7 posts categorized "Freelance Writing"

June 02, 2011

Time Management: One day at a time

You've heard them before: "Time is money. There are only 24 hours in a day. Always set aside time for yourself. If you want time you must make it." Suggestions are everywhere regarding how to better manage that precious finite resource each day.

I've been exploring those tidbits of advice for a NAWBO-CI "happy coffee" I'm hosting on June 6 at 5 p.m. on the Greenbriar patio in Johnston. Women business owners will gather to share our time management strategies or perhaps the lack of them. We'll discuss what's working and what's not. I've downloaded 130 time management tips to see if there's some workable nugget that I haven't yet tried. There's always some idea worthy of consideration, but to insert another known phrase into this blog: Old habits die hard.

Yesterday was a time management gem for me. By 1 p.m. I'd completed all my appointments and the morning tasks that I'd prioritized to be done by 2 p.m. During the rest of the afternoon I was able to work on three projects at my desk; two of those had come up during my morning appointments and I'd labeled them "urgent." Yes, that pushed some "important, but not urgent" tasks to the top of today's list, but yesterday ended great. I quit working by 5:30 p.m. because it was a gorgeous day and I wanted to get out to enjoy it. The evening provided time to sit outside and relax, read, do a Sudoku puzzle or two and have a nice dinner with Chuck. Reminder to self: Savor June 1, 2011.

Because other days my ever-present to-do list is untouched by 10 p.m. When you're a sole proprietor in a service business, some days are spent reacting to pressing requests and living in the dreaded "fire fighter" quadrant Dr. Stephen Covey describes in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. No amount of routine-building and establishing of priorities is going to work on those days. Yet that's one thing I love about being a freelancer: Every day is different. I haven't been bored in 31 years. And some mornings (hey, I've identified mornings as my most productive time) I even "make" time to write a blog! But as you can tell by my sporadic posts, blogging is in an "important, but not urgent" category for me. Hope to see central Iowa WBOs on Monday night to share time management insights.


September 23, 2010

Sit, Pam, but not too much

I've spent endless hours at the computer the past five days. My project has been fact checking about 20 pages of existing health-related editorial. I do online searches to find out if the experts quoted in the articles are still in the same professional positions and if recently published research calls for an editorial update.

Bombarded by information about healthy lifestyles and the woes of being sedentary, I started doing twists, stretches and even lifting weights every time I pushed the "search" button. I had but seconds to sit and wait for results, but I got my mini muscle workout. If my work environment was a cubicle in a big company I'd probably be in HR right now being questioned about my strange gyrations. But all the info I'd been reading made me feel that every second of being still was putting a nail in my coffin.

And that's pretty accurate (fellow couch potatoes). Today I learn that the Journal of the American College of Cardiology is about to publish a study (September 28) that women who were moderately active at work were 20 percent less likely to develop heart failure (men on-the-go were 10 percent less likely). Those who also incorporated physical activity into their leisure time—or walked or biked to work—saw added benefit.

Jobs described as moderately active were ones requiring a lot of walking and standing. That's not me. Moderate leisure activity was defined as more than four hours per week of walking, biking or gardening. I'm not doing bad at being moderately active in my non-work hours. But these hours at the desk are going to require much more creativity. 

Time to figure out how to read and type at the computer while standing and doing side lunges.

April 05, 2010

Word Watching 101

What business buzzwords and phrases make you crazy when you see them in print or hear them in meetings, conversations with sales folks, or even from the podium? Ann Handley, chief content officer of MarketingProfs, had so many that she listed them for two days on Open Forum. They make us "sound like tools," says Handley of words that have morphed into something ugly, overused and annoying. Here are some she'd like to ban from marketing, sales, corporate communications, business schools, blogs and boardrooms:

1. Impactful - What ever happened to influential, powerful or substantial?

2. Leverage - Depending on the intended meaning, try influence, exploit, enhance, rely on or use.

3. Learnings - What's wrong with lessons? Will we next be putting an "s" on knowledge?

4. Synergy (or synergistic, synergism, synergize) - Cooperation, help, joint/pooled/combined effort are simple substitutes.

