Friday Fun: Super Grammar

As you might tell from some of my earlier posts — and my running campaign to get “First Person Shooter” games renamed to the more accurate “Second Person Shooter” — I’m sort of a grammar geek. I’m afraid I’ll find no cure, since I’m married to an English teacher.

Which is why I find Super Grammar so much fun. This is a relatively new grammar site that assigns a colorful superhero to the most important grammar terms. The combination of illustration and super power gives students a powerful mnemonic for remembering what each part of speech does. The silly, colorful presentation keeps learners engaged in what can be a dry subject.

My wife uses it to help her ESL (English as a Second Langage) students catch up with their peers. I read their posts simply because it’s really well done.

Seriously, check it out.

And happy new year.

Writer Entrepreneur: Lifestyle Design Part 3

Part Two listed some tools and considerations for turning a freelance career into your perfect life. In this segment, we’re going to look at setting goals. Most people make two major mistakes when setting their goals:

Mistake One: They set short-term goals too high. 

It’s easy to get excited when planning out your future. You want everything, and you want it next week. So you load up the first weeks or months of your calendar with an impossible laundry list of tasks…and then you burn out. You fail to meet your benchmarks, and soon you’ve given up.

Mistake Two: They set long-term goals too low.

After a few trips through the cycle of Mistake One, it’s easy to get discouraged. Once that happens, you lose sight of the incredible power of a year’s worth of incremental progress. To quote Tom Callos, looking at tasks as a “journey of 1000 steps” can make you nearly superhuman.

These two mistakes (Not my work, by the way. I first heard about it from Dave Kovar) can mean living far beneath your personal potential. When you sit down to write out your goals for this coming year, keep some things in mind to help you avoid both.

1. Focus on your most important tasks and goals. Avoid distractions, and promise yourself you’ll cut at least one peripheral, unrewarding activity from your schedule each month.

2. Choose at least one “impossible dream.” If you write a page a day, you’ve written a sizable novel by the end of the year. If you save three dollar a day (the price of a Starbuck’s coffee), you can buy a plane ticket to practically anywhere. Create a framework of small steps over the year and love where it takes you.

3. Push back at least two projects. You’ll get excited and make mistake one when you first write out your goal calendar. Force yourself to move at least two of them into the second and third quarters of 2012.

4. Have a “bookkeeping party” between Christmas and New Year. Schedule a day to pay that last bill, clean out your garage, email that contact — all those little details that would otherwise clutter your early 2012 calendar. It’s also a good idea to schedule one of these days near the close of each month. It keeps you sharp and motivated.

5. Write your goals down. I cannot stress this enough. Write down your goals, and put them someplace you look often. I used to use my bathroom mirror, but I think I’ll move them to my screen saver for 2012.

I hope this helps. Early in 2012, I’ll post my full goal and scheduling matrix as an framework for everyone. In the final installment in this Lifestyle Design series, we’ll talk about the good and bad of freelancing with a family.

Writer Entrepreneur: Lifestyle Design Part 2

In part one of this sequence I talked about what I wanted to be when I grew up, and how that didn’t work with who I wanted to be — and how writing allows me to be that who while doing something a rather enjoy.

In this sequence, we’ll look at 6 tools, techniques and considerations you can use to turn a freelance career into the life you want.

1. Start at the Top

Covey said it best: “Begin with the end in mind.” You can’t design your perfect lifestyle if you don’t know what it looks like. Start with how much money you want to make, how many hours you want to work while making it, and what opportunities and experiences you want out of your life. Write it down and reference it often.

2. Work the Numbers

Freelancing means working sales, and sales means taking lots of swings while getting only a few hits. Especially early in your career, you’ll need to apply to hundreds of gigs every month to get the assignments you need to make your dreams happen. At this stage, I still send out 5 applications every day and two proposals for magazine articles every week. The more you ask for work, the more work you’ll get.

3. Take Time Off

Freelancing makes it tempting to work all the time, but you’ll have your best ideas and do your best work immediately after a vacation. Give yourself at least one day every week to “unplug” from work, and take plenty of long weekends and longer vacations. Travel. Volunteer at your kids’ school. Owning your time is one of the greatest benefits of freelancing. Not taking advantage makes all the extra work less worth it.

4. Design Your Work Day

Don’t let your time own you by forcing you to react to emergencies all day every day. Schedule your work around your natural rhythms and the activities you enjoy. Work with your family so they respect your work time and are available during your play time. Keep a daily schedule, but keep it to your standards, specifications and needs. Tim Ferriss’s The Four Hour Work Week is an excellent resource for learning about lifestyle design.

5. Have a Plan

Without a boss breathing down your neck, you’ll have to create your own plans and hold yourself accountable. Set annual, quarterly, monthly and even weekly benchmarks for yourself according to your work methods and job flow. Set your daily agendas with the aim of meeting those goals. You won’t always be able to work your plan to the letter, but varying from a plan is better than not having one.

In part three, we’ll look in details at setting goals. Later in this series, we’ll discuss family life for freelancers.


Paid Time Off Redux

One week from right now (with adjustments for the international date line) my family puts our boots on the soil of New Zealand. We’ll be there for 10 days, enjoying 70 degree heat in the middle of American winter. We’ll visit with good friends who currently call the north island home. We’ll camp, visit Hobbiton, ride a ferry, swim and generally cause a whole lot of trouble.

Vacation as a freelancer is complicated, but you can make it work out for the best. I talked about it at some length in an earlier post.  If you can’t be bothered to read it, the upshot was freelancers make “vacation time” by working ahead of our financial needs. Once I accumulate enough extra cash — off I go.

Tools exist to help us do this. For example, I wrote this post on the 14th. WordPress allows scheduling of posts in advance, which I’m using to keep the blog going during my absence.

So on one hand, as a freelancer I get unlimited time off — assuming I’m willing to do work on a compressed schedule.

On the other, though, a freelancer never has time off. Never. I guarantee you that throughout my vacation I will consistently “noodle” on projects, take notes and otherwise give mental space to my writing. I’ll tweak my current fiction project. I’ll check email. I’ll plan my 2012 schedule.

It’s part of the life — and a trait of anybody who wants to succeed as a small business owner.

Not necessarily a bad thing. Not necessarily a good thing. Just a facet of freelancing you should know about if you’re thinking about this work-life choice.

Thanks for listening.