Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Writing on Deadline with a Yoga Mindset

During the past 18 months, I have become more and more entrenched in a yoga lifestyle.

Notice I didn't say yoga "workouts," but a yoga "lifestyle."

What I mean by that is, when you regularly practice yoga as a physical exercise, soon other things follow ... Your taste for food changes so that you crave healthier options. You sleep better. And you actually start to take different approaches to your way of thinking and solving problems.

I'm not sure why all of this happens, but I apply the way I think about conquering certain yoga poses to the way I am tackling the challenges in my day.

This is especially true when I am on deadline.

During a yoga class, you move from pose to pose, and your body has to adjust to new ways of bending and stretching. Some poses come to you more easily than others. For example, I've gotten to the point where I could move through Warrior poses and Triangle poses in my sleep. In fact, usually during yoga class, I move through those poses with my eyes closed and almost go into a dream-like-state while I do it.

Then there are other poses that don't come so easily for me. With those, I have to learn how to transition my body with an intermediate pose before I can actually move into the actual pose full-throttle. And there are still others that I can't master at all, even with the transitions. For those, I have to revert to Child's Pose while I catch my breath.

Now what does this have to do with writing on deadline? Everything.

There are some days where I feel the world is crashing on my head -- in short, a series of difficult yoga poses.

Today is one such day.

I have two magazine assignments due on Friday. Two days ago, the foundational source for one of my pieces suddenly flaked out and said she wouldn't be interviewed. (Another blog entry, but I digress.) I had to rebuild the framework for that story and find replacement sources. The other story was ready to write, but I have tons of notes and a word count ceiling of 600.

In the middle of that, my child got sick and is home from school with his third virus in the past two months.

On top of that, yesterday morning I stepped on a shard of glass (dropped the night before by the same child ... and I thought I'd swept all of it up, but I guess NOT) ... and have a nice slice into my right foot -- which is either here nor there when it comes to time management, but I think I've replaced bandages about 12 times since then and fussed with some Epsom salts -- anyway, it's been another distraction.

I would call this the equivalent of moving from one difficult yoga pose to another.

Today I am completing two more magazine interviews for one of the stories, outlining and writing the second one and .... oh yeah .... simultaneously communicating with a second client, for whom I am ghost-writing a book about a chapter that we are tackling this week.

Sooooooooooooooo .... This is where a yoga "lifestyle" comes in:

First, in yoga, with a difficult pose, you learn to master the intermediate pose.

In this case, to jump start my writing cylinders, which completely feel zapped, I am tackling an intermediate pose: I am writing this blog entry. You might think that this postpones the magazine article, but it doesn't. For me, when I'm writing something that has nothing to do with the immediate deadline assignment, I kick-start my brain into the required action of concentrated word gathering and organization.

Next in yoga, as you move to the more difficult pose, you learn to breathe through the discomfort.

There are poses that I want to get out of as soon as I've entered them. I close my eyes and practice the art of the "breath." When you focus on your breathing, the physical discomfort begins to vanish, and you start to relax into the pose.

In the same way, as I work my way through endless interview notes and organize them into a coherent story format, I "breathe." The "breath" for me looks like this: I put on music that I know will motivate me. The music relaxes me, I start literally breathing deeper, and I automatically sink into organizing and writing.

Finally, you master the difficult pose. You are able to hold the pose and allow your mind to travel to the state of relaxation.

Once I have the notes and outline and lead of the story conquered, I master the story in much the same way. The words flow like water. The "pose" is no longer an issue.

Then it's time to move to the next "pose" ... and by then, you're home free, because if you find it's difficult, you just put the same plan into motion again -- hit a transitional activity to jump start the mind or body and then breathe into it.

And now that I've successfully blown through my transitional time, i.e. writing this for you, I'm off to plugging in some music, breathing deeply and starting the difficult work of the day.

The next time you hit a tight deadline and face challenges that may circumvent you from reaching it, try this. Even if you don't practice yoga as a physical exercise, learning to move from one activity to the next with a sequence of transitional activity and relaxation will free your mind from stress. Creativity then takes over, and before you know it, your work will be done.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Freelancing, Time Management & the Single Mom

For the past three weeks, I've been on a tear, racing from one activity to the next.

