I can’t complain about this: but as of late, I’ve been working A LOT. That’s the main reason why my posting rate on this blog has trickled down to next to nothing. I really like the fact that I actually have lots of work to do these days, when you’re freelancing and have no one else sending you stuff to do, steady work is vital to survival.
But I’ve been noticing something about my work: It has me really really busy, and being busy has meant that I have a lot less time to spend on planning classes, and finding content (I don’t use books). My class schedule is completely full. In fact, I’ve had to turn away folk wanting to work with me as I still haven’t taken the next big step of hiring additional teachers. Now when you combine this with a family, work with my church, and trying to keep a semi normal social life with friends, there’s just not much time left over for doing things that, and I borrow from Steven Covey here: “sharpen the saw.”
I really identify with a recent post from AJ over at Effortless Acquisition entitled Burnout. He has some valuable insights around the need to step away from the daily grind and take a break:
They (breaks) provide time for teachers (and learners) to rejuvenate. They provide time to get away from the subject matter, do other things, and let your brain work unconsciously for a while.
Without this, we grow stale. Doing the same thing over and over again without a break is a recipe for burnout.
Effortless Language Acquisition: Burnout
Yep. Totally agree. While I don’t feel like I am drawing close to a mental break point, I have noticed a great lack in the time I have to really think about things. I have less time to think about, and plan classes, and I have less time to think about other things that are unrelated to work.
And one thing that I totally miss, is my contact with the blogsphere. Before I got into freelancing, I had way more opportunity to wade in, float around, and dig into the great ideas and practices that are out there. I felt like my own practice as an English teacher was greatly inspired by what I read from other blogging teachers. I felt connected, as if I were a part of a vibrant professional development community.
Now I feel like I’ve lost touch, and though I don’t think I ever occupied a place of greatness in the blogshere, I sure do feel like I’ve lost pace with the rest of the pack.
I still manage to skim through my bloglines account on a semi-regular basis, but I rarely have…or make…the time to slow down and dial in on the cool ideas I so often see there.
And AJ raises another pretty important point: If you freelance, vacation times are really difficult things to take. If you don’t work, you don’t get paid, and we all know that getting paid is pretty important.
So it’s like freelancers are stuck in a vicious circle. 1. You live to find work. 2. You work to live. 3. You live to work. 4. I don’t think there’s a 4 - - the circle has begun.
So what can us freelancers do to tame things a bit? Afterall, I didn’t go for this way of life to become a slave to my work. I chose to freelance because I wanted the benefits of being able to be my own boss. I wanted to have the complete freedom to cancel a class if my son or wife got sick, and needed my presence at home. I wanted to have the freedom to live OUTSIDE an office, and be able to move around more at will. I wanted the freedom of having a better income. I wanted the freedom of doing things the way I thought or longed to do them, without “company rules” etc to slow me down.
And in almost every way, I have gotten those benefits. But that time issue, the time to recharge, think, and discover new things, seems to be suffering. And the vacation thing…well…totally. If I stop working for a week or two, it would seriously hurt financially.
So what to do?
1. I must learn how to stick to my budget.
If you want a great way to learn about finances, check out www.daveramsey.com he has a great podcast. Over the months, my wife and I have been learning about how to make and keep a budget. The making bit is the easiest part. The sticking to it, now that’s where we’ve really been suffering a lot. But it’s so terrible: we do great at spending every penny we earn on our budget before we actually get paid…but when the money actually comes in, we always seem to find a way to break some part of the budget. Very frustrating, but a work in progress I guess. But what I see here for us freelancers, is that we simply must learn how to put away money. We need to learn how to live on less than what we earn. Doing this for a while will help us move into stronger financial position to actually take a break for a week or so. If we simply would save a little every month, maybe we could actually continue to pay ourselves via our savings accounts when we go on vacation.
I know for me, budgeting my income better - no, I lie, STICKING to my budget will open great opportunities for mini breaks and vacations throughout the year.
2. Regular Planning Days.
I’ve experienced this with my own work: You can become so busy with your classes that you actually stop being effective in them. You race from class to class, your schedule completely filled out, but what are you bringing with you that’s valuable? If you’re really turned onto the idea of delighting your clients, and if you’re really sold out on the idea of offering personalized content that actually MEANS something to them, you simply can’t run for long at full speed, and no planning time. Been there. Trying to stop that. So here are a few things I’m going to try out over the next weeks:
A. Go to bed earlier…every single night. It’s a proven fact: The less you sleep, the less effective you’ll be the next day. Help your body out, and give it some rest.
B. Wake up earlier, and use the extra hours to do things that really matter.
C. Block off a nice chunk of time, at least once a week, to plan all classes for the week. Make this practice a habbit.
D. Look for exercise activities. I’ve known this for years, but I fear that I’m a great procrastinator. Exercise reduces stress, and helps prevent burnout. We all know this, but how often do we really make time to do it? I know I don’t do it nearly enough.
So, I have my work cut out for me. I’m sure there are other things I could do to help keep myself fresh, on the cutting edge, and in good mental health…but for now I think I have a starting point. What do you think? What do you do to blance your life, and keep yourself fresh? I would love to learn from you!
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