What I did when I was overwhelmed with work

Welcome to The Professional Freelancer, a newsletter that will make your freelance life richer. In this issue:      
* What to do when you have too much freelance work   
* Is the pivot to freelance a feminist issue?   
* Poppy the cockapoo   
* How class discrimination seeps into the workplace  

This week, I’m re-publishing a newsletter from the archive. I first wrote about the Pomodoro Technique 18 months ago and I still use it when I’m overwhelmed with work, so I wanted to resurface it in case it helps anyone else.

Sometimes I get so overwhelmed by the mountain of work in front of me that I feel paralysed to even begin tackling it.

I was once at a panel talk on mental health where someone mentioned the Pomodoro technique, a trendy productivity hack that efficient people supposedly swear by. I've always prided myself on being someone who's good at time management, so have resisted these sorts hacks in the past. But then I found myself so flustered with the amount of work I had to get through that I was desperate to find something to help me focus.

So I gave the Pomodoro technique a shot.

It's really straightforward: you pick a task to work on, say “transcribe interview” or “write newsletter”, then you set a timer for 25 minutes and work solely on that task. After the timer is up, you set another timer for a five-minute break. You repeat this three more times and then you take a longer break.

It totally worked for me. I started off using my phone as a timer, but then I found this browser-based one, which I preferred. I like to put my phone on do not disturb and shove it in a drawer when I’m in deep work mode and using its timer only tempts me to get sucked into to attending to the notifications on it.

I first turned to the Pomodoro technique while I was in crisis mode, but I've kept on using it since then. For me, the 25-minute bursts of focused work are the perfect length (there's a school of thought that to get the most out of the technique, you should adjust the time blocks to suit you).

I personally find the Pomodoro technique most useful for writing. When I first used it, my mind was blown by how many words I can get done in 25 minutes. On a good day, I can smash out 300 words in one 25-minute time block. When you think about it like that, hitting an 800 or even 1000-word deadline in an afternoon suddenly seems a lot more manageable. Which is really what you need from any time management tip – the feeling of regaining control over your workload.

It’s also a really effective technique when you’re struggling to just get started on something. I personally find with any writing project that the first couple of sentences are the hardest. I don’t know what it is, but I just get this low-grade anxiety before I’ve written anything and that stress, counter-intuitively, stops me from actually starting to write. I find that setting that timer and focusing solely on the task of getting something (anything!) written down speeds the whole process up and just makes it a lot less painful.

Anyway, my timer's up now.

Happy freelancing professional freelancers,
–Anna, FJ&Co. Founder

FJ&Co noticeboard

Is the pivot to freelance a feminist issue? The next FJ&Co panel will discuss the recent shift to freelance for many female journalists. Is this to be celebrated? Or is work just not working for women? Join me, Coco Khan (the Guardian), Lucy Pasha-Robinson (HuffPost) and Josie Cox (freelance) at the Ace Hotel on October 23, tickets available here.

The no-office office pet

Poppy is a three-year-old cockapoo who loves nothing more than bossing Danielle Owen-Jones around all day while she tries to get her work done as a PR consultant and freelance journalist.

If you have a Good Pet who keeps you company as you work from home, send me a picture of them to feature here and bring joy to the lives of thousands of freelancers.

Calls for pitches

The list

  • I’m on the Bang On The Money podcast this week, talking about fair pay and how freelancing doesn’t mean free work.

  • I’m also in this month’s issue of Monocle – I wrote about the alternative business school Jolt and how it’s changing business education by offering an alternative MBA programme. (Only available in print)

  • UnderPinned, the freelancer platform, wants to know what the biggest problems are facing freelancers. They’ve put together this short survey so they can help us better. (I’ve met the guys who run UnderPinned and they’re doing a great job helping freelancers so definitely take some time to do this survey if you can)

  • “In this country your future prospects are largely determined by what family you were born into and how much money they had at the time.” Vicky Spratt on how class discrimination seeps into workplaces. (For more on this, listen to Vicky’s episode on the podcast)

  • “Talking about money helps you make more of it”. Lauren Razavi writes about how to advance your freelance career by getting good at talking about the green stuff

The Professional Freelancer is written by Anna Codrea-Rado, illustrations are by Léo Hamelin. It’s a production of FJ&Co, a platform that gives freelance journalists the tools, resources and community support they need to make a sustainable self-employed living
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