November 2

Loyalty: How to get it like my hair guy does

Every six weeks I travel to my hairstylist’s place in Scarborough, even though I could get the same services much closer to home. I’ve thought about switching but I can’t.

Then again, there’s my internet provider. Though I’d been a customer for 20 years, I just gave them the boot without a thought beyond my own inconvenience.

The difference is loyalty, but not in the cheapened “loyalty points” sense of the word. Clients come back to you because you inspire something that affects them personally, whether it’s gratitude, empathy, trust or affection…or a combination of things. Of course, you can’t will this complex emotional response to happen, but you can create the ideal conditions for its growth. Take a leaf from my stylist’s book:

Be easier than the rest

At the six-week mark, he texts me to let me know my roots are probably showing. I check and he’s right, I’m hideous. I text back with a day and time and I have an appointment. Clearly, my hair is his responsibility, and that’s one less thing to worry about. When I arrive, the mood is light and breezy. I relax.

When someone hires you, they don’t want to work around your schedule. They don’t want the burden of your negative feelings or your opinions on sensitive subjects. They want you to work. Keep it uncomplicated and unemotional and you already have an advantage.

Skill matters, but what matters more is that you are you are making your client’s life easier.

Be open about money

I know that my stylist gives me a good deal and I’m happy to give him a raise every year whether he asks for it or not. My internet provider? I always assume I’m paying too much. Because everyone knows that if you call the Customer Retainment Department and threaten to leave, they’ll give you a better price. And that makes me wonder, why didn’t they just give me the best price in the first place?

No one wants to feel like a sucker. Set a rate and stick to it. Never pad your bill or surprise your client with an unexpected charge. Openness about money reflects your integrity – and that makes it easier to connect with you.

Be your delightful self

When I arrive at my stylist’s, he has a cup of hot coffee waiting for me. He sings kooky made-up songs while he slaps on the colour. The little gestures and the quirkiness create affiliation because they’re genuine. The real thing is impossible to replicate, although a Customer Retainment Department may try.

Who values you? Who gets you? Who can be counted on to share your load or make you smile? Those are the people you will return to.

Be open to the possibility

The moment I met my hair guy 15 years ago, there was a connection that allowed him to crack jokes and be his inappropriate self. But then, I needed a new stylist – I happily engaged.

When I’m the one providing a service, I can tell within seconds if a new client is open to establishing a relationship. He or she will invest emotional energy by meeting me in person, smiling and making eye contact. There is warmth, kindness.

I’m sure they can tell when I’m interested, too. Which is why I try to show up on time, listen intently, demonstrate enthusiasm and behave graciously.

But what if you don’t feel that chemistry right away? Stay upbeat. Loyalty is often built on shared experience and adversity. As time goes on, connections develop through mutual understanding.

 

What my internet provider doesn’t get is that loyalty isn’t just about quality and savings. Why did I change providers? Because a young woman from the competition knocked on my door and had a conversation with me. I let her persuade me to switch because I liked her.

Loyalty is deeply personal. If you want it, connect personally.

 

 

 

August 1

3 ways to change your luck and find success

When I was a kid, my father liked to gamble his paycheque at the racetrack rather than spend it on life’s little necessities, like rent and food. He was not a bad man. Au contraire. I think he wanted to be a hero; to come home with an epic win that would change everything. But there was all that losing, then trying to retrieve what was lost.

My dad believed deeply that his big pay day was coming. And eventually his luck did change – he had a stroke and never gambled again.

It occurs to me, all these years later, that we gamble in our work lives, enjoying a serotonin-induced high when we score new contracts, clients or jobs, and blaming bad luck for the failures. And sometimes, when our misfortune seems relentless, we can do drastic things, like bet it all when we really should hold.

