Working at Home: Keeping Your Sanity by Managing Yourself During Uncertainties
Indu Guzman shares how she fared as a freelance editor and how new challenges helped develop resilience.
During uncertainties like a global pandemic, it is important to focus on what you can manage—instead of what you cannot. We have no control over what happens in the world. However, we do have control over our personal realm.
The work-at-home tips I’m sharing helped me become resilient. For some reason, while I did my best to manage my work at home, my mind naturally followed my habits. As a result, I became better at facing uncertainty. Here are some practical tips I implemented to manage my freelance life during a pandemic and beyond.
Most freelance editors and writers are used to working at home. It has its perks like no morning traffic, no dress code, no childcare expenses, and working at my pace, taking several breaks throughout the day, and flexibility. However, the pandemic brings changes like the added responsibility of monitoring the kids schooling, which can throw things off.
I have to organize the daily operations, manage my time and workload, brand and market myself to prospective clients, bill and invoice, taxes, and of course edit the manuscripts. Time management, multitasking, marketing and sales skills are necessary in addition to being a skilled editor. Organizations like Editorial Freelancers’ Association (EFA) and American Copy Editors Society (ACES) were sources of support. I enjoy what I do, but I still have my bad days.
Most people would think freelancing and publishing of all industries is pandemic-proof. Freelancers can continue as if it’s business as usual, right? Not so fast.
Uncertainty, everyone in the house, disruptions can have it’s emotional toll. Around this time last year, we were all overwhelmed.
As things settled into place, we figured out daily tasks like schooling our son, watching our toddler, playing, and for me to get work done. I’m also thankful for technology. We’re able to homeschool through online lessons, follow workout videos online, Zoom meetings and chats, and Netflix. Now imagine facing a global pandemic in another era without our 21st century technology?
Sometimes, I found focusing on work difficult. Here are some strategies I developed to keep going—and eventually become emotionally resilient.
SCHEDULING and EXPECTATIONS. It is impossible to work, parent, manage a household, and homeschool the kids. Enlist help from spouse or family. I discovered a few things that I found helpful.
Set weekly goals but let go of some expectations. Extend deadlines. Re-prioritize. This applies to all people, regardless of lifestyle. Resist the mindset that productivity correlates to your self-worth. You may or may not write the book, finish a certification, or hit an impressive goal. Resist the temptation to compare yourself to others. Be realistic with goals. If you could not reach your weekly goals, it’s time to re-evaluate and adjust the goals if necessary.
When are you the most productive? Use that time to complete difficult tasks. The benefit of freelancing is not having a traditional 9 to 5 schedule. You can work while your spouse is homeschooling the kids in the afternoon, after you put your kids to bed, or earlier before they wake up.
Schedule free times. I flat out refuse to work on weekends. Nothing freelance-related including answering emails. I’m not an ER doctor and the emails can wait over the weekend. Otherwise, I’d simply burnout.
Schedule an “Exec Day” for planning, goal setting, and evaluating your business. I’m now re-evaluating my marketing and use of social media. Having a separate day for that and doing administrative tasks help.
Zoom calls are much more exhausting than we assume. Take breaks between calls. I find myself more productive with breaks.
It’s OK if there is some noise in the background as long as it isn’t disruptive. My kids are in the corner playing with their toys or TV at a reasonable volume while I’m at a distance where I can keep and eye on them and take the phone call. And, I will NOT be apologetic about it. I have people calling me from cafes, breakroom, airports with background noise. I have a life. If they have a problem with it, their problem NOT mine!
SETTING BOUNDARIES. That is vital to avoid burnout. Don’t have to answer emails right away. Use an out-of-office message.
Set a time to answer emails. Rather than being on your phone the whole day, set aside certain times to reply. When I’m playing with my kids, my time belongs to them not emails. Quality time is more important than trying to cram everything together.
Set aside office hours on your contract and maybe website so that boundaries and expectations are set with clients. My wedding planner put down her office hours and something along the lines of reaching back in a reasonable time and within 24–48 hours. It’s a gentle reminder especially for over-enthusiastic people who expect you to be on speed-dial.
With yourself, what can you do? What can you not? Be honest with yourself.
With family members: open door policy or not, that is the question. Decide what works for you. Communicate with your family, especially kids for tasks that cannot be interrupted.
WELLNESS. Take a shower and get dressed instead of working straight-out-of-bed-in-pajamas. No makeup or professional attire necessary. I wear my most comfortable jeans or leggings and a casual top, blow dry my hair, and do my skincare routine: face wash, toner, serum, moisturizer, eye cream. It makes me feel ready for work. Sometimes I wear makeup on Zoom calls because it makes me feel ready.
Make sure you check your angles for a Zoom call or don’t forget your pants like this reporter!
Eating. Maintain healthy habits. It’s normal to crave food and succumb into emotional eating during times of stress, loneliness, or seeking psychological comfort. Don’t beat yourself up. Order that pizza and enjoy it over a Netflix movie marathon as long as it’s done occasionally. My dietician told me, “Enjoy that pizza but think about what you can add to the pizza such as a salad, a fruit. Add protein and fiber so it isn’t just carbs.” That way, the salad or fruit will fill me up and I wouldn’t each as much pizza.
Her advice was with each meal to add a protein and fiber. My bad habits were skipping breakfast and not planning meals. So, eventually hunger hits and I crave carbs like pizza.
