Newsletter #5 – When Your Productivity Goes Out The Window

“The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry” – Robert Burns

Hello from Chefchaouen, the bluest town in the world! Thanks to Liz and Marc for shouting me  coffees  (and to Lee for shouting me alcohols) – I appreciate you 🙂

You might have noticed that last week’s newsletter was suspiciously absent.

Instead of doing all the things that needed to be done, I was curled up in bed for a week with a mystery virus, making sad pterodactyl noises and hoping for death to come swiftly.

It did not.

But client work still kept coming in while I reclined sweatily on my deathbed.

And that’s all I could think about. All the work piling up, and being physically unable to do any of it. It’s a crappy feeling.

Actual footage of me waiting for death so I don’t have to write a 3,000 word article on UX microcopy

As we all know, the best thing about freelancing is that we’re in charge of everything.

But…this is also the worst thing about it when things go wrong.

Congratulations, it’s all on you now! LOL!

When we’re sick, feeling burned out or overloaded, or simply have a few too many of those “meh” days in a row, our to-do list goes out the window—and is quickly replaced by a wonderful emotion called productivity guilt.

Productivity guilt = that joyous feeling we get as freelancers when we didn’t do all the things…or any of the things

The nemesis of all entrepreneurs, this is the kind of guilt where we feel an unreasonable amount of frustration for not getting things done, as illustrated by this diagram:

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And as most of us are perfectionists and high-achievers, we tend to beat ourselves up to an insane degree when this happens.

It’s usually because our expectations of what we could achieve were waaaaay too optimistic.

Or, because our brains simply need to take a break from “doing” and focus more on “being”.

If you don’t give your brain frequent breaks, you can rest assured it’s going to take them for you, whether you like it or not.

Here’s a few ways we can manage our productivity guilt.

Always do the ONE most important thing on your to-do list first

Sounds really simple, but most of us don’t do this.

We tend to create big to-do lists and then do the easiest things first, because we can cross those off our list faster—which makes us feel more productive.

By getting your one important thing out of the way every day, you avoid the day slipping by and getting sidetracked by other things that don’t really matter.

Being productive doesn’t mean ‘cram as much stuff into your day as possible’.

It means ‘be more realistic, and  get that one important thing done  every day so it doesn’t become a problem tomorrow’.

P.S. if you have a looming deadline, this is your most important thing to do today. Everything else can wait!

Practice more self-compassion

Doing less can help you do a lot more over time, as it reduces your mental overload and helps you focus better when you need to get to work.

Take more guilt-free days off. Be gentler with your self-talk. Recharge properly.

We’re all beastly to ourselves when we make mistakes, or if things don’t go plan. But we don’t need to be.

99.9% of the time, when something goes wrong in your freelance biz, the only person that noticed was you.

Build extra time into each project

Avoid getting overwhelmed with workload by building more time into each project. If you think a client website project will take 5 weeks – allow for 6 or 7.

That way if you have non-productive days during that time (which is completely normal), you won’t feel as much guilt about taking some downtime mid-project.

This also covers your butt if the project gets delayed for any reason, and it gives you some much needed buffer time before your next project begins.

Running projects back to back is great if you’re only thinking about cashflow, but it’s not mentally sustainable over the long term, and it can cause a ton of stressful logistics problems as well.

Set client deadlines for Monday

This is a tiny hack I learned in my early days of freelancing.

Friday 5pm deadlines are stupid. Seriously, nobody is going to die if you deliver things on Monday morning. Nothing is that urgent.

And—chances are nobody will even read any of your hard work over the weekend.

I always deliver projects on Mondays because:

  • If I hand copy in the week before, it makes me look like a champ
  • If I hit a motivation slump, I have 2 days up my sleeve to finish the project
  • It gives me extra editing time – because I always think of improvements when my brain is more relaxed.

Be honest with your clients if things aren’t going to plan

Let clients know if you get sick, or you’re worried that you won’t meet a deadline.

In most cases this is not a problem for your clients, but it’s always best that you’re up front about any delays or issues so they’re not left wondering what’s going on.

Clients understand that sh*t happens, but they also want to know you’re a responsible business owner that has their interests in mind.

Your challenge this week? Be nicer to yourself, and ditch the crappy self-talk about not being productive enough!

Ask Me Anything!

Q. I keep hearing other freelancers talking about charging a PITA fee. Is this real? Can we actually do this? — Beth

A. Yes, a PITA (“pain in the ass“) fee is really real. If you get off the call with a potential client and you’re not 100% about everything, but you still want (or need) the project, this fee is like a little sweetener on what might otherwise become a nightmare project for you.

Think of it as danger money.

Your PITA fee protects your time (and sanity) from clients who:

  • Don’t really know what they want
  • Are unreasonably needy
  • Keep changing their mind about things
  • Don’t give you what you need on time to do a proper job
  • Increase your stress levels
  • Tie up time that you need to spend on other projects
  • Suck all the joy out of your freelance business

Even when you’ve been in business for a few years, nightmare clients can be difficult to spot in the wild – but having the PITA fee in your back pocket can take some of the stress out of these situations.

You don’t need to itemize this fee on your invoice, because that would be weird (A*hole fee, 20%)—just add the percentage quietly onto your project total.

Procrastination Station

Meme Of The Week

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Thanks for reading!

Anything you’re stuck on? Need some specific advice about your freelancing biz? Just hit reply to this email—I reply to everything 🙂

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