Dad’s been playing the ponies in the sky for a couple of decades now, but the memory of his life remains rich with lessons. He taught me that if you’re still breathing, you can change your luck:

 

  1. Stay calm… That’s where the luck is

Research shows that unlucky people tend to be more anxious than those who consider themselves lucky, and that anxiety inhibits their ability to notice new and interesting possibilities. Even worse, your anxiety can spur you to take action – like taking a job you don’t want or agreeing to a contract with bad terms – when it’s not the most advantageous option. Lucky people are more likely to see alternatives.

Though it may feel counterintuitive, what you need during a spate of bad luck is not action, but calm. Relax so you can think clearly and see the opportunities in front of you. Sleep on it, take a trip to the ocean, visit a spa. For me, mindfulness really works.

 

  1. You screwed up: Lucky you     

Lucky people don’t give up, but they don’t keep making the same mistakes, either. While my dad was persistent, it was pointless because he refused to learn from his mistakes. Sure, stick it out, but only if you’re managing your risks and being honest with yourself about outcomes. If you’re lucky, you see opportunities hidden in those mistakes of yours.

When what you’re doing isn’t working, open your mind to new possibilities. Examine your routine and change it up so you can have fresh experiences and meet new people. Go to meetings instead of phoning in, connect with colleagues or join professional groups.

 

  1. Look at it this way and you win

Lucky people know that things could be worse. It’s the difference in attitude between, “Why do all my clients take so long to pay me?” and “I’ve never had a client stiff me.”

Look on the bright side and maybe your luck isn’t so bad. Perhaps, you are lucky and you don’t even know it. Does someone love you? Do you have money in the bank? Do you have a gift? You win.

Now consider the fact that people who think they’re lucky are calmer and thus enjoy better luck. If you can make yourself feel lucky, your luck will change. Wild, right?

 

When I grew up and had a kid of my own, every other night it was my turn to put him to bed. Each time, as he was settling in, I’d pull him close and say, “I’m so lucky to have you.” My dad’s obsession with his bad luck taught me to appreciate my good fortune. Thanks to him, I know that I already have everything worth winning.

The successes at work? Just gravy. Important gravy, but gravy.

June 8

Success and tiny acts of courage

 

80slori

I’m 18, standing in a phone booth, just outside the Miracle Food Mart where I have a part-time job as a cashier. In my trembling hand, there’s a piece of paper. On it is the phone number of the president of Quantum Communications – someone to whom I have sent a letter outlining the reasons he should hire me for the summer. Now I have to follow up. I am standing here because a future behind a cash register is more frightening to me than making this call. But I’m so scared. I might as well be standing in the window of a burning building, calculating my fall to the ground below. Suddenly, I’m outside myself, forcing me to dial and speak. I hear myself making my case, and I guess he can hear my nerves or maybe it’s my bravado because he laughs, but he says, “Okay, I guess I’ll see you Monday.”

Ah, courage. Is there anything quite as invigorating? That phone call changed me. And I’ll bet there has been a time or two when you have had to push yourself out of a metaphorical window, and you know exactly what I’m talking about.

But these days, and maybe you can relate here, too, I have to remind myself that there is still a place for courage in my career. Ultimately, for my business to be satisfying and successful, I must regularly reach out to others, even when I really don’t want to.

So today I write this blog to me, to remind myself of how great it feels to take action, how proud I can be of myself, and how taking risks makes exciting things happen. Pay attention, Lori:

 

Break…through…the… …inertia…

You don’t have the same intense fears you did at 18, so there’s less motivation and, because you’ve achieved some cool stuff, you’re okay resting on your laurels. But stay resting for too long and you’ll be back behind that cash register. For realz.

In other words, it doesn’t feel like it, but the building is still burning. Jump, dammit. (I know you don’t want to! That’s why it’s an act of “courage” and not an act of “going for ice cream.”)

 

Focus on the act, not the outcome

When you reach out to someone for new business, 98% of the time it will come to nothing. It’s going to take a lot of calls and emails to get to that 2% who have something. Set your sights on achieving your “tiny acts” rather than the possible results. Otherwise, you’re setting yourself up for frustration and disappointment.

