How to enjoy work when you’re busy (or when you’re super overwhelmed, or any time)

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THIS IS HOW IT FEELS.

So this post from entrepreneur Sarah Von Bargen is everything you need to know about creating a good place for your brain while freelancing.

Her original post is called “How to enjoy work (even when you’re busy + kind of overwhelmed)” but I feel like that title barely scratches the surface. It should be more like “How to enjoy work when you are hyperventilating because you have five deadlines to hit in the next 12 hours and your computer keeps crashing and you hate everyone and everything.” Because that seems to be what freelancing is like—either you have nothing to do or you have ten million things to do and they’re all due at the same time.

Sarah’s post has 8 tips for enjoying work even when you are so busy you feel like your brain is leaking out your ears. I’m excerpting it here with some of my own additions.

Sarah says: 
1. SCHEDULE INTENTIONAL, RESTORATIVE BREAKS – EVEN IF THEY’RE TINY
Open your Google calendar, find a 20-minute window, and literally type “TAKE A BREAK, DUDE.” Set a reminder on your phone or computer and when that alarm goes off take an actual break.

Rachel says:
Yup. It sometimes feels impossible to step away for even 10 minutes but it’s so important to try. You know what else makes for an amazing break? A quick workout. It’ll get your mind off your project (sometimes sparking amazing ideas in the meantime) AND give you an awesome endorphin boost. You don’t have to make this a huge thing. Go for a jog around the block or put on an online workout. (There are lots of Youtube channels for this, like this one, and I also talk about a bunch of different options in The Healthy Freelancer, the book).

Sarah says:
2. KEEP A ‘SMILE FILE’
Every time you get a kind email from a blog reader/client/customer, move it into a folder that you’ve specifically designated for these glowing missives.Reference all these kind, glowing words when you’re feeling run down and unsure of why you’re working so hard.

Rachel says:
Seriously this works! Mine is called “Yay me” because “smile file” sounds like a strange procedure you’d have done at the dentist, but same diff.

Sarah says:
3. READ GLORIOUS, ESCAPIST FICTION

Spoiler alert: GRE study guides and social media marketing plans don’t make for very good bedtime reading and they certainly don’t give you and your brain an opportunity to recharge.

Rachel says:
It doesn’t have to be glorious and escapist (though I am partial to ridiculous sword-and-sorcery stuff). It definitely shouldn’t be more “work stuff” though. Read a magazine, read your favorite non-work blog, read a comic book.

Sarah says:
4. MAKE YOUR WORKSPACE + WORK EXPERIENCE AS LOVELY AS POSSIBLE

Rachel says:
When I built my standing desk (which is fodder for another post, I think) I wanted it to feel as light and airy as possible so I painted it a bright shiny white. Guess what color dirt shows up best on? Still, it’s my fault – I could spend five minutes every few days to wipe it down but I haven’t, and it’s showing in my mood (honestly).

Also, we are doing some deep cleaning in the same room where my desk is. And you know how when you’re cleaning sometimes you pick an object up and go, Hmm, this doesn’t belong here on the floor, but I’m not sure where it does belong, so I’ll just put it on the nearest flat surface? (No? Maybe that’s just me?) At any rate you guys my desk was literally covered in garbage until ten minutes ago when I got so fed up I just chucked everything in a box. And let me tell you, having a gross desk is NOT conducive to keeping your sanity. So…don’t be like me.

Sarah says:
5. MAKE YOURSELF AS PHYSICALLY COMFORTABLE AS POSSIBLE

Rachel says:
Ergonomics, yo. Lots of tips in The Healthy Freelancer or just read what Sarah has to say.

Sarah says:
6. EAT HEALTHY, DELICIOUS, ATTRACTIVE MEALS – NOT AT YOUR DESK

Rachel says:
Here’s a pasta dish you can make once on the weekend and have for a couple days (or more) in a row.

Sarah says:
7. TAKE YOUR WORK DAY SERIOUSLY

Ferociously guard the boundaries between work and play.

Rachel says:
Work when it’s time to work, but when you’re off work, be off. That doesn’t mean you have to work 9-5. If you work better at midnight, so be it, but set your “office hours” and stick to them.

Also, there are some days when you have to work late to meet a deadline, and that’s fine. But if you can, treat your working late like real work, which it is. You might think it would be less painful to “just finish a few things” on the couch while your significant other/kids/housemates watch TV, but it’s just a reminder that they’re having fun and you’re not (plus the distration will make you take longer). Go to your desk, close the door if you have one, and hunker down and get that ish done.

