going to blow away – I actually saw several tents blow over in the wind.  It turned out that I wasn’t actually needed for any rehearsals or sets that day so I set about trying to take down the tent and pack all my things.  By some miracle I was allowed to bring my car back on to the festival site to pick up my harp.  Hurray!

On returning to Manchester, I had a new-found appreciation for lots of little things: getting dressed standing up for example, rather than awkwardly lying down in a confined space.  The first night back in my bed was amazing!  I think my harp was very happy to be back – I’d booking it in for a service the following day as a much needed treat.

So, lots of good things from the Festival, fun music, lovely people in the bands and the ensemble – but the weather could have been better/less muddy.  Definitely an experience I’ll remember.