Nonstop information crashing into our consciousness via the 24 hour news cycle, added to the waves of pings from our social media entourage, has caused a whole bunch of us who live in the internet-connected world to feel pummeled. Stir in the no-end-in-sight economic bad news to the mix and you’ll understand why Freelancers are feeling unacceptably anxious and overwhelmed. Our colleagues and clients in the corporate and not-for-profit worlds are feeling that way, too (maybe that’s why our emails sometimes go unanswered?).
Freelance consultants are nervous about staying current with market trends and selling cycles as we strive to anticipate fluctuating client priorities and keep contracts in-house. We fear missing out on something important and that causes us to fear not being on-call nearly 24/7. The mental fatigue and resulting stress take a toll on peace of mind.
Sherry Turkle, professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, MA and founder of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, says “We are struggling with the always-on feeling of connection that the internet can provide, but we still need to figure out how to limit its influence on our lives. We sometimes need to get a grip and separate ourselves from the iPhone”. (New York Times April 17, 2011)
William Powers, author of “Hamlet’s Blackberry” (2010), a book about taking control of your digital life, appeared on a panel at the 2011 South x Southwest conference in Austin, TX and noted that he witnessed “…a gigantic competition to see who could be more absent from the people and conversations happening right around them. Everyone…was gazing into their little devices—a bit desperately, too, as if their lives depended on not missing the next tweet”. (New York Times April 17, 2011)
I hereby suggest that you turn off your toys for a few minutes and let me help you learn how to manage your connections, rather than be managed by them. There is a time to “just say no” and we can figure that out here and regain control of our schedules, handle our responsibilities with fewer distractions and increase opportunities for rest and regeneration.
Freelancers fear that if we are not constantly available, our clients will become upset and lose confidence in us. We’re afraid that competitors will obtain information that we don’t possess and use it to gain an advantage. We’re terrified of being perceived as not being on top of things. Maybe we’ll miss out on a good assignment, an opportunity to shine and bring in some good billables? Yet those who study the effects of stress and fatigue on productivity and creativity recommend that we find some downtime, to recharge the batteries and calm the mind. It is wise to set boundaries and unplug.
Try this strategy on for size: unless you’re on a big project, Monday – Friday, turn your phone off at 6:00 PM and check email and phone messages just once during the evening. Start your day with a check-in by 7:00 AM. On weekends, check for business-related messages just twice a day, in mid-morning and late afternoon. Draw a definitive boundary between your working hours and personal time.
Revisit the practice of off-line communication. Because there is such an intense focus on online social media as a basis for networking, the value of face-to-face interaction, or even live telephone conversation, becomes increasingly valuable in cementing our relationships. When working with a client, pick up the phone every once in a while to discuss an issue that you’d like to clarify. If you’ll be near a client’s office, extend an invitation to come out and meet for coffee. It will go a long way in building the relationship and will make working together more effective and pleasant.
Thanks for reading,