Finally, Sarah says:
8. REMIND YOURSELF WHY YOU’RE WORKING SO HARD

Create a visual reminder of your goals and aspirations. Maybe you’re working this hard so you can afford a three-week vacation in Thailand. Maybe you’re putting your kids through college. Maybe you want your name on the New York Times Bestseller list.

Whatever the goal, find a related photo or image and make it your screensaver, or frame it and hang it next to your desk!

Rachel says:
Maybe it’s not even something that big. Maybe a huge project dropped into your lap and you felt like you simply couldn’t turn down the job. Last year, a surprise, urgent project (it’s always urgent, right?) appeared right before Thanksgiving, and it was looking likely that I would have to work if not on Thanksgiving proper, then certainly on the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday afterward–time I had planned to spend with loved ones. Immediately as soon as I booked the gig, I booked a reservation for the following week at a fancy restaurant I’d been dying to try. Then, as the job dragged on, I could at least comfort myself with thinking about how delicious that food was going to be.
Can you try something similar? Book a massage for the day after you hit your deadline, or put a book by a beloved author or a fancy kitchen gadget in your Amazon cart and pull the trigger when you know a big project is about to end? It doesn’t have to be a big, expensive thing, but such small treats can work wonders for your mental state.

What do you do when it’s crunch time, and how do you stay upbeat?

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Stop. Eat Lunch.

(Look, it’s a woman laughing alone with salad!)

Lunch today was a baked sweet potato and a PB&J, so not the most healthy, but I did at least attempt to eat it away from my desk. And science says that’s a good thing.

Basically–and you already know this–taking a break makes you more creative and reduces stress, and eating a balanced lunch powers up your brain.

If you have colleagues to eat with (which is not always true of us freelancers), the social interaction can also help advance your career, Kimberly Elsbach, professor of management at the Graduate School of Management at the University of California at Davis, told the Washington Post. An official business lunch doesn’t count as a mentally recharging break, she says, but talking casually with a co-worker does, and can be an effective way to network at the same time. Should you try this as a freelancer, it’s a great way to learn what clients in your area are hiring and get tips from other pros.

These are the best free soundtracks for freelancing

Or so I think.

Working from home has some serious advantages, not least of which being that you can listen to any music you want, without headphones. But I dunno about you, but I find music with lyrics really distracting when I’m trying to read or write…the lyrics sort of get priority in my head and I lose the thread of whatever sentence I was trying to compose.

So if you can stand lyrics, then by all means put on whatever you like best! If not, here are a couple ideas that I really like:

 

  • Rainymood.com – this isn’t so much music as a set of relaxing background sounds. Load Rainymood and you have a mini thunderstorm in your home office. I also like to run Rainymood at the same time as Spotify or Pandora. It sounds weird, but thunder can really improve some music.
  • Coffitivity.com – again, not so much music as background noise. This site makes your office sound like a busy coffee shop, with other people getting work done next to you. It’s like a real coffee shop except you can mute it for phone calls and the Wifi is way better.
  • Sometimes, especially on days like today where it is cold and foggy, all I want is to be somewhere else, so I put on the sounds of the beach. Don’t like beaches? Try searching YouTube for waterfalls, rainforests, or whatever really floats your boat.
  • The “Mozart effect” may be overrated, but on the other hand, there may be something to the idea of listening to music with a regular, consistent beat — and one that’s not too fast, not too slow. Spotify, Pandora and Youtube are your friends here (as is the local library), or just livestream a classical radio station.

What do you like to listen to to get things done?

You’re more productive and creative when you’re happy, so smile!

According to science, when you keep a positive attitude, you’re more likely to have great things happen to you at work.

Science has even quantified this likelihood: Studies say that positivity means you’re 31% more productive, you’re 40% more likely to receive a promotion, you have 23% fewer health-related effects from stress, and your creativity rates triple.

Now, these exact numbers seem pretty dubious to me but suffice it to say that being happy is good for your work.

Can you actually make yourself be happy, though? Slapping on a fake smile (or as countless moms used to suggest, holding a pencil between your teeth) does actually work a little. Other ideas: pinpoint the problem (having a concrete reason for your unhappiness gives you something to work on), think of three things you’re grateful for, and take one single concrete action, whether it’s making a phone call you’ve been putting off or choosing a healthier lunch. This can set off a positive “mental avalanche” to get you unstuck.

Also, if you can, get outside, if even for 10 minutes. The fresh air and change of scenery does wonders for your mood.

(h/t Harvard Business Review)