Bringing a semblance of order to the freelance lifestyle

I am sometimes asked how I juggle all my different projects, or how I manage to pump out a weekly newsletter so consistently. To be honest it’s often fueled by passion. Things happen because I’m excited by them. You wouldn’t catch me studying accounting with the same fervour. But there is a limit to how far passion gets me. Every so often I end up spinning too many plates at once. Recently the plates were stacking up, so I sat down and assessed where I was spending my time. It ended up being hugely valuable so I thought I’d share.

Step one: list all your projects
I’ve gone ahead and called everything in my life a “project” regardless of whether it’s personal or professional. Father time doesn’t differentiate either. Some of the projects are time spent with friends and my partner. Some are projects like this newsletter.

Step two: allocate hours to each project
I listed the hours I would ideally put into each project in a week and found to do my current commitments justice I would need 119 hours! Assuming I had around 70 hours to “spend” a week, that meant I was 70% over capacity. Knowing that was honestly liberating. I figrued, “Wow I shouldn’t feel bad that my output is sporadic. I should be amazed that I’m getting anything done.”

Step three: interegate the nature of each project
Then I classified each project with a number of tags:

1)

Must Do (a non-negotiable part of my week)
vs
Can Do (anything I can ‘pause’ if need be)

2)

Finite (a project with a foreseeable end e.g. a zine I want to publish)
vs
Ongoing Primary (an ongoing project that demands a large number of hours, e.g. FTRGZM)
vs
Ongoing Maintenance (a project that is a constant but can run on a flexible number of hours—weirdly, I found that friendships fall into that category for me)

You can see I used different icons for each. Most things can only be one of the 1) tags and one of the 2) tags. The exception was that some projects felt like Ongoing or Finite, depending on what perspective I took.

Step four: start prioritising
This wasn’t necessarily about how much passion I had for a project. E.g. my friendships and relationships are fairly low on the numeric list. It’s more about how much time the project needs and what the project’s level of urgency is.

Step five: allocate your finite time
I then started playing around with how many of my 70 weekly hours I’d feel comfortable allocating to each project.

I quickly learned that even with 70 hours, I spread myself thin relatively quickly. There’s only so many projects that you can allocate serious volumes of time to each week. Once you see that you realise that having much more than two big projects on at a time becomes impractical.

This part of the process becomes about negotiation. For example, could you stretch eight hours of friendship time across two weeks?

Another negotiation that you can do is accepting that you are strategically overloading yourself. For example I just couldn’t get myself to pause certain projects, so I accepted that once a week I’d have to “work overtime”, that is work well into an evening to get things done. We are usually all forced to do this in our work life anyway. We often accept it without considering the consequences, or even noticing that overload is being inflicted upon us. Not good. It felt much better to make these decisions consciously as part of a bargain I struck with myself.

Step six: what will you sacrifice?

This was the toughest part. I had to concede that I just didn’t have the capacity to write a comic script at this point in time. I also didn’t have the capacity to do any political economy reading for the foreseeable future. So, sadly I had to park both.

Again though, doing this consciously with a realistic rationale felt a lot better than having an ongoing sense of guilt for neglecting them. I had a few projects that were tagged as “finite”. Once those wrapped up I’d be able to get back to comics and politics.

I ended up with a plan that put me at 79 hours/week. Bear in mind that I was also counting things like “gym” and “art” here. I don’t want to pretend that I work 79 hours a week. I don’t want to pretend it’s only four hours either ;)

Step seven: create a weekly schedule

Finally, I took the knowledge of how much time I could spend and overlaid it with the natural rhythms of my regular week. I have two non-negotiable deadlines: FTRGZM and my meetings with Stop Adani Sydney—an activist group I’m part of. I also knew that because my partner and friends are bound by different patterns than I am, they’d often only be free on the weekend. I used these facts to start putting a rough framework on my week. One interesting implication that came from the process was that in a way Tuesday is my Sunday because that’s the day FTRGZM is sent. Another was to allocate the bulk of my FTRGZM writing time and Stop Adani time to the two days prior to my weekly deadlines.

Step eight: use all of this to inform your weekly and daily planning

Wall Calendar.png

Now I have a small diary that I physically populate based around the above wall chart. I find that for me personally a manual process forces me to focus. The physical restrictions of the page remind me that I can’t just magically create more time in any given day.

All of this probably sounds dry, especially for the more free spirited, creative types. The interesting thing is that the impulse to do this actually came from my creative processes, rather than a love of rigour.
I wanted to make sure that I have enough time to play and create in a meaningful way. So in a way the ends justify the means.

The entire exercise took me about a day but was well worth it. If you haven’t done something like this in a while or maybe even ever, I’d highly recommend you give it a crack.