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Gare do Oriente

Lately I’ve been trying to create new habits, it’s one of my new years resolutions. I’m going for simple things like going to bed at decent hours and waking up early, exercising regularly (I’ve been slaking of), reading at least a book a month, trying a new restaurant every other week and writing. These are things that are transferred for my list of resolutions from one year to the next.

The amazing thing is that the resolutions that sound harder to achieve are the ones I eventually fulfill. I always include things like traveling, losing weight and embracing some kind of whacky project. For the last few years those are the ones I get done which leads me to think I should go for things that sound completely oblivious!

Back to the simple stuff: habits. One thing I always tried to do when embracing new habits was to set blocks of time for specific activities. To try to keep on track I set alarms to stop doing one task and jumping to the next. This was where trouble started. I came to realize that I hate a forced routine. If my days are too structured I start feeling like a robot and motivation is quickly killed off. I quickly abandoned this modus operandi. I need some kind of randomness in my day, having a scheduled routine stresses me out, having to do something at a specific time makes me nervous and later guilty for not following the plan. I quickly abandoned the scheduling and moved into a looser plan based on task lists.

I’m kind of task list freak, everything is a task list for me, stuff to do, music to listen, movies to watch, downloads, books to read, things to buy. A few years ago I happily embraced the idea that our brain is the worst place to store information, so I started dumping everything in to a GTD app. So besides the usual tasks lists I had a “Things to do at home” list which consisted of repeating tasks. Basically it was the same thing as having a calendar with the aggravating factor of each task being marked and done/not done. After a few days there were dozens of tasks to conclude and I felt trapped inside a task management software.
It was even worse than the calendar. So nothing seemed to work really.

By this time I found out about Lift. The concept is not really different from a task list really: you sign up for a few “habits” you want to embrace and can set up reminders to when those actions must be accomplished. The cool thing is you get some moral boosts to get motivated: “You’re riding a 10 day streak in Read 20 pages of a book”. Who wants to break that? Some of the habits have how-tos to help you out and users can give/receive props from other people on the achievements.
Apart from this I keep an “offline” list of things to do around the house: cleaning one room, laundry, watering the plants, etc… I post this list on my kitchen wall and every day I try to check one or more items as long as it doesn’t take more than 20 minutes to conclude. As new week starts I just trash the old sheet and start a new one.

So this became my system: a GTD app for things I need to do at the computer/work (I use Wunderlist), Lift for creating habits and an offline list for the things around the house.
It’s not perfect but it works for me and last year it help me to achieve goals like losing a ton of weight and eating better, learning new skills (I’m a fan of Coursera), making time for my own projects instead of fumbling around useless content on social networks.
So let’s see how this year goes, I started the year by slaking off, but now I’m determined to achieve my plan and adopt new habits.

More tips on freelancing after 9 to 5 and not go crazy

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Michael Martine from Freelance Folder wrote a great article on Balancing Freelancing With A Full-Time Job Without Burning Out. I have some extra advice of my own:

Take Notes

Of course you’re going to come up with ideas for your freelance gigs during your 9 to 5 job, you can’t stop your brain from thinking, but don’t expect to remember everything you thought about during your working hours by the end of the day, so just take notes of everything and review it when you can.
This is pretty basic advice but just make checklists for everything, come up with some kind of system, either being a web service or a piece of software, just write everything down somewhere, your brain is the worst place to store information.

Check email first thing in the morning

I recently started to this, get up 10 minutes earlier and check your email before you leave the house, this way you’ll answer yours clients more frequently and he/she won’t think you’re a night owl (even though you very possibly are!).
If you commute consider getting a mobile device that has email capabilities so that you can minimize the wasted time.

Don’t overwork and save some time for yourself

Realize that you can’t work 7 days a week, 16 hours a day, you’re not superman (or girl), plan your projects wisely and leave some free time for yourself.
I tend to work more on weekends than during the week, this is when I do tasks that are more creative, during the week I do more “maintenance” tasks that don’t demand too much.
Another rule of mine during the week is not to exceed a certain number of hours of consecutive work, unless you’re on a creative streak, set a time limit to go to bed, most certainly the task you’re completing can wait until the next evening, You’ll be thankful the next day after having a decent number of hours of sleep, rather than walking around in zombie mode all day and not being able to continue working on your gig because you’re just too exhausted.

I try to follow these rules as much as I can, but of course there are ectic periods when I just feel overworked, but once the project is over I just take a break from freelancing for a while until I feel like there’s space for it in my life again.

Graphics: JB Insomnia Collection