 

Stop thinking and…

One of the most brilliant taglines ever brought to us by capitalism is Nike’s “Just do it.” It’s right on the money because it points to the single biggest obstacle we all face in achieving our goals – our brains. The more you think, the more you fear, the less you act. So, stop thinking and just, you know. Do it.

Besides, it feels great when it’s done. The reason you remember that phone call so well is that it was a rush! It’s up there with a white-water-rafting high but without the uncomfortable wetness.

 

Make a simple, achievable plan

That 18-year old was a smart cookie. She targeted six PR agencies she wanted to work for, sent the president of each an unusual letter of introduction, (“I have no million-dollar ideas, I just want to learn from you”), and she followed up the letter with a phone call.

Take a page from her book. Do some research, target a manageable list of businesses or contacts you want to work for, send them an email and follow up. Then repeat. And repeat again. And again.

 

If you are like me, the reason these tiny acts can be so difficult is confidence and, paradoxically, it’s easier to have confidence before you have experience. Time tames the ego. But you have something more meaningful because you have evidence of your worth. When it’s hard to act, believe in your resume or portfolio.

Acts of courage look different to me these days. They’re smaller, gentler and they don’t make my hands tremble. I need them, though, as you do.  And it’s not just about success – it’s about being the person you admire.

April 24

Success and the gentle art of remaining present

blogPRESENTIf you’re doing this freelance thing, you’re face-to-face with the temporal nature of all things, especially work. Heavy, right? I mean, it’s temporary for everyone, of course, but by living like this, you’ve chosen to embrace the uncertainty. That’s pretty cool.

When you don’t know what’s around the corner, every new job is a thrill. You’re hungry for it, and that keeps you fresh. That raw desire to succeed is often why freelancers get called.

But that temporal thing is terrifying, too. As a freelancer, the best way to manage the uncertainty is to keep work coming, and that takes remaining part of the world your contacts inhabit. Because your biggest obstacle isn’t your competition, it’s your contacts’ memory.

If you’re forgotten, you’ve already lost the job.

So much of success boils down to simply remaining present. Being there when there’s a need for your services makes you a possible solution. Here’s how to pull it off:

Be LinkedIn

If you’re not on LinkedIn, you should be. When you post an article, add a new skill or make a new contact, your name pops up in LinkedIn emails. It keeps you present without being an intrusion and strengthens your brand by demonstrating that you’re an active member of the community.

Plus, it’s a way for contacts to reach you if you don’t already have a direct connection through email. I’m surprised by how often I get contacted through LinkedIn Messaging.

Be where they are

Clients on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter? Stay active there, too. By way of example, an art director I know just happens to be a talented cartoonist. He regularly posts his creations on Facebook, which serves the additional purpose of reminding us of how talented he is.

Stay relevant

Create a persona your contacts see as helpful or valuable to the industry. Perhaps that means posting useful articles on LinkedIn. Maybe it means sharing noteworthy examples of your craft or emailing a brief newsletter with tips on how to improve efficiency in your area of expertise.

Heck, you might even write a blog about, say, freelancing…

Shake the contact tree

When you’re slow, reach out to your contacts with polite reminders that you exist. Keep your tone light and your message brief to avoid demanding too much of them.

Sometimes it takes weeks and months for something to come through. The important thing is that they think of you when it does.

Send greetings

An oldie but a goodie. A holiday card or congratulations on a new job make thoughtful gestures, as long as your message is sincere. A greeting is not an opportunity to sell yourself, which will be seen for what it is – crass and opportunistic.

Stay gold, Ponyboy

Dang, I love the novel The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, maybe because as a freelancer, and in life too, I often feel like an outsider. My tendencies toward introversion aside, I cling to the notion that whatever good reasons you have to be bitter, angry and mistrustful, it is possible to maintain your essential goodness and “stay gold.”

