Sleep schedule struggles

Who here remembers when I used to sleep until noon every day, easily? I usually worked from midnight until 3am or 4am, then went to bed and slept late. In the afternoon after I got up, I usually blogged, networked, and browsed the job boards, and at night I would get the real work done. Because no one was awake to bother me, and because I am a night person and have the most focus then, I was able to work much faster than I can during the day.

A number of factors made me have to change my schedule. Having a horse and sharing a car with my husband (in order to go ride said horse) were two major factors, but I think the biggest was when my cat Prince got sick last fall. He stopped eating sometime around October, so I was force feeding him, which meant getting up extra early in order to get some food into him before I went out to the barn or whatnot.

Even after Prince passed away in April, I kept my earlier schedule, which I was proud of. It means I get up earlier on the weekends and have more time to spend with my husband, which we both like. It also meant I was going for trail rides a couple mornings a week, and I've found the morning activity makes me less likely to be sleepy later on in the day.

The drawback is that I'm not as productive during the day. Other people are awake, so I spend more time checking email, Facebook, and blogs. But for nearly a year now, I've made it work, and I've been pleased.

Until Wednesday. I worked until 3am to meet a deadline, and then read for another hour. Although I was up at 8:30 the next morning anyway, I was groggy and tired. I went back to bed, and didn't get up again until nearly noon. Then yesterday, I also slept until noon, after staying up late again to finish a book (The Help, by Kathryn Stockett — awesome book).

I was so worried that my sleep schedule would be permanently messed up, so I made myself go to bed earlier last night, and got up at 9:30 this morning. Unfortunately, now I'm getting sleepy. (Dehydrated, I'm sure!) Time for a coffee beverage and a little blogging break!

After staying focused on work, I think my schedule is one of my biggest struggles as a freelancer. What are yours?

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By Katharine Swan On Friday, August 27, 2010 At 2:15 PM 2 comments

The breaks system

One of the subjects that I talk about on my blog a lot is time management. I find it can be very difficult sometimes to focus on work without checking email, Facebook, Craigslist, or the blogs I follow. Depending on how motivated I am to work on a certain project, sometimes I get the urge to do this about every five minutes. Resisting can be quite the challenge!

Lately I've been trying to operate on a breaks system. Instead of trying to focus on work for an entire day or a half day, I try to get about an hour's worth of work done — a client's blog post, interviewing a source, outlining an article, or doing some research on a new topic. When the goal is accomplished, I take a short mental break — browse the Internet, get a snack, or even read a little (I've been reading a lot lately). Sometimes (less often) I do some mundane chore, like laundry, just to make me move around a little before I go back to work.

I've also been trying not to work through lunch anymore, something I've done on and off (but primarily on) for years. Instead I try to get some quality work done before and after lunch, but let myself read a book or a couple of blog posts while I eat.

And of course, I've been visiting the barn a lot this summer, usually in the mornings. This is the trickiest to accommodate in my schedule, because it can take up half a day when I have a lesson or go for a trail ride. The end result is that I have to work harder and faster in the afternoon, and maybe even a little into the evening. But on the flip side, I tend to feel more energetic when I start the day with a ride, and less likely to let my attention wander when I get back to work.

I think the issue of breaks can be a challenging one for freelancers. When you work for someone, you guard your breaks jealously, but when you work for yourself — when you don't get paid for that time, and always have some client project to finish before you can invoice them — it's easy to forget.

I think breaks are just as important for freelancers, however — perhaps more so, when you consider that sometime you are your most demanding boss. When I give myself more breaks, I actually find I tend to be more productive.

What about you? Do you find that you do or don't need regular breaks? How do you determine when you take them, and how do you spend them?

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By Katharine Swan On Wednesday, August 25, 2010 At 12:10 PM 3 comments

Beating the need for a nap

One of the biggest challenges I've encountered as a freelance writer is staying awake all day. Working from home makes that afternoon nap harder to resist, probably because I'm surrounded by the quiet comforts of home. Plus, those of you who have been reading my blog for a while know that I tend toward a rather nontraditional schedule. For almost a year now, though, I've been forcing myself to go to bed earlier and get up at a decent time (before 9:00 most mornings!). Although I'm not as productive in the daytime as I am late at night, there are some other advantages, such as being on a similar schedule as my husband.