Here's what I had on docket professionally: 
1) A book ghost-writing project
2) A Web site writing project, with 10 pages of Web site copy to churn out
3) An annual project in which I write up 40 bios of top military members
4) A major feature story for my top magazine client
5) Two short stories for my top magazine client and one short story for yet another magazine

Here's what I had on docket personally:
1) Doctor appointments for my child, who has a form of high-functioning autism
2) Schoolwork for my child, which takes on average 2 hours per night to complete (including two major school projects)
3) Not one, but two viruses that my child brought home from school (which sidelined both of us)
4) Two ongoing personal crises that have absorbed countless hours


This is where the beauty of a freelance lifestyle comes in.

I am a single mom. The challenge here, of course, is continuing to generate top-quality writing product, on time, while also balancing the needs of my child.

If you've ever wondered about whether you can adequately manage your time on a freelance lifestyle, then take it from me ... I've had every conceivable hurdle and challenge known to womankind thrown in my pathway for the past 4 1/2 years. During the past three weeks, all of those professional obligations I listed had the same deadline priority. Every. Single. One. None could be sidelined while I worked on others. And all of the personal obligations had an equal or higher priority. You can't shelve a child, can you?

So how do I do it?

I learned long ago that to conquer the clock, you have to be willing to work in the nooks and crannies of your days and nights.

This is what a typical day looks like for me:

6:30-8:30 a.m.: Rise and shine, walk the dog, make the school lunch, get the child ready & take to school.
Morning and Early Afternoon: Write or do magazine interviews. Three times a week, I go to a yoga class. Walk the dog a second time.
2:45 p.m.: Pick up child from school ... walk the dog for the third time ... Talk to the child about his socialization challenges at school, which are connected to his autism and must be addressed before homework can be started.
5-5:30 p.m.: Make dinner and feed child.
5:30-8 p.m.: Homework.
8 p.m.-9:30 p.m.: Walk dog for the 4th time of the day, get child showered and start bedtime routine.
9:30 p.m.: If I'm on a tight deadline, I return to writing and usually write until midnight.
Midnight-6:45 a.m.: Sleep.

I didn't really come up with this schedule as a hard-and-fast routine, but it just sort of fell into that automatically. Things are adjusted, depending on deadlines, but each minute of each day must be carefully scrutinized and treated as a highly-valued commodity. There is no room for much else.

If you throw in a pediatrician's appointment, a crisis at school that necessitates a visit to the principal's office or a teacher conference, a stomach virus, a dog's mishap that requires an unexpected trip to the groomer ... and the regular daily activities like grocery shopping, bill paying, laundry .... You can see where freelancing for me is a lifestyle that I can't afford to lose.

Many people look at my job and say, "You have my dream job. I wish I could do that." Well, I'm here to tell you that you CAN do it -- but you also have to realize that you have to be a master at juggling multiple tasks. Editors do not care about the extra hurdles that may prevent you from finishing a story. If you accept a deadline, turn the story in on time. And to do that, you have to carefully plot each hour (sometimes each minute) of your day.

Freelancing offers me a lot of freedom. When I complete projects, like this week, I'm able to spend more time on things like ... blog writing. And this summer, my child and I spent 10 wonderful days in central Florida, unencumbered by work. I also took a few days to travel solo to Denver for some needed R&R and to sink into more in-depth yoga instruction. When I'm home, I can dash off to a yoga studio and plan my writing around my need to stretch, without worrying about an employer wondering where I am. But at the same time, I DO make my deadlines. I DO turn in a quality product. I DO remain accountable and available for editing and follow-up work to what I have already turned in.

My secret is to analyze the scheduling requirements of each day ... then each week .... then each month ... and what it will take for me to meet those requirements.

Freelancing does mean freedom. But it also means being responsible to your editors, your family ... and yourself ... with smart time management.

Oh .... did I mention time at the hair salon?

Don't forget to do that, either!

When you're dashing around as a freelancer, it always helps when you're exhausted to look in the mirror and see a rested and well-styled reflection staring back at you. :-)