Staying gold is the “gentle” part of remaining present. Your positive attitude makes you a pleasure to have around – and it’s a valuable part of what you bring to the table. Your negative emotions are normal and healthy but keep them out of your work-related communications. When you make people feel bad, you’re the last one they’ll call.

 

Embracing the temporal life requires a Zen-like acceptance of unpredictability. Having said that, you have some control over how things turn out. Remaining present – and well-positioned for opportunity – helps keep you successful.

February 15

TRUST Part 3: What Your Freelancer Wants to Tell You (but can’t)

trust3meSure, there’s a glut of freelancers out there. We’re practically crawling out of the factory-style refinished woodwork.

And yet, and yet… Finding talent suited to your business is ridiculously difficult. But then, you already know that.

As a seasoned freelancer, I’ve spent years separating the wheat from the chaff, so believe me when I say it’s just as difficult for us to find well-suited clients. Having said that, I will walk away from lucrative work if I’m unhappy. Most freelancers will if they can.

Here’s why:  We have no forum in which to discuss conflicts and build the relationship. There’s no HR, no intermediary, no contract, and often, no trust: Just the freedom to walk.

For the young me and every up-and-comer out there, here are the top things your freelancer wants to say to you but can’t:

Pick on someone your own size

You have all the power. When you make ridiculous requests, like giving unrealistic turnaround times or asking for revisions based on vague mean-spirited criticisms, just because you can, you’re being a bully.

Worse for you, you’re setting us up to fail, which is a waste of your time and money. That’s dispiriting for your freelancer, which affects the quality of work.

Use your words

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve poured heart and soul into a project without receiving any feedback. Or, the times clients have stopped calling without any explanation.

But I get it. It’s not always intentional, sometimes it’s just a matter of “out of sight, out of mind.” Or maybe there’s bad news and you don’t have the heart to share it.

Either way, put your freelancers out of their misery. Tell them what happened so they can stop obsessing and stabbing that voodoo doll in your likeness.

Pay us what we’re worth

Sick days. Vacation days. Retirement. Overhead. Dental care. Slow periods. On and on! Your freelancer pays for all of it without the benefit of a security net. Freelancers enjoy none of the same benefits or protections as your employees. They are business owners, just like your electrician or lawyer.

When you ask them to lower their rates, you are asking them to devalue themselves. That sucks.

Remember that the power differential makes it impossible for younger freelancers to say “no.” You might get work done and save a few bucks, but it will cost the relationship.

Cage matches are mean

An agency once asked me to think up some ideas for a campaign. When I returned to present my concepts, I was ushered into a boardroom where the creative director and a team of five employees sat waiting, at which point I was informed that an internal team was given the same challenge.

I presented my ideas and…crickets. Then the internal team took the floor and with every concept presented they went wild, wooting and pounding the table.

My concept won, but I left feeling humiliated and determined never to work for them again.

Don’t say it if you don’t mean it

We are crazy enthusiastic. If you tell us we will be working on the next big thing, we believe you, and we count on it. So, don’t say it if you don’t mean it. If I had a nickel for every promise that didn’t come to fruition… Let’s just say I’d have enough for a fancy latte, biscotti on the side.

Shit in, shit out

You say you don’t know what you want. You want us to amaze and astound you. Here’s how that’s going to end: You will be disappointed and you will resent paying that invoice. And your freelancer will struggle to respect you now that they’ve been set up to fail.

This is business and not high art. There are specific solutions for your problems and you should understand what they are before hiring a freelancer. Providing scanty information won’t work either. Because, in the end, you get out what you put in.

The most efficient way to work with a freelancer is to provide a thorough brief that includes background information, objectives and timelines. Bonus, it will help you deepen your understanding of the project.

(Freelancers, you also need to know what’s in a brief so on those occasions when a client doesn’t provide one, you can ask the relevant questions necessary for getting the job done.)

