It’s been one roller coaster of a ride since I turned my back on the regular 8-5 employee life. Here are some of the lessons I learned in my (almost) 1 year of working as a freelance web content writer from home.
Here’s the truth: Working from home is harder than it seems.
But the benefits far outweigh the cons of this setup.
Here are some of the things I learned in nearly a year of working from home as a web content writer.
- Distractions are everywhere
- Make a schedule (or see your hours go poof)
- Apply the “One Thing” on Task Listing
- Patience is a must (especially when you have a kid)
- I learned how to cook (Nailing down the basics)
- Discipline Equals Freedom
- Learn how to allocate your resources the right way
Distractions are everywhere
Working from home has its perks. Too much actually, if you’ll ask me. Now that I think about it, each hour is basically a battle against procrastination. Why wouldn’t it be? There’s the TV. Using an el cheapo Android box, I can waste hours watching stuff on Netflix, iFlix (cheaper) or YouTube.
Or I can surf the net, endlessly consume content until the blood vessels in my eyes pop. And don’t forget social media—that one’s a biggie. (Kahit puro katarantaduhan lang yung videos na napapanood ko dito)
Sound trippin’ is nice too (bought some new earphones) and so does a reading book. I’ve also got a couple of games installed on my laptop (na di ko naman malaro kase aagawin lang ng anak ko)
The bottom line? It’s always tempting to slack off. There’s a lot of distractions. And it’s easy to give in especially since my job does not require me to sit down and work fixed hours. I don’t even have a schedule. Which brings me to my next point:
Make a schedule (or see your hours go poof)
I’ve been fortunate enough to have an uber-flexible job that allows me to literally work anytime and anywhere I want. However, it’s not as easy as it sounds.
See, I’m used to having a structure. A routine if you will. Prior to freelancing, my employee life followed the usual M-F, 9-hour workday. When I started freelancing, there’s no such structure in place. While that sounds amazing, it’s also a recipe for massive amounts of procrastination (petiks).
“If you don’t prioritize your time, someone else will”.
Cal Newport’s book, “Deep Work”, promotes “Time blocking” as essential to accomplishing important and meaningful tasks that move you closer to your goals. It’s about scheduling specific blocks of time each day to work on your most important tasks.
When you set a time block, you have to guard it against any distractions and interruptions. This is non-negotiable. If it means locking the door in your office or working on a park bench, so be it.
I once had to finish an article (deadline was within the hour) in the toilet simply because I can’t concentrate with my kid’s non-stop commentary on what he’s watching (or doing):
“Dadi tignan mo bilis o gusto ko yan o”
“Yaaan, yaaan. Yan talaga ang mabilis. Si Jackson Storm talaga mas malakas”
Can’t help it. I love the kiddo but you have to do what you have to do. Para din naman sa kanya yon talaga.
Applying Newport’s advice, I decided to build a schedule that will allow me to work straight for a few hours without my kid tugging on my shirt trolling me with his version of that Mama Sita TV ad jingle (Six pesos na laaang!)
I decided to wake up extra early between 4AM to 5AM. Why? Because nobody’s up yet and I like the silence of these wee hours.
This gives me a solid 2 hours of writing time every day. On days I can work outside (around 2-3 times a week), I get to squeeze in an additional 2 hours before lunchtime. And that’s it. The rest of the day gets spent on daddy duties, errands, and some house chores.
I rarely work at night. My brain is too fried to get anything useful out of it. If I have a deadline (read: 2 days late), I try to scrape a couple of hundred words in before I hit the bed.
It’s been a whirlwind of a ride this year in terms of changes in our household. Every once in a while, something comes up that requires me to adjust my routine. However, since implementing this schedule, I’m able to work on the most important and urgent stuff.
The lesson? You need to be super flexible when working from home. Adjust when you have to. Gumising kasabay ng pagbukas ng Emong’s Pandesal kung kinakailangan. As my friend Dennis likes to say, “Gawin mo, gago”.
Do whatever it takes to guard your working hours.
Apply the “One Thing” on Task Listing
Gary Keller’s book, “The One Thing”, teaches its readers to identify the “Macro from the Micro”. Simply put, it’s about identifying the next step on a goal that will ensure progress.
For example, if you want to learn how to drive (macro), you’ll probably think the next step is to sign up in a driving school. While that sounds like a plan, it’s still not a “micro”-oriented goal. To be effective, it should clearly identify the next step.
Following Keller’s advice, it should be, “Drop by the driving school later at 3PM to inquire and sign up”.
In my case, I use it as a screening tool in making my to-do list. If I have a lengthy article to complete, I break it down to several tasks. In this article, for example, there are plenty of step-by-step sections and tables to include. My to-do list for this piece will look like this:
As you can see, it clearly identifies the next step. If I simply put “Finish Grit article” (which I used to do), here’s what will happen: I’ll open my laptop, stare at the screen, and then ask, “Now where was I?”
I’ll then proceed to read the whole thing to get up to speed. That’s only when I’ll start doing actual work. Whether it’s research or writing or a combination of both.
It’s more efficient if I know beforehand that I’ll be doing tables and knowing which sections to work on. That way, I can “prime” my brain (and mood) towards completing that specific task.
If a Wunderlist task list says, “Make data tables – Driver’s license article”, I’ll know exactly what to do. I’ll skip the intro and all other sections and go straight to making tables. No time wasted. Once done, proceed to the next clearly defined task.
