Is This Too Much? [en]

[fr] Je crois que je fais beaucoup de choses 🙂

I do a lot of things. I’m pretty good at juggling. (Yikes, I promised Ian a review of his book Juggle! ages ago, and it’s still in draft state somewhere somewhere in my blog admin…)

Anyway. There are times, like now, where I pause and ask myself if I’m not doing too much. I’m not really asking you — only I can answer that question — so consider this a chance to peek in while I wonder out loud.

I knew I would have two very busy months in May-June, and I’m OK with that (the price I’m willing to pay for a really exciting gig that came through at the last minute).

But I realized this week-end that it’s been a long time since I’ve had a few days to myself at home. I’ve been running for way more than these last two months, and I don’t like running. I know it’s good to be busy for a freelancer, but there are different kinds of busy, and I can tell you there there is some bad busy in my busy.

(The reason I had a few days to myself at home is that I fell ill just before heading off to a 4-day judo training camp. I couldn’t go. I spent two days being “reasonably ill”, and the last two days I’ve been feeling much better and enjoying my unexpected free time.)

So, is this too much? Look at me wonder out loud. Here are my big, ongoing areas of activity — professional and less professional.

  • a “social media and blogger relations” gig with Solar Impulse (trip to Paris end of the month)
  • co-directing a course on social media and online communities (exam time: nowish)
  • editor for the travel blog in French (and also contributor)
  • I manage a coworking space, eclau
  • my freelance activity is not limited to the four things mentioned above (not included: talks, short-term consulting and training, coaching sessions on WordPress…)
  • I’ve been asked to write a book (and am going to)
  • I do judo and am preparing an exam for in two weeks (not my exam, I did it last November: partner for a friend of mine who is doing hers)
  • I sing with CafĂ©-CafĂ©, though I’ve missed more rehearsals than I’ve attended over the past year 🙁
  • I go sailing (though I’ve had to sacrifice this spring’s regattas to judo training, and last year’s to singing)
  • I have a bunch of “light” hobbies like photography, reading, tending my plants (got orchids now!), going to the chalet, rollerblading…
  • Oh, I have a blog… you’re reading it
  • I also have a social life (I actually do) which includes family and close friends in other countries (and even other continents)
  • …not to mention that I’ve decided I needed to take proper holidays, which I’m doing (but that’s time off away from home).

I think that pretty much sums it up. I’m not sure how I manage 🙂 — but I do!

The Freelancer and The Open-Ended Projects [en]

[fr] Les projets Ă  long terme et assez ouverts peuvent ĂȘtre un piĂšge pour l'indĂ©pendant, quand la charge de travail augmente soudainement pour plusieurs projets menĂ©s en parallĂšle.

Business has been good this year. 2007-2008 was pretty disastrous, 2009 saw me get back on my feet, and 2010 is really taking off. I’m happy.

With business taking off come more challenges for the freelancer. One of them is open-ended projects, which are especially tricky for the time-management-challenged soloist.

Often, these projects are exciting in nature, having a wider scope than more time-limited projects like “give a talk” or “a day of training”. They’re also interesting financially because they allow the freelancer to secure larger sums of money with a single client, or offer a monthly retainer (something anybody with monthly bills can appreciate).

But they can contain a trap — trap I’ve found myself caught in. The trap is double.

They go on and on

By definition, open-ended projects are open. They might have an end, but if it’s many months in the future, they might as well not have one. This means there is always something to do. They don’t have the comforting “after date X in the near future (next week), this is over”. It’s not a bad thing as such, but it can be stress-inducing.

They have variable workload

The workload for open-ended projects is spread over weeks or months, but it is not always constant. It might be light for a few weeks, and then suddenly require 30 hours of work in a week. This can easily conflict with other work engagements, especially if they are also open-ended, unless the freelancer plans very carefully.

A third trap?

I almost want to add a third trap to these projects: they are often ill-defined and subject to scope creep. Again, careful planning can limit those problems, but is your typical freelancer in love with careful planning?

I’ve discovered that having one or two open-ended projects going on at the same time is roughly as much as I can handle. Maybe three, depending on the degree of open-endedness. At one point this year, I had five in parallel, and that was just impossible.

So, with more work opportunities comes the obligation to start choosing better, and managing a balance between regular gigs, which give some financial security, and short-term ones, which are usually more interesting from a return-on-time-invested perspective.