I confess: My clients are gold. Each of them understands the value of our relationship and, I like to think, they are just as delighted as I am when there’s an opportunity to work together.

But it was not always thus. I’ve had to do a lot of walking to get here. Don’t get me wrong, I’d much rather stay and build a relationship with you. And when we have integrity and communication, I’m all in. Without that opportunity, walking away is the right thing to do.

November 7

Part 2: TRUST ME, I’m a doctor

dr-loriOkay, I’m not a doctor. I don’t even play one on TV. But I’ll tell you what, my clients trust me. And this advice on trust could be CPR for your freelance career.

Being trustworthy isn’t just about honesty – basic human decency is a given. (But if you’re tempted to cheat with numbers, even a little, you should know that it will leave a smell that will put others off, even though you enjoy it.) It’s about earning the faith your clients place in you.

And that’s easy! If you have solid skills and you behave with integrity, you have what it takes to build long-term client relationships. When you win trust, you win everything.

Here’s what your clients really want from you:

Keep your word, even if it’s stupid  

Always deliver what you promise – even if it means working way harder and without adequate compensation. If you said you’d do it, your integrity is on the line. Go back on your word and I guarantee that you will lose the client.

To avoid the situation, don’t make promises on the spot. Tell your client that you will think about it and come back with a well-considered estimate.

Resist the need to act like a “creative type”  

Be on time. Meet deadlines. Act in a professional manner, without outbursts or inappropriate comments/questions/jokes. If you feel the need to express yourself, wear Star Wars undies. Showing up late or high doesn’t say you’re creative, it says you can’t be trusted.

From your demeanour to your personal hygiene, it’s all about being wonderfully predictably boringly reliable.

For god’s sake, listen  

Occasionally in a meeting I get so enthusiastic that my ideas light up like firecrackers — I have to toss them out immediately, no matter who’s talking!  Last time that happened I interrupted the vice president of a major retail chain, who then glared at me disapprovingly. My bad.

Listening is smarter. It’s how you get the information you need and how you build relationships. Besides, listeners appear contemplative and in control.

Mm-mm! Love that humble pie

When you’ve shared your work – or your opinion– and been shot down, back away.  The more you seek approval or the more you need to be right, the needier you appear. That’s not just a hindrance to progress, it’s childish. So eat that humble pie and say, “Thank you very much.”

Your job is to make life easier for your client, who is privy to information, insight and politics that you are blissfully ignorant of.  An argumentative freelancer makes everything harder.

Dance with the one that brung ya

Loyalty, man! You want it, you gotta give it. So don’t schmooze your clients’ coworkers and colleagues – especially while you’re working for them. Stay focused on the job at hand, and when it’s done, ask your client how she’d feel if you approached other prospects within the organization.

If you can’t say anything nice… 

Gossip is a virus that destroys teams and teamwork. Spreading it is bad judgment and makes you a detriment to successful business. So if someone whispers something deliciously vicious in your ear and you’re tempted to pass it on, stop. That “beep…beep… beep” you hear is the sound of a transport truck about to back into your career path.

Let it go. When you get involved you take sides, and freelancers can’t afford to make enemies.

 

Being trustworthy means doing a good job and being a good human. Sure, show off your smarts. But you’re not promoting yourself to the fullest if you’re not taking every opportunity to demonstrate your character and professionalism.

Your brilliance may be the carrot, but your ability to inspire trust is the stick.

October 2

TRUST part 1: If you build it, they will come

img_2590Trust – it’s what makes freelancing so beautiful and yet so frightening. I’ll go out on a limb here and say it’s even more important than your brilliance.

Very often, freelancers are parachuted in when there’s no time for contracts or interviews. You rely on mutual goodwill and an unspoken agreement that good work will be completed on time, that a bill will be issued, and that it will be paid within 60 days.