5. Revolutionary - Few things qualify for this overused word. Handley would reserve it for "an escalator to the moon."

6. Proactive - Try active, anticipate, forestall or foresee. Handley finds the word too pompous, as if you're reacting to issues even before they occur.

7. Incenting/incentivizing - Use encourage or provide incentive.

8. Almost any word ending in "ize" (productize, monetize, budgetize, optimize, operationalize) - Handley urges us to use a word that don't "sound like it was first uttered by the robot on Lost in Space."

Handley shared a few other things that irritate her:

* Businesses that use "solution" to describe a new product or service they can't otherwise explain

* Technology words applied to humans (ex: "I'm offline" for "not working" or "bandwidth" to mean "capacity")

* Harmless words that are mashed together (buy-in, mission-critical, value-add, push-back)

* Silly phrases that have become corporate-speak (Run it up the flagpole. When the rubber meets the road. Peel the onion. Touch base.)

* Phrases routed in unfortunate, regrettable events in history (because they're just bad taste), such as "brand Nazi" or "drinking the Kool-Aid" as applied to accepting ideas or concepts.

Some of us write for our livelihood, but ALL of us converse. It's worth paying attention to what clearly communicates and what words we use when we think we're adding energy and punch to our message.

October 06, 2009

Will You Join Me in Multitaskers Anonymous?

I'm taking the pledge.  For such reasons as needing to calm myself, restore focus and have fewer stacks of paper at my fingertips, I'm now trying to do just one thing at a time. After years of believing I could only accomplish all my goals and responsibilities by multitasking, I think it probably would be easier to have my tonsils removed through one of my big toe nails than to put the kibosh on managing multiple priorities in rapid-fire succession or simultaneously.

In the past I've felt pretty good about all I could get done in a day, but maybe my satisfaction with "overachieving" has too many nasty side effects.  For several years researchers have told the consequences of multitasking: 

  • we're really not as efficient as we think (I never believed that)
  • the chances of retaining information drops more rapidly when we aren't wholly focused on one item at a time (that might be possible, might not)
  • by perpetuating a lack of ability to focus we're shortening our memories (oh, please, let that not be true)
  • multitasking could be a leading cause of stress, depression and even early memory loss (okay, I get it; I need to stop multitasking)

I can't go cold turkey. But I'm taking baby steps. So far I have three to embrace.

* I decided to ignore the "ping" telling me that yet another email has arrived. I'm not good at this, so I finally turned off the "ping." New plan: I'm going to try to deal with emails in the first hour of the morning, then only look at them when I switch projects, before I stop for lunch or late in the day when my mind needs a little time-out. 

•  When random things I need to do pop into my head while I'm working at my desk, I frequently jump up, take a little break and do them so I won't forget. Talk about a productivity killer. I've now devoted the blue "stickie" (a Post-it note on my Mac) to "totally unrelated work needs to remember" and I type thoughts there as my brain shouts them out. The green "Stickie" gets "totally unrelated home needs to remember."  Both can be dealt with at the end of the day. 

•  Since overlapping deadlines can drive me to multitasking madness, I'm taking a good look at projects to be sure that my clients and I are setting realistic expectations and deadlines. Will clients think I'm extraordinary—the only person they'll ever turn to again for services—if I get a project done in two days when they don't need it until next a week? Of course I want to believe that!  Won't they be pleased and see my commitment to customer service when I drop everything to make them the center of my universe and deliver what's needed without delay? Sure, Pam, they'll NEVER forget that! 

In many cases, I'm sure that I'm the problem, NOT the client's needs. But when they suggested a tough turn around time, I'm going to try saying, "That's not going to work for me, but I could get it to you on (date)." Many times in my 30 years I've rushed to do a project that was needed right now, only to have my draft sit for a month or two because the company got busy taking good care of its customers and put their own needs on hold.

I admit I get an incredible rush from getting though a daily to-do list while also handling more than a handful of unexpected issues. That's a difficult high to give up. But I'll work on it: "Hi, I'm Pam, and I want to quietly focus on one thing at a time so that everyone gets my best from me...and I get to keep my memory."

September 16, 2009

“Words have always been changed by people; and people have always been changed by words.”