Unfortunately, it does mean that I struggle with sleepiness in the afternoon, particularly on days when I don't go to the barn in the morning. Although it's nice to take a nap sometimes, I almost never take short ones, so a "quick" nap blows half my afternoon. Therefore I've had to learn a few tricks for combating afternoon sleepiness.

* Drink plenty of water. I learned this trick from our water department newsletter, of all places. (Kudos to the writer who put that newsletter together!) Apparently mild dehydration can actually cause you to feel a little sleepy.

* Eat a small lunch. A large meal will make you feel sleepy in the afternoon. I prefer to eat a lighter lunch, along with some snacks throughout the day if I get hungry.

* Snack on something spicy. Did you know that spicy food can actually wake you up if you are getting sleepy? Eat something spicy for lunch, or snack on chips and salsa in the afternoon when you feel yourself starting to drag.

* Go for a walk. Exercise will also wake you up if you are getting sleepy. Even if you don't have time to work out during the day, a 30-minute walk around the neighborhood should get rid of the urge to take a nap. I even sometimes will get up and put away a load of laundry, just to get out of my chair and move around a little!

* Change the scenery. I'm actually writing this from Starbucks on Friday afternoon. I'm a big fan of going to coffee shops and bookstores occasionally to work — if I'm feeling sleepy or bored, I find it usually revives me to work someplace with a little activity. It's hard not to want to sleep when you are surrounded by napping dogs and cats all day long!

Do you struggle with afternoon sleepiness, and if so, how do you stay awake and productive?

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By Katharine Swan On Monday, August 23, 2010 At 9:51 AM 0 comments

Do you work weekends?

One of the things I like best about freelancing is the ability to determine your own schedule. For some freelancers, this means working in the evenings and on the weekends in order to make time for things you want to do during the day.

For example, I love going out to the barn to ride my horse in the mornings, when it isn't as busy. However, this often means I have some work left to do in the evenings. My husband and I work around this by going to a bookstore so I can work in the cafe while he browses, or we just stay home and he plays Xbox while I work.

Likewise, I use weekends as my backup plan. If, for some reason, I don't get something done during the week that I'd planned to do, I can work a little on the weekend. Usually we either go to a bookstore, or I work for an hour or so late at night, after Michael has gone to bed.

Working weekends is getting more rare for me, but it's still always a possibility. I actually kind of like the feeling of always having something to do. I know other freelancers, however, who prefer to maintain firm boundaries with their clients. They don't work evenings or weekends, don't even answer client emails unless it's during normal business hours.

There is definitely some merit to that kind of approach. Some clients will take advantage if you let them, contacting you at all hours with last-minute projects and revision requests. Having office hours will set boundaries prevent that kind of client from making you miserable. But in my opinion, there are advantages to a more flexible schedule, too, as it enables you to work around your life, rather than living around your work.

What about you? Do you work weekends sometimes, always, or not at all?

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By Katharine Swan On Friday, August 20, 2010 At 10:15 AM 0 comments

Pet peeves

Yesterday, when I was browsing Craigslist, an ad I've seen before caught my eye. It was for a website with a list of locations and reviews of Denver area dog parks, so I decided to check it out.

The site was awful. It looked like a free site, for one thing, and the layout sucked. But the content was also really bad. One of my pet peeves is overuse of keywords, and this site had it in spades.

Feeling nice, I clicked on the email link in the Craigslist ad and sent a nice email, saying that someone had clearly given them bad advice on how to handle keywords, and offering to give them a few tips on how to make the content better. Know what I earned for my generosity? An email asking me to donate my services to rewrite the pages, since of course, it's a "nonprofit website."

Enter another one of my pet peeves: People who try to get free work out of writers by claiming they are a nonprofit. The really annoying thing was that the website had ads plastered across the top of every page, so it's not unprofitable for lack of trying! Failing to earn any ad revenue doesn't make you a nonprofit, honey.

I responded and let them know in no uncertain terms that I wasn't going to be taken advantage of, but that the offer for some advice was still open if they wanted to take me up on it. Did they? No, of course not.

Which brings us to my biggest pet peeve of all: People who put crappy content on the Internet, know it's crappy, and don't care.

What are your biggest pet peeves?

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By Katharine Swan On Thursday, August 12, 2010 At 8:15 PM 3 comments

Katharine Swan is a full-time freelance writer with more than 5 years of professional writing experience. In addition to maintaining several personal blogs, she writes a variety of online marketing materials for clients, including company blogs, articles, and press releases. In her free time, she spends time with her horse, reads, and writes fiction.

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