Without legal obligations, it’s a relationship stripped bare of protections. On one hand, which I’ll explore in part 2, you must be known as trustworthy. On the other, your client must inspire trust in you. Because if you’re worried you might get stiffed, your brilliance won’t shine through.

The first rule of trust is, trust yourself. If your Spidey senses tingle, pay attention. They are trying to protect you. Walk away when it doesn’t feel right and save yourself the grief.

And when you’re looking for work, don’t just look for work. Look for people you can trust.

 

So how do you find trustworthy clients?

Grow your network  

The next best thing to getting work from friends and associates is getting referrals. Ask your contacts to pass your name along. When a third party is willing to vouch for both of you, trust is implicit.

While I don’t mean to suggest that you should say no to clients who come to you cold, it certainly feels safer through a referral. If a client is unknown to you, suggest a meeting and get a feel for the person. Keep in mind that the larger the company, the more systems there are in place to protect you.

 

Say Hey!

Join organizations. Go to as many professional meet-and-greets as possible. Shake some hands and get to know people. If you feel a connection, call the next day and ask for a meeting.

That’s what I did a million years ago. I only made one connection. But that connection parlayed itself into a profitable business relationship that grew my network and made me some friends.

 

Get a (gulp!) job

Like many freelancers, I began with a job. Over time, my boss and I developed a rapport. When I made the leap to independence he became a primary client who then referred me to others. Today about 90% of my business can be linked back to him.

 

How do you build trust?

Tell them exactly what to expect  

On small jobs and projects without contracts, you will manage expectations, avoid conflict and build trust by sending your client a thorough estimate. Only when you receive approval should you begin work. Your estimate should include:

  • Cost of finished job
  • Delivery date
  • Number of revisions
  • Breakdown of hours

Providing your client has seen samples of your work and knows your level of expertise, there will be no surprises. Because when a client has an unpleasant surprise there can be no trust, you’ll be off their list without even knowing it.

Besides, an estimate and an approval constitute a viable paper trail. Just in case.

 

Suggest a contract for long-term work

When a client approaches you for a long-term commitment that means you will have to sacrifice other freelance work, a contract is perfectly appropriate. Clients who hire long term usually have contracts on hand but you can create one yourself using this very helpful site for building freelance contracts.

Although, what makes freelancers so appealing to some clients is a lack of commitment. Your clients may want to test you out a few times before agreeing to use you on a regular basis. Settle for a well written estimate.

 

Watch out!

If a new client tells you he/she will give you lots of work in the future but only if you reduce your rate substantially, you should get that Spidey tingle. If you’re tempted to say yes, demand a contract. A reputable client will say yes, so you can be sure you won’t work your glutes off at bargain-basement rates then be dropped without explanation.

I know what you’re thinking: “Verbal contracts are binding. The law is on my side.” Unsavoury clients know the detrimental costs of legal action – to your bank account, to your schedule, to your mental health. They’re willing to take the risk.

The business of trust is tricky, but much of it is a “start as you mean to go” proposition. Lay a solid foundation when a client  is new and then it’s possible to move on to bigger and better projects and referrals.

Here’s my big point: long-term freelancing is built on relationships, not your brilliance. [Mic drop.]

November 5

6 ways to stop thinking about those bastards who are trying to sabotage your career

paranoidRemember the old joke? I might be paranoid, but that doesn’t mean people aren’t out to get me. It’s a freelancer’s lament. You know you’re thinking too much, but you can’t stop worrying that you screwed up. Alone in your office, there’s no evidence to the contrary. Your failures are epic and the villains loom large.

But take it from me, as someone who has hired and worked with many freelancers, your work is brilliant, your jokes are très amusant and that hat… saucy! No one discussed your overly long and defensive response to the question about your rate, and no one noticed the gross snail-shaped stain on the seat of your pants.

Truth? You are barely discussed. And unless you are  constantly reminding clients you exist, you may even be forgotten. So you didn’t screw up. They lost work. They hired someone full time. They’re reusing past content. Whatever.