I've frequently turned to my books of quotations when I needed inspiration for a headline, speech, promotional piece or even filler for a newsletter.  I'd find a nugget that would resonate, smile at the perfect wording, and use it for my client. But I never thought of putting a plethora of those powerful statements on three-by-five cards to paper my walls, or posting one of them in my office in hopes that it might provide a teachable moment for someone who walked into my workplace. But Dr. Mardy Grothe has me thinking today. That headline is a Grothe original.

Grothe started his quotation journey in college (thanks to Thoreau's Walden), covering his apartment's walls in the inspirational wordings that he'd discover daily. Want to change your life or help someone change theirs? Post some thought-provoking quotes in your business.
You'll become the company's "philosophical officer," says Grothe, who's billed as America's most popular quotation anthologist. The psychologist turned business consultant and platform speaker has parlayed his passion for quotes into five books for language lovers (written within one decade!): Ifferisms, Oxymoronica, I Never Metaphor I Didn't Like, Viva la Repartee, and Never Let a Fool Kiss You or a Kiss Fool You. He shared tidbits from those books and kept his audience well-entertained on September 15 at the Central Library in Des Moines.

Sixty-seven-year-old Grothe admits he'd frequently use a thought-provoking quote as a response to a patient in his clinical practice in Boston. Does he "talk in quotations" in conversations to family members? Nope, he says, but Grothe's heard that a marriage has been saved by his "Quotes of the Week" newsletter. The subscriber now makes his wife breakfast and reads her Grothe's email epistle every Sunday.

One couple attending the Des Moines presentation read Grothe's books to each other, and Grothe says that reading to your partner is an excellent relationship-builder for couples. Hmm. I purchased his "Viva la Repartee: Clever Comebacks and Witty Retorts from History's Great Wits and Wordsmiths."  Start expecting the Schoffners to be sharing better wisecracks and off-the-cuff comments in the weeks ahead.

Drmgrothe Dr. Mardy Grothe

August 29, 2009

Deb, Deepak, Desmond and the Dalai Lama

The "Deb" among the spiritual world leaders in the headline is writer Debra Landwehr Engle, a wonderful friend and author whose way with words is delicate, dazzling and deep. I just came from a book signing/reading at Beaverdale Books featuring Deb and her essay, "The Land," which is part of The Art of Living: A Practical Guide to Being Alive. While the book was released in Spain in November, this beautiful collection of essays focused on our shared humanity and interrelationships is new to the U.S. The other "D" folks in the headline?  Their written inspirations for thought and action are included too.

Profits from the book go to Green Cross International, a Switzerland-based NGO founded by Mikhail Gorbachev, whose essay is in the same section at Deb's: Messages from Mother Earth. Green Cross is dedicated to sustainable development and the transformation of consciousness. 

Deb wrote about feeling the rich connection to the land in Iowa and living in Madison County, which she calls "sacred ground, a land of enchantment, an answer to prayer." It's a tribute to how Iowans are nourished not just by the food that is produced here, but by the beauty—the green, the aliveness—that surrounds us. Deb's divinely crafted message reveals how love lives in Madison County far beyond the covered bridges. 

I'd sit down and read every thought-provoking entry in the book right now, but it's a gorgeous afternoon in Iowa, and I'm called to get outside with the green and be nurtured. Digging in the ground is my choice right now for enjoying the art of living.

April 23, 2009

Let the blog begin

Yes, new media for old journalists has arrived for hip dinosaurs like the Schoffners. So while we can still step into the changing media mainstream without walkers or wheelchairs, we’re taking the leap. Blogging is now part of our repertoire. It’s not new to Chuck. Following his retirement from the Associated Press, Chuck wrote a sports blog as a freelancer for the Des Moines Register for two years. I’m betting his posts will focus on sports (so let’s see if he surprises us). I expect to expound on multiple topics since my professional life interests are all over the board. Count on reading about my efforts to embrace social media, writing (of course), what’s happening in the world of women business ownership in central Iowa, and efforts to choose a healthy attitude of gratitude in the midst of chaos. We promise not to get personal and share stories of aching knees or photos or our grandchildren (you’re lucky…we don’t have any, grandchildren that is).