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After a gaffe, the decision to be more deliberate

Like every other freelancer I know, I get stuck in the not-so-mentally-healthy “feast or famine” mode way too often.

That means one or more of the following:

-I take on a little too much work, work I can do, and do well, but which makes me a little nutty and has me in front of the computer too much.
-I take on a job I don’t really want or that doesn’t pay as well as I’d like because I’m afraid that if I don’t take it I might regret my decision when a dry spell rolls around.
-I spend extended periods in triage mode, ordering and reordering my to-do list by deadline rather than other factors that should probably take more precedence.

This isn’t good, of course, but for a long, long time–far too much of my career–I’ve felt that it’s inevitable, just part and parcel of life as a freelancer.

I’ve made incremental improvements every year, saying no to projects with ridiculously low fees or turning down some projects that felt far too fluffy, but there’s always more progress to be made… as I was reminded yesterday after making a terrible online gaffe involving an overly candid email sent to recipients who shouldn’t have been cc’d on the message.

The email, sent late in the evening, long after people with 9-to-5 jobs stop working, was a symptom–and an embarrassing one–of a larger problem. Despite recent vigorous efforts to scale back–unsubscribing from mailing lists that clutter my inbox and waste my time and saying no to a couple projects that didn’t pay well and were puff writing I don’t want to be doing, for example–I realized that there was (is!) still a lot of work to be done. I need to be more deliberate in every area of my work, and the first order of business is developing a better system for dealing with email.

I don’t know about you, but pretty much every time I look at my inbox these days, I already feel exhausted, even before I make a keystroke. There’s so much junk mail masquerading as important messages demanding my attention. There’s the feeling that I have to have my inbox open from the moment I’m awake until the moment I go to bed, in case an editor or source sends a message requiring urgent attention. And on and on and on. But the reality is, the less time I’m looking at my inbox, the happier and more productive I am. The less urgent everything seems–and is. And, obviously, the less likely I am to feel so depleted that I hit “Send” when I really need to give a message a second look and make sure that it’s appropriate… and addressed to the intended recipients.

This isn’t about slowing down, necessarily, though I feel like lots of freelancers write posts about that, setting goals that are difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. The reality is, this is not a profession for folks operating at a slow pace. It is, however, about being more thoughtful about each action, about taking the time to make sure that every word counts (and those that don’t stay in my head or between myself and my most trusted confidante, my husband), and about devoting time and attention to communication that truly matters.

Have you or do you struggle with similar challenges as a freelancer? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.


3 responses »

  1. Julie,

    You are not in solitary confinement when it comes to the inbox jail. I am sure many can relate to your experience.

    I use Gmail. Nothing saying it is the best, gmail does automatically sort my inbox into three categories: Primary, Social, and Promotion. I focus on the Primary which is a lot smaller than the other two categories.

    What I don’t see, I don’t miss. Occasionally Gmail sorts out one or two emails I would like to read but in the balance, I am satisfied with it.


  2. Christine Delsol

    Julie, you have just described my life. I keep unsubscribing and still the amount of irrelevant email increases every day. I was using web mail for several years because I resented the cost of Outlook (and found it bloated and buggy when I used it at work) and I wasn’t satisfied with a few other email clients I tried. Then I found Postbox, and although it takes a little time to organize and set up, I’ve worked out a system of folders and filters that pares down what I really must read every day … the recurring unwanted mail that I can’t unsubscribe from goes to “junk” to be skimmed through when I have the time. It also has template and boilerplate features that have been great timesavers.

    Also, I give myself one day a week (which day that will be varies with work load and deadlines) to not even open my email at all. I adhere to it religiously. That may sound irresponsible, but I haven’t missed anything important yet. And it’s incredibly liberating, not to mention reviving me for the next onslaught.


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