It’s commonly said that, for freelancers, the personal and the professional are closely linked, and rarely has this been truer for me than in the turbulent year that was 2022. So for my turn-of-the-year post, instead of the usual looking back at the old year and forward to the new, I wanted to concentrate on an aspect that has been vital to me this past year: the ability to work at reduced capacity.
This is something I’ve had to do during several periods during 2022. In June, for example, my son and I moved out of our flat for three weeks for renovation work. We were kindly offered Paige Dygert’s house on the shores of Lago Maggiore in Italy for the duration, but it was too long a period to take as a holiday. Later, in October, when my partner, Ana Ribeiro, came to stay for a month, I needed to combine some working with spending time with her.
During these periods, I’ve learned a few things about working at reduced capacity, which I’d like to share in this post in the form of ten tips for anyone working while travelling or wanting to enjoy other elements of life.
1. Get yourself into a working routine. When Ana was staying, we tried to go out and do things in the mornings and work in the afternoons, which worked reasonably well.
2. Don’t be afraid to work whole days sometimes, when necessary. I did this a few times in Italy. If you’re really clever, and deadlines allow, you can make these days coincide with bad weather, of course.
3. Don’t be afraid to take whole days off. If you do work whole days, reward yourself with the occasional whole day off, when you can go out a little further afield or just spend more time doing something you really enjoy doing.
4. Don’t be tied to taking time off at weekends. That’s what most employees have to do, but we’re freelancers and there’s really no need. In Italy, for example, the little beach by the lake where we were staying looked more like Torremolinos at weekends, with barely room to swing a towel. But during the week it was virtually empty. With a little flexibility, you can experience a lot more uncrowded enjoyment.
5. Be realistic about what you can take on. You’re already not working at full capacity and, in unfamiliar conditions, you’re probably not going to work as fast as you normally do, Take that into account when accepting work.
6. Be kind to yourself. For the reasons I’ve already mentioned, you may not always reach the work targets you set every day. It really does no good being too hard on yourself about this. Accept what’s happened, try to plan for the next work day and, when making your plans, see what you can learn from having been too ambitious in your initial targets.
7. Keep your schedule loose. It follows from the previous two points that you mustn’t pack your schedule too tight. If you do, work is going to dominate every day, which is probably not what you want. Leaving room for possible slippage, or to pick up small, unexpected jobs, will help you relax and enjoy your time while still getting the important jobs done.
8. Select the work you do. If you’re working at partial capacity you need to be choosy about the jobs you accept. There really is no point in taking on work you’re not going to enjoy, or which isn’t paid at a proper rate.
9. Select your clients. The same applies to your clients as to your work – you don’t want to be spending your precious reduced hours work for clients who are awkward or don’t pay their bills. Working at reduced capacity is an ideal chance to shake a few of these off.
10. Have good equipment. This is where I singularly failed in Italy. My pitifully slow Lenovo laptop earned its nickname “Craptop” while we were there, costing me hours in wasted time. Buying a new one is high on my list of priorities for 2023, and I would have got one sooner had I not turned out to need a new desktop more urgently.
Because reduced capacity working is going to continue to be a feature of my working life for the foreseeable future. In the short term, I’ll be travelling backwards and forwards to Portugal to see Ana, and in the longer term we may be doing some travelling together. In both cases, work, while remaining important, is going to have to be fitted around what I want to do in life and not the other way around.