Freelancers are easily dispensable – that’s the whole point! This inherent lack of commitment is why you must inure yourself to the tyranny of an unringing phone and learn the gentle ways of staying present in your clients’ minds.

So give yourself a slap. If you are going to stay sane, you need perspective.

  1. Get out of your head

If you are dissecting every conversation you’ve ever had with your client and trying to figure out where you went wrong, you are thinking too much. Stop it. Just stop it.

  1. Get out of your house

Time to get out of your head and into the world. Sign up for yoga or kung fu. You are spending too much time obsessing about money, flyers and websites.

  1. Do volunteer work

What better way to stop thinking about you than to think about others? It’s guaranteed to give you perspective. Bonus, you’ll meet other humans and have actual conversations.

  1. Call them, for god’s sake

Just ask them why you haven’t heard from them. Seriously, send them an email or pick up the phone. You will be glad you did.

  1. Call someone else

Or contact prospective clients, just to say hello and remind them you exist. Stay top of mind and you’re the first one they call.

  1. Do something you love

Paint, go skeet shooting, visit your grandmother. When negative thoughts are winning, fight them by doing things that make you happy. Me? I love talking to you.

Once you’ve gained a little perspective consider this: it’s not about you, unless it is. Maybe your rates are too high or you’re lacking in confidence. Who knows? But here’s the thing – you can’t solve it by yourself, so stop dwelling. Ask someone you trust, like a colleague, a life coach or a client even.

Either way, get out of your head. It’s nasty in there.

October 8

Lady Belly and the Temptations*

IMG_1663My mom, bless her. She’s lived through cancer and heart failure and yet, as social services likes to tell us, she has fine cognitive skills. But wake her from a nap and sometimes the monkeys get out.

In other words, she says stuff. Dream stuff. True stuff. Stuff she wouldn’t ordinarily say. Thus one afternoon I plunked myself down on the couch across from where she was snoozing. Her eyes popped open and she said, “You’re getting a belly.”

I’d like to say I smiled and gently reminded her that she was thinking aloud, but no. I made her move my collection of antique typewriters to the attic. Because, I’ll be damned. She was right.

So what does my Lady Belly have to do with freelancing? I’ll tell you. There’s no jog to the bus or sprint from the lot to the office. There are no coworkers to visit on another floor. There are just those steps to the kitchen. Where there are cookies.

When you work at home, you have to build exercise into your schedule. You know all the important reasons – like health and jeggings. But here’s something else that’s crucial to freelancing: it makes you smarter. A smarter freelancer has an edge. A smarter freelancer makes more money.

According to research, the increase in blood flow and oxygen to the brain is like that oil change I made my mother give my car. It enhances performance and keeps things running smoothly. And here’s why I get so many great ideas while I’m on my stationary bike: aerobic exercise stimulates the part of the brain used for learning and memory – the hippocampus. The neurons get a jolt, which improves the way you think. And, mom, a study shows that exercise might even help reverse the brain shrinkage that happens with age. Just saying.

After a few weeks of obsessing over the profile of my tummy in the full-length mirror, I did some research on how to reduce belly fat. Although I was already exercising regularly, it had been a long time since I felt a burn. I was going to have to ramp it up.

I traded in my stationary bike for a fan bike to give my upper body a better work out. I integrated interval exercising into my routine. I started doing planks. I gave up cookies before lunch, cookies after lunch and cookies before dinner. Oh, there are still cookies – and don’t even mention my Friday night beer – but I’m eating and drinking more mindfully.

It’s been one long month since I started my new regimen, and guess what? I haven’t lost a stinking pound. Not one! But, dang it, I feel fantastic. And I care less about my Lady Belly.

Drats. I had a great conclusion lined up, but I’ve forgotten it. It was really funny, too. You’d have laughed!

Time for a brisk walk.

*No senior citizens or trademarks were harmed in the making of this blog.

