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Looking at the calendar today I noticed that January is rapidly coming to a close. As is the case with almost every late January, I can still clearly remember New Year’s day—sitting on my couch amidst empty champagne bottles and half-boxed up holiday decorations, brimming with enthusiasm about how tomorrow was going to be the first day of the rest of my newly organized, focused, and efficient life. But it’s now almost a month later. If I’m being honest, I’ve spent most of those weeks just recovering from the holiday season and getting back into the groove of a regular work and home schedule.
Which is why—although new year’s resolutions sound great—I typically find myself at the end of January without having made any significant progress. Normally I look at this as a personal failing, get discouraged, and give up on my new year’s goals entirely.
But this year I’ve decided to take a different approach: Rather than succumbing to the post-holiday fog and looking at one slow month as an excuse to trash the rest of the year, I’m looking past immediate results in January and seeing the next six months as a process toward renewing, refocusing, and reinvigorating my work life. And so—in hopes of serving up some inspiration for your own post-January game plan—here’s a list of four things I’m looking forward to implementing over time, starting now.
Hi! My Name Is Structure
One of the perks of freelancing and/or working remotely is that you aren’t tied down to a hard and fast work schedule. Sure, there are times when you need to be on the same scheduling page as your team or a client, but, unlike a conventional office environment, producing work is more important than being seen in an office during specific hours. This kind of flexibility can allow you to fit your work around the rest of your life in a way that’s more efficient and productive than sitting at a desk from 9-5, but there are times when getting too flexible can tie you up in knots. It can be tempting to put off work for house cleaning or dentist appointments just because you can. That’s fine once in awhile—and it comes with the territory when you’re a remote freelancer—but if you let your flexible schedule get to a point where there’s no schedule at all, you can quickly find yourself in a work wasteland where you’re working all the time but not really getting anything done.
This year, as I recover from the fast and loose scheduling chaos of the holiday season and the dip in motivation that comes with late January, my plan is to embrace structure with open arms and reintroduce some dedicated scheduling to my work life. I’m redoubling my efforts to carve out regular, dependable blocks of work time that fit around the rest of my day (instead of cobbling together piecemeal, unsatisfying work sessions at random, unplanned times).
One of the biggest steps I’m trying to take is to stop treating my schedule like it’s a mystery. While freelancing from home isn’t as clockwork as a 9-5 office schedule, it’s still pretty predictable. I know I have to drop off and pick up my kids from school at the same times every day, I know which days they have after school activities, their (and my) appointments are usually scheduled weeks in advance, etc., and so—with just a little bit of proactive Google Calendar consultation or help from productivity hacks—there’s no reason I can’t plan my work around these known constants, versus waiting for convenient work times to magically present themselves.
Getting the Kids on Board
In addition to my paid work I’m the primary caretaker of my two daughters, so during the week (when they’re not at school) they ultimately look to me for their own schedule guidance. I’m not going to lie—after two weeks of winter break that guidance became pretty lackluster. By the end of break my youngest was in full, eating-Toblerones-in-her-underwear-while-playing-video-games-all-day mode, and now in late January we still haven’t pulled out of that downward spiral. (Hey, as long as you and your sister aren’t fighting, and I’m able to get some work done, knock yourself out, Kid!) And as any parent who works from home knows, our personal attempts at shiny new schedules and structures are only as successful as the buy-in we get from our kids—it’s impossible to be individually organized if there’s a Tom and Jerry style dust cloud tearing through the living room—so, alongside my own attempts at clawing out of the holidays with structure and routines, I’m going to invite my kids to come along for the ride.
From the kids’ perspective, they also seem ready to get back on track after their sugar and screens holiday free-for-all. I’m not sure how receptive they would have been if I’d tried to snap them out of it back on January 1, but now—after having a few weeks to come down from their vacation high—it’s a perfect time to get them on board with a non-feral paradigm. Just like their annoying dad is now working at regular times every day, they can do their homework first thing after getting home from school (instead of deferring it for “just a minute” until 8:00 p.m.). Instead of scrambling to make their lunches myself in the morning, I’ll set them up to be able to do it themselves—having them come up with ideas for what they actually want to eat and walking them through the steps of assembling their own meals will ultimately benefit all three of us long term. By investing a little bit of time and weathering an initial adjustment period—we’ll all come out feeling more focused, more settled, and generally clear-headed.
Time to Up Skill
I enjoy the holidays—mostly—but the time between Christmas and New Years can be rough—I’m crashing from all the Christmas mania while trying to prepare for more celebrating on NYE. This year I ended up with a new (to me) type of work assignment that needed to be finished during that week between the two holidays, and, for the first time in years, I didn’t experience a single moment of my usual holiday ups and downs—I was too busy wrapping my head around the difficulties, triumphs, frustrations, and achievements associated with doing something new. Of course—once I emerged from holiday time off and started trying to get back into the rhythm of a regular work schedule—I managed to forget all about this breakthrough. Until now!
As I’m looking at the calendar and realizing most of January has already blazed by, it occurs to me that looking for more new work challenges and honing the skills necessary for doing them is another way to take control of the next six months and refocus self improvement into a process instead of an impossibly instant transformation. I feel like I often spend a lot of time thinking about ways I’d like to up skill and expand my professional repertoire, but very little time acting on those plans. Enough is enough. It’s time for a change! As the first half of this year unfolds—and while I’m looking to get back on mental track after too many weeks of gifted alcohol and holiday cocktail parties—I’m going to focus on new projects and continue to develop professionally. In my case, as a staff writer here at Skillcrush, I’ll be looking to learn more about the editorial process, seeking out new types of content to help write (my previously mentioned post-Christmas assignment was revising a guide for one of our webinars), and making myself available to attend meetings and become more integrated with our full-time team. Combining personal growth with avoiding a new year’s slump? That sounds like the definition of a win-win.
Hello Down Time, My Old Friend
Remembering back to running between holiday prep, parties, and the eventual crash, it’s clear that I need to prioritize simply resting this year. First, I’ll acknowledge that I was probably a little too kicked back for the last couple of weeks, and move on knowing that—feeling recharged and refreshed—the next six months are now go time—with healthy buffers of downtime in between.
While downtime might sound frivolous, being productive is all about balance, and I find that I’m actually more productive (in all aspects of my life) when I have a couple of hours at the end of the day or on weekends to let myself be slack jawed while playing Mario Odyssey. Your own brand of poison may vary, but—regardless of specifics—this time to turn off and recharge is critical, and allows you to be alert and present when you do need to be “on” in your professional and personal life. And so—while it may seem counterintuitive—being able to return to a few blissfully hazed out hours a week (in between totally tuned-in work days) will continue to be part of my strategy for moving out of the January haze. Between freelancing, primary parenting, being an active member of a community, and having a full social life, it’s important to have just a little bit of time carved out for none of the above. In our house, that translates into my wife and I spending the last hour or two before we go to sleep doing our own thing companionably from our own sides of the couch and taking a deep a breath before starting again in the morning.
Scott Morris is Skillcrush's staff writer and content producer. Like all the members of Skillcrush's team, he works remotely (in his case from Napa, CA). He believes that content that's worth reading (and that your audience can find!) creates brands that people follow. He's experienced writing on topics including jobs and technology, digital marketing, career pivots, gender equity, parenting, and popular culture. Before starting his career as a writer and content marketer, he spent 10 years as a full-time parent to his daughters Veronica and Athena.