How To Define Productive: A “Do 1 Thing” Inspired Meditation

lisa simpson achievement gifAs a freelance-type person, it can be hard to figure out how much to get done on any given day. I’m not even sure what metrics to use. How do I know if I have been successful, efficient, productive? No one is going to pat me on the head and tell me, “good job,” or, “you’ve done enough now; you can turn off the computer and go to bed.”

The trouble is, I like rules. I don’t always follow them but I appreciate knowing what they are. I like the idea that there’s something I “should” do. Eat under 1500 calories. Exercise 30 minutes a few times a week. Walk 20,000 steps. Max out the IRA. I told my therapist once that, except for the feminism, I would made a good Victorian. She drily replied that I’d make a good religious warrior, too.

I get a salary for writing and editing here at the ‘Fold in exchange for a baseline amount of work: I come up with ideas for and create at least two posts a day (it was three until Meaghan left and we reorganized the schedule, a change you may or may not have picked up on); I respond to and edit pitches; I put up features; I keep up with comments and save those of you lost in the Bermuda Triangle of the spam folder; and I talk shop backstage on HipChat.

The question is, beyond that, how much should I expect of myself? Because some days that, plus getting dressed, is all I can do. Recently I experimented with giving myself a rule. I had to do the Billfold stuff and one other thing that would earn me $50. I could come by that amount however I wanted: writing a post for one of the sites I freelance for; doing consulting work for one of my clients.

$50 a day, five days a week, is $250 a week, $1000 a month, and $12,000 a year before taxes. That, added to my Billfold salary and steady freelance income, makes for a decent yearly take-home pay, or would, outside of New York City. Especially in combination with what my husband brings in, it’s even a living wage. But, largely because of high fixed costs like childcare, our little family isn’t financially stable yet.

I’m hoping we’ll be in the black, overall, for the year. We might be. We don’t yet know. We’ve had a few red months, and those have been scary, even though we knew they were coming. That’s the cost we agreed to pay for us both doing the freelancing / DWYL thing at the same time.

His income will almost certainly rise after he gets settled in his new field, but will mine? After all, most “real” writers still don’t make money.

Specifically, 54% of traditionally published authors (and 77% of self-published), made less than $1,000 last year. … almost all of “aspiring” writers (90 percent, in fact, in this survey) make no money whatsoever.

The odds are that, even if my agent manages to sell my novel in 2015, the one I initially left full-time office work to write, nothing will change:

+ Very few authors who debut with major publishers make enough money to earn a living—and modern advances don’t cover the difference.

+ In absolute numbers, more self-published authors are earning a living wage today than Big-5 authors. …

non-ebook revenue for traditional-published authors makes up a smaller percentage of their author earnings than you might think, and this is especially true for authors of fiction. [emphasis in the original]

So I have to focus on the small things: writing, editing, consulting, and freelancing. Pitching new projects, finishing old ones. Writing recaps and reviews. Trying to make at least $50 extra each day feels like an achievable goal. And yet some days it isn’t achievable at all; I get caught up doing household chores and before I know it the clock says 5:40 and I have to pick up Babygirl from daycare.

Most days, I walk around with my shoulders feeling like bags of sand, reminding myself to breathe. Reminding myself that being able to handle uncertainty is a learned skill for many of us, and also a luxury. Reminding myself that being in the red doesn’t make me a bad person and that earning an extra $50 every day is nice — but it won’t make me “good.” That’s my 1 thing for today, to say that again to myself in the hopes that I will believe it.

What’s your 1 thing?



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