KOK Edit: Your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM)
KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) Katharine O'Moore Klopf

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Self-Employed? How to Avoid Overwork

An editor colleague of mine posted to an editing-related e-mail list that we both subscribe to, asking how to avoid overwork and burnout. My advice for her, which I'm sharing with you now, consisted of steps to take in both the work and personal arenas.

Like my colleague, I'm in the overload zone right now, through no fault of my own. An earlier project, a multiauthor monograph, didn't end when it was supposed to have done so; new article manuscripts from procrastinating authors are still coming in while I've already begun work for a new-to-me client on a single-author textbook with very tight weekly manuscript batch deadlines.

Work overload can damage your health and peace of mind, and that's what you need to pay the most attention to. After all, if you're not healthy or are burned out—or both—you won't be able to do your best work ... or any work, eventually.

In Your Work Life
You need to do two things regarding work:

  1. Continually market your services, even when you have plenty of work, so that you don't end up with the dry spells that you have had and rightly fear. Do a little bit of marketing—from brainstorming about how to reach new clients to actually reaching out to them—every single workday.
  2. Learn to say no when you have to.

    Contrary to the conventional wisdom among editorial freelancers that you should never turn away a client because you are too busy, or that client will never come back, turning away work (or postponing it or referring it to a colleague) can make you more attractive to clients. After all, if you're in that much demand, they'll reason, you must be good! I know that things have worked this way for me, and I know a couple of other colleagues for whom they work the same way.

    When you have to tell a client that your time is booked (which I'll have to tell my other clients shortly, because my time is tentatively booked through late November for upcoming book projects), thank them for once again having sought out your services, see if there's a way to postpone the work or refer it to another colleague, and make sure to get back in touch with them again soon so that they don't think that you've forgotten them. Doing this has ensured that clients I've had to turn away do come back to me. In fact, the new-to-me client whose textbook I'm working on right now first approached me a few years ago. Several times, we tried to line up a project, but either their schedule or mine couldn't accommodate a joint venture. I kept in contact and so did they, and now here we are, working together happily at last.

    Don't be afraid of making referrals, either; when I've done this for clients, it's only increased my value in their eyes, because they see me as an experienced freelancer with good connections, someone with whom they should keep in contact to get the help they need and someone who cares about their business needs.

I've been following these two policies for years now, and it's been years since I've had a dry spell ... and the United States is even in a economic recession at the moment.

In Your Personal Life
You need to do two things regarding your personal life:

  1. Streamline, because not everything has to be done to the nth degree.

My husband and I use a grocery-delivery service because we don't have time to physically go up and down the grocery aisles once a week to collect food for four people. Clicking buttons beside products on a computer screen is much faster! Plus, we can add items to our online shopping list as we notice that they're running low, so grocery-shopping night online doesn't entail doing all of the shopping in one sitting—just finishing up what was already started earlier in the week.

My self-employed spouse and I juggle various tasks that keep the household running. But we've loosened our definition of the phrase clean house.

We shop online for office supplies and lots of personal supplies because we don't have time to go running around to stores—plus, it saves on gasoline. I find that having more time to work, when there are time crunches, and more time to relax is worth paying shipping or delivery charges.

  • Delegate, because you alone can't do everything.

  • My mother-in-law (in-laws live in our house) runs to the bank to make deposits for us; makes mini runs to the store for soy milk, bread, etc., on our behalf; and sometimes takes our sons on outings in the summer.

    Our children help with chores around the house—doing laundry, cleaning dishes, sweeping floors, taking out the garbage.
    If you're single and don't have a roommate or don't have relatives nearby, you probably have friends with whom you can trade off tasks. Set up a safety net of friends. It'll help you and it'll help them.

    1 comment:

    Jayemen said...

    As a self-employed person as well, I'd also add to do things when they need to be done, i.e.-don't put things off. If that means sending in that billing form or submitting an online Staples order before dinner, do it. Procrastination is an enemy that can be avoided.

    Also, working off-hours can be a big help. Instead of channel-surfing and watching reruns of reruns, take the time and do marketing or other tasks that don't have a timeclock on them. Filing, planning, email returning, etc. We work too hard to not stay ahead of the game.

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