August 11

She, Me & Backward Wednesdays

FullSizeRender Wednesday is backward day at my house. Instead of working from my home office, I’m at a client’s. Instead of heading across the city to her job, my partner works from home so she can retrieve the kids from school.
 
This is a new arrangement, the result of an offer I received from a long-term client. I get regular freelance hours each week in return for a full day of “face time.”
 
But it got off to a rough start. At the end of our first Backward Wednesday I returned home exhausted after an 80-minute commute. I was at REM before my butt hit the couch.

My partner insisted on sharing her day, despite a lack of response. “…one interruption after another. The doorbell goes, the dog barks. I sign for a package. Meals on Wheels comes for your mom. The dog barks. I have to get the door. The dog barks during my entire meeting with Europe. Then I get to Cam’s school but he’s nowhere to be found. I had to wait twenty minutes for him and Ethan. And clearly Ethan’s father has no interest in picking up his child. I got nothing done!”

I open one eye. It’s 6:30 pm and she is still in her PJs. She says, “I have no idea what we’re having for dinner so don’t even ask.”

But I couldn’t ask if I wanted to. I’m comatose, a string of saliva trickling out the corner of my mouth and staining the cushion. No amount of coffee consumption was enough to get me through a painfully long day of meetings and labour that lasted until five o’clock. My limit is usually six very productive six hours.

Next week the partner has advice. “Bring a really good book for the subway and get on at the west end of the platform so you have a better chance of a seat. If you feel like you’re getting tired during the day, go for a walk and it will energize you.”

I do as she suggests and it’s better. When I get home now, I’m coherent and semi-functioning. Yet when we walk the dog one evening she says, “I hate Wednesdays. I’ll do it, but working at home will never be my thing.”

What is this crazy talk?? Who wouldn’t want my perfect life? She must be doing it all wrong! So, in the spirit of reciprocation and the hope she will get onboard, I have advice too. Here are my top five tips for working happily from home

1. Act like it’s a weekday.

Woo-hoo! You’re home! That means you get to work in your moose slippers and yoga pants, right? Nope. Because when you behave like it’s a weekend your mind says work but your body says relax. You’re not mentally equipped to deal with the stresses of the day. And the lack of order and productivity will make you cranky.

So have a shower. Get dressed. Act like it’s a weekday and you’ll do weekday things.

 2. Be the boss.

Oh the distractions. Facebook may be calling your name, but that doesn’t mean you have to answer. Take control of your day so it doesn’t control you. Set yourself work goals and reward yourself with breaks and Candy Crush time. You may be the boss, but you’re not a monster.

 3. Punch a clock.

You need structure or you’ll slack off and wind up working on weekends. Decide when to start and stop. Stick to your schedule. You will work faster and smarter if you know the limitations of your day. When you leave your office, consider it off limits until you start again the next day. Even if your work isn’t done – LEAVE (yes, I’m talking to you).

4. Eat like a human.

Soup and crackers at your desk? I don’t think so. Set aside time for lunch and breaks so you can enjoy your food mindfully and recharge your batteries. Blur the boundaries between work and food and both lose their inherent pleasures. If you really must eat at your desk – and heck, it happens – clean up the mess so you’re working in a clean space you can enjoy.

5. Protect the sanctity of your day.

You’re not the only one who struggles with boundaries. Friends, neighbours, relatives think your day is unfairly carefree. They will ask you to run them to the hospital for heart surgery or help them extinguish a grease fire. These pesky requests suck up your time and ruin the essential structure of your day. Learn to say “No.” Don’t worry, you’ll still be a good person.

POSTSCRIPT:

Two months have passed since I wrote this. The partner never did catch on to Backward Wednesdays. Instead, my sister has agreed to pick up the kids. Shockingly, I enjoy my day at my client’s office — the laughs, the companionship, the sense of belonging. Could it be that freelancing isn’t the ultimate work experience? I’m thinking on it.