Time for a Deep Breath

Most of us have learned not to load our plates so full of work that we’re collapsing under the pressure. However, sometimes, Murphy’s Law intervenes. A client asks you to bump up a deadline because he’s got to go on an unexpected trip. And then a bunch of other mini-emergencies and family responsibilities collide, leaving you scrambling around the clock.

I’ve been having one of those weeks. When I first started freelancing, just thinking about what I needed to accomplish this week would have made me panic. But over time, I’ve figured out how to handle it: Take it day by day. Figure out what you need to turn in each day–give the important work your highest levels of focus–and avoid doing anything else that isn’t necessary, like answering the phone just because it’s ringing.

It’s also important to break up your day. I’ve found that I can’t deliver high quality work if I try to sit at my desk and bang out three projects in a row, back to back, no matter how pressing the deadlines. Instead, I’ll get up at 5 am, work to noon on my most pressing and mentally demanding projects and take a long break to play with my son. I’ll return to my desk from, say 4 to  6 to tackle another project while my older kids do their homework. And, if I’ve still got some juice, I’ll put in another hour in the evening to finish something small.

Breaking things up offers another advantage: Mental distance. Sometimes, when I’m stressed, I’ll tend to overlook the most efficient ways to get something done. When I’m not panicked, I’m more able to focus on what’s essential and what’s optional.

These types of marathon weeks aren’t much fun and don’t allow for much work-life balance. But when you’re in the midst of one, it’s important to realize it’s not going to go on forever. You’re free to rethink your work load and client mix next week if it’s getting to be too much. That’s something you can’t do in a corporate job.

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