Watch yourself from spiraling into binge eating or depression. The foods you eat will affect your mood, well-being, and mental health. Eat a balanced diet of carbs, protein, fats. Add vegetables and fruits. Eat cookies, chips, pizza, and other junk food in moderation. Avoid excessive caffeine. I noticed that eating healthy helps me stay alert and feel better about myself. Please don’t fall into fad dieting or any food shaming habits. Those are counterproductive and feed into a negative culture around food. I highly recommend seeing a dietician if you struggle with diet and nutrition. It was helpful for me to break away from diet culture and unhealthy thinking towards food. And, I lost weight the healthy way.
Keep Moving. In between completed tasks or 90 minutes, do your laundry and wash dishes. That keeps you moving. This is necessary for those sitting in front of the computer for hours.
Exercise. Exercise is as celebration of what your body can do. Yet, don’t fall into the “no pain, no gain” mindset. Even a 15 minute yoga session can make a difference. If you’re a runner, do it. Go on walks. I subscribed to Alo Moves. They have a neck stretching program that helped my neck pain.
Local exercise instructors in your area are also offering virtual classes through Zoom. If you can support them, please do.
Exercise has an effect on your well-being, which affects your work life. You can also join us editors on exercise accountability through #stetwalk on Instagram and Twitter. A few editors started #stetwalk to encourage being active.
TAKE FREQUENT BREAKS. You may find yourself taking more breaks than necessary, that’s OK.
This is not the time for martyrdom.
Studies have repeatedly proven that short frequent breaks help improve productivity. According to MIT Sloan’s Senior Lecturer, Bob Pozen, “Taking regular time outs help you refresh your focus and get more done.”
I have, unfortunately, run into many people with the martyr-complex. They refuse to self-care, judge others for having healthy boundaries as incompetent or lazy, and overwork. They constantly complain and make passive-aggressive comments about how much work they put in, constant exhaustion, and etc…
Example, say a neighbor decided to get a babysitter to take a mommy break. The martyr mom would gripe about how that neighbor isn’t prioritizing her kids or make ridiculous comments like, “I wish I had the time to do nothing.” Or a person always stays later in the office and complains about how others don’t put in as much work, or gossips about someone taking a PTO. They reek of negativity.
When I hear that, I find it tough to avoid rolling my eyes. Martyrdom does not impress me at all. I’d think the martyr has boundary and self-management issues, incompetent, or a plan fool!
You may need more breaks when you have added responsibilities or stresses. The beauty of working at home and freelancing is that I can take frequent breaks.
BUDGET. As tempting as it maybe to splurge on something, keep track of your spending. If there is something you want, make sure you budget for it. I ended up treating myself to my favorite skincare products and a few yoga pants. Other than that, we continued to budget and save. On the positive side, we celebrated paying off our car loan.
DO NOT COMPARE YOURSELF WITH OTHERS. I’ve seen memes on my Facebook wall from self-help junkies that go along the lines of implying that the well-known people accomplished during quarantine, and what can you do?
This is bullshit! Some people are unaware of their privilege. It ignores people who don’t have resources or those with disabilities and illnesses (ableist, much?) among other things. This also emphasizes task-related accomplishments as a sign of self-worth. I wouldn’t call Shakespeare’s writing of King Lear as religious Christian kingdom work. Remember, the Puritans wanted to tear down Shakespeare’s theatre? This is a misinformed meme.
Everyone’s lifestyle is different. I decided that it is OK if I didn’t complete as many freelance tasks as last year. I spent more time with my family and bonded with my son in a different way when tutoring him or helping him with online schooling.
During the beginning of the pandemic, say the earlier part of 2020, I found it difficult to focus. I took a break from March to April. I don’t regret it.
LEARN A NEW SKILL OR TRY SOMETHING NEW. There are online courses offered by Grubstreet and Gotham City Writers. I got a scholarship from Grubstreet, and took classes in short story writing and novel outlining. I also took an Advanced Copyediting class from Editorial Freelancers’ Association. Having interactions with others online helped my sanity.
Or if you have a skill, why not teach it online? Or host a social gathering online? Or join forums?
Then, there’s always books.
Learning something new sharpens your mind and makes you feel better about yourself.
CELEBRATE LITTLE THINGS. Find joy in small wins. The small wins such as writing one page or one chapter keeps you going. My wins worth celebrating were finally figuring out how to redo my website after feedback from peers. What else? Able to enjoy a delicious bar of candy alone for a few minutes without a “Mommy, Mommy!” Looking forward to my daily 15 minutes of yoga practice. All these add up.
GETTING HELP. Do not neglect your mental health or well-being. Getting help is not a weakness. It takes strength to make yourself vulnerable and talk about your shortcomings. Therapists are offering virtual visits. So, reach out and browse your community resources.
I hope these tips are helpful. Do you have any other tips useful for those who work at home or freelance?
Even beyond maintaining productivity, I find managing what I can control—myself—the key to developing resilience during tough times. It is incredible how much managing my freelance work life helps other areas of life.
Indu Guzman is a freelance editor, fiction writer, and Associate Fiction Editor of Pangyrus near Boston, Massachusetts, USA. Before settling down in the Boston suburbs, she lived in 5 countries (India, Dubai U.A.E, U.S.A, Argentina, Singapore) and traveled to many others. Experiencing the larger world helped Indu see the universal themes among the human experience. In other words, we all have much more in common than differences. She explores third-culture kid experience, family dynamics, trauma and loss through her fiction. She can be found at the-penlife.com