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Freelancing reflections - the one about productivity

Updated: May 15, 2022

I’ve always been interested in organisation and time management - I wonder if the word I am looking for is Productivity. I included some reflections on it as a teacher in 'The Elephant in the Staffroom.' I have come back to some of these ideas in my new freelance role. For those who have not kept up with my news, I am working the equivalent of 0.4 as a teacher and I’m self-employed/freelancing the rest of the week.

I am learning to enjoy this new and different space. The main reason behind my career turn can be summed up in two words: space and autonomy. Space has been particularly important both in terms of creating extra time and also the headspace to think things through properly. Both of these were in short supply when I was a full-time teacher. We do not always have the bandwidth to process the things we need to process or the time to assess where we are and what to do next.

So it has been important to slow down; as I chatted to a friend last month who had undergone similar changes his first piece of advice on space was “don’t be in a hurry to fill it.“ I understand what he means. As teachers we have a tendency to say yes far too quickly when asked to do something, we have a tendency to feel guilty about the unaccounted for 10 minutes. As a freelancer, concern over the bills (or gratitude for an opportunity!) may cause us to say 'yes' in a hurry. Most weeks bring a number of possibilities. Each of them requires the headspace to think through and then to give the answer. Some things are 'yes', some things are 'no' and others are 'not yet.'

I wonder how, if I were to go back to full time teaching/leadership, I would create similar space. I know of one headteacher who puts an 'unavailable' in their diary at least once a week - they use it just to pause and think! We all need space.

I am continuing to learn about focus My week divides between college and freelancing. Tuesdays and Thursdays are teaching days, Wednesdays and Fridays are freelance and Monday is split. I am able to live my life in boxes. I wonder if I am teaching better than in previous years because that is entirely what I am focused on during my teaching days, I have no management responsibility. I wonder if the training materials I have written this year and the events I have delivered have been better because college issues are not clouding my mind on those days. Whilst compartmentalising our lives does not suit everyone, I realised a long time ago the importance of focus. In the last few years I have almost religiously switched off emails whilst teaching. As a middle leader I sometimes sought out that quiet spot in our establishment where staff or students cannot disturb because I needed to give full attention to the strategic or admin tasks I was working on. Teaching and freelancing both involve multitasking, yet we are more efficient when we are working on just one thing at a time.

I am continuing to learn about discipline and hard work. The discipline of hard work comes from 25 years of teaching and also comes from watching my father who worked as a miner. A freelance day is not a lazy day. I am typically at my desk by 8 am at the latest and will usually work through till 5 pm. Yes, there is the flexibility to take a walk midday or to pick up my son and I can do an hour later to compensate. Whether in teaching or elsewhere, hard work generally pays off and lack of effort leads us to become unstuck. I am working as hard as ever but flexibly. I am enjoying it and wonder what we can do to give hardworking teachers at least some degree of autonomy and flexibility in terms of their hours.

I am learning about energy. I am learning that we have to manage our energy just as much as we manage our time. Some days are naturally more productive than others and you have to accept that. I remember a senior manager i once worked with telling me that when they were in college during a holiday they would have 'thinking days' and 'doing days'. I am loosely following this in my freelance days. Some days are for thinking and planning and other days are doing days for carrying out the plans. I am trying to match these days to my energy levels where I can.

Of course talk of energy links to the idea of rest. Even in juggling freelance work and part time teaching, 50 is plenty - there is a time to stop. This has also given more energy for things outside of work: family time and even some DIY including erecting a shed. My neighbour thinks I have been cloned as he is not used to seeing me outside in term time. I wonder how easy it is for full time teachers to maintain energy levels, particularly given the year or two we have had.

I am learning about sowing and reaping - we seem to reap what we sow in life and in business, yet strangely we don’t always reap where we sow. Sowing is not an exact science. As an RS teacher I am reminded of the parable of the sower. Lots of seed is sown much of which comes to nothing. However enough of it hits the good soil to produce fruit and guarantee the harvest. In the last few months lots of seed has been sewn (and before that through writing and exam board work). It seems that hard work pays off and that when we put the effort in, fruit grows. Curiously it is sometimes in the strangest places; it is sometimes not the fruit that we expect nor exactly where we sowed the seed.

Some of my endeavours have not produced the desired result, some have done better than expected, and still other things have come out of the blue through chance emails, contacts on Twitter or people passing on a recommendation. Just as in teaching we are not totally in charge of the outcomes, all we can do is work hard, trust the process and there will be fruit most of the time. God or the universe - whichever is your view - seems to ensure that you reap what you sow.

As a bonus, I have learned quite a bit about courage as well. I have learned that taking a calculated risk is sometimes the right thing to do. We won't achieve everything we set out to do but I'm sure we achieve more than if we do nothing. To borrow a quote from the excellent #WomenEd network, what would you do if you were just 10% braver?

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