How do you continue to stay focused and keep writing when you’re going through a a health crisis, divorce, or financial turmoil?
It must be the season of life taking precedence over work because I received two emails earlier this month asking me how I get everything done, especially writing, when life is going belly up.
I answered as best I could from past experiences, but then my husband was hospitalized for five days, and between looking after my 21-month-old son, dealing with insurance people, and running around like a headless chicken, life threatened to take over every minute of every day, leaving me with no time to work.
It’s difficult to work on your freelancing when life gets in the way because unlike at a regular job where you can take a few days off and know that someone else will cover you, with freelancing, there’s often no one who can take over at a moment’s notice. And what if it’s a long-term issue?
How do you continue to stay focused, on target, and keep writing when you’re going through a health crisis, a divorce, financial turmoil, the death of a loved one, or worse, a combination of two or more of life’s crises?
Let’s be honest: Balls will get dropped.
I had to cancel a meeting that had taken me weeks to set up, and I’d done some intense marketing a week before things went crazy, which meant that when I started getting the interest and the responses, I wasn’t able to respond as quickly and efficiently as I would have liked. However, life does and will happen and it’s up to you to be prepared for when things get rough.
Here’s how to keep writing and freelancing when life gets in the way.
Here’s the thing: The least important parts of your business, that is, the things that make you the least amount of money, are typically also the easiest. This includes building a social media following, writing blog posts, posting on that writing forum, etc.
When things get tough, it’s easy to get wrapped up in doing these easy things at the expense of the tougher, better-paying jobs. Crossing those quick items off the to-do list makes us feel as though we’ve achieved something. The problem, however, is that you’ve completed the non-essential item and increased the pressure on yourself because now you have even less time for the more important things that are still pending.
I take off from social media entirely when my life gets busy. There’s just not enough time in the day sometimes for the unessential, and so it’s important that I use my limited time and attention to bring laser sharp focus to the most important parts of my business and let the rest of it be ignored for a while.
When things get difficult or busy, weed out anything that doesn’t need to be done this week and/or won’t have a massive impact on your finances. Then prioritize the rest.
2. Keep your head above water
A year in which you’re facing crisis after crisis is probably not the time to go completely out of your comfort zone or to challenge yourself. If you’ve been averaging $30,000 a year, the year in which you’ve lost a family member is possibly not the best time to be trying to double that.
When you need to conserve your energy for your personal life, try to keep it easy professionally. Work with clients who appreciate you. Do simple work that flows easily from your fingertips.
Don’t push your limits at work when you’re already being pushed beyond your limits in your personal life.
During nights at the hospital with nothing to do, I became a sponge. I read, read, and read some more.
When at home with time to do something but having no mental energy for writing, I read archives of popular blogs and allowed myself to get inspired and motivated about the changes I needed to make in my professional life. I couldn’t implement them right away, but I took notes of the things I wanted to do, the people I wanted to connect with, and the ideas I wanted to explore further when I had a bit more space.
If you’re spending a lot of time in your car driving from one place to the other, consider listening to audiobooks and podcasts. If you’re spending far too much time in the waiting room, read a book on your phone, even if it’s just a light novel. If you have access to a computer, catch up on those blogs and newsletters.
Productivity isn’t just about getting words on the page. Sometimes it’s about letting things seep in. What better time to allow that to happen than when you’ve got hours of time to do nothing? It even works as a fantastic distraction if you’re feeling worried or stressed about all that’s going on around you.
4. Ask for time
As I mentioned above, I’d done an intense amount of marketing in the week before my husband got sick. I was getting about five to ten responses a day, to which I needed to respond quickly.
I emailed everyone back as soon as I could, but let them know that I was caught up with something urgent that week and that I’d get back to them as soon as I returned. When I did, I immediately got back in touch and set up the phone calls and meetings to discuss further ideas.
If you have deadlines, let your editors and clients know as soon as possible so they can either give you more time or hire someone else.
I would recommend that, just for times like these, you have a list of freelancers you can approach to whom you can outsource bits of your work. You can offer to pay them 80% of the fee to take on your regular work when you’re unavailable, and they can do the same for you. If you already have a virtual assistant, see if there’s a way you could increase their hours during that week to take on the extra workload.
5. Don’t overwhelm yourself
When things aren’t going to plan, it’s easy to either ignore work completely or dive straight in with reckless abandon.
I speak from experience when I tell you both can be detrimental. When I was caught up in life, I kept a limit on how much I could do with the time I had. I knew I could handle one phone call a day, so that’s how I set up my schedule. Similarly, I tried to stay on top of email, but knowing that I wouldn’t get to it every day, I just made sure everyone had a response by the end of the week.
If you have a book deadline or articles that need to be researched, set yourself time or word count limits that are not only achievable but also super easy, say half an hour or 200 words. If you can do more than that, great, but if you can’t, that’s okay, too.
Life happens to all of us. And while there’s no good time for a crisis, it’s especially difficult to keep writing and keep producing if you’re a full-time freelance writer with a long-term career.
Have a plan for when things get rough, so that in addition to the life and emotional stress, you’re not experiencing career stress on top of it. After all, flexibility is part of the reason you became a freelancer, right?
Natasha Khullar Relph
Founder and Editor, The Wordling
Natasha Khullar Relph is an award-winning journalist and author with bylines in The New York Times, TIME CNN, BBC, ABC News, Ms. Marie Claire, Vogue, and more. She is the founder of The Wordling, a weekly business newsletter for journalists, authors, and content creators. Natasha has mentored over 1,000 writers, helping them break into dream publications and build six-figure careers. She is the author of Shut Up and Write: The No-Nonsense, No B.S. Guide to Getting Words on the Page and several other books.
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