Patience is a must (especially when you have a kid)
Having a child is an amazing thing. Absolutely one of the best feelings in life. Its also a nerve-racking experience, especially when they’re between the ages of 3-5. Here are actual sample conversations we have all the time:
“Diba sabi mo (insert some weird promise I made last week)”
“Hindeee, mamaya na” (When I ask him to pack away his toys)
“My turn!” – (Pagkabukas ko ng TV para manood ng NBA)
“Mamaya ka na mag-work” (Pag naghahabol ako ng deadline)
“Last 5 minutes na yan ha” (I tell him when he plays with my phone) he’ll respond with, “Dapat 10 minutes”
“Last 10 minutes na lang ‘nak, tapusin ko lang to (I tell him when I’m working) he’ll respond with, “Dapat 5 minutes”
And when I answer, “Nagwo-work si daddy para may makain tayo”
His reply: “Di ba kumain na tayo kanina?
Don’t get me wrong. I find it funny (most of the time) and love the little rascal to the bits. It’s just that it’s during this age when kids start to develop their thinking and never seem to stop asking questions.
They also start reasoning with you about a lot of things.
“Bakit pag si Mommy pwede?” (mag ice cream before bed)
“Diba sharing is good for you?” (When he wants to play on the laptop while I’m working)
Here’s the lesson from all of this: You’ll have to force yourself to be more patient with kids when you’re working from home.
It’s a physical and mental effort. You have to be always mindful when interacting with them to remind yourself not to snap when they put PlayDoh inside the ref for the nth time (“Para di matunaw dadi, ice cream yan e”) or when they keep tugging on your shirt when you’re working saying, “Dadi tignan mo si (insert cartoon character he’s watching at that time) anlupit oh!”.
One time I tried to sleep on the sofa without my shirt on only to rise up the next second after sand stuck to my back like sugar on a donut. Damn kinetic sand. Itatapon ko na talaga yan e.
There are times when I can tolerate it. When I’m doing research or outlining, I can bear the constant nagging. However, when doing the actual writing, it simply won’t work. I require silence when putting words down.
Working from home will require a great deal of patience if you have kids (at least from what I experienced) and you should expect the constant attention from them.
Remind yourself that they don’t really quite understand the situation of a work-from-home setup especially if they see that mommy works at an actual office while you work on a laptop, shirtless, with a week-old bigote and a beer gut.
I learned how to cook (a.k.a Nailing down the basics)
I’ve always wanted to learn how to cook simply because it’s a useful skill to have. Years ago, feeling inspired by some YouTube show, I went to the grocer and bought a bunch of ingredients. And a Mama Sita cookbook. I figured I’ll just use “instant mixes” to cheat my way to delicious ulamzzz.
Lo and behold, the Afritada tasted like crap (my ate’s words) and the chicken was undercooked. I remember the whole thing tasted like bell pepper. If Gordon Ramsey was there he would have dunked my face into the pan of simmering hot Mama Sita Afritada sauce.
Bonus life lesson: Instructions at the back of ingredients are bullshit.
Fast forward to 2018, I was ready to go at it again. But this time, with the help of Panlasang Pinoy. Yup, that dude in YouTube (who now has his own Knorr commercial) who cooks Pinoy ulam and specialties exclusively.
The first few tries were—to use coaching lingo—“Needs Improvement”. I realized cooking videos make it look too easy and you have to make smart guesses as you go along.
For example, the time it takes to make the meat tender. You can’t simply blindly follow the suggested duration of “boil it for 10 minutes”, or “sautee for a few seconds”. Just don’t. Take it from someone who once cooked pork adobo with the same juiciness of a car tire.
Me: “Kala ko kase gusto mo medium-rare!”
Wife: “E kung ikaw kaya pakuluan ko?”
Kidding aside, it showed my complete ignorance when it comes to the basics of cooking.
Being a total noob, I based it on the actual time on the video itself. Only after realizing that sauteing garlic and onion requires “enough” time to bring out the flavors or boiling meat and potatoes depends on its type, cut, level of heat, and the amount did I understand that you have to understand the “whys and hows” of the basics first.
The exact measurements? I dunno. Here’s what I learned: When it comes to cooking, I don’t think exact measurements matter that much. As long as you have an idea of the proper ratio for ingredients, there’s a good chance you’ll get the right taste. Unlike baking (which requires absolute precision), cooking is more or less a freestyle performance (IMHO).
However, to get to at least a decent level of cooking (read: hindi lasang pork steak yung adobo – nagawa ko din to) you’ll have to go through a couple of failed batches. It’s inevitable. Unless you’re one gifted mofo, you’ll have to work your way through to get good.
Only by actually doing it will we get to learn. I remember Googling “how to reverse park” when I was a new driver. After watching a couple of videos and remembering to “make sure to align the side mirror to the parking space before moving 45 degrees up and then backing up”, I confidently tried it at the office parking lot.
With a couple of friends watching (hoping I would bump the next car), I said, “Tsong ganto kase yan, porti-payb degrees dapat”.
It took me 10 minutes and several tries to get it right. Sensing defeat, I tried to weasel my way out. “T@ngin@ng YouTube yan barbero amput@”
Dennis: Di yan makukuha sa panonood. Tanchahan lang yan. Basta gawin mo gago”
And it’s true. You can’t learn how to ride a bike by watching. I got a couple of bumps and bruises before I got the damn skateboard to move without me falling. Anyone who tried to learn to drive a manual car will tell you that working the clutch while “hanging” (road is inclined upward) is a pain in the butt and can’t be taught by simply watching.
You have to do it yourself. That’s how humans have been doing it for the last two thousand years.
Writing, believe it or not, is similar to cooking. You can’t learn how to write by reading.
Sure there are “recipes” (formulas, templates, styles to copy from, hacks, etc) that can get you started in a heartbeat. However, if you don’t understand why the hell you’re doing it (technique, formula) in the first place then you’re not really learning.
It’s like trying to understand differential calculus simply by memorizing formulas. Without context, these techniques are as good as nothing.
Back to cooking:
A few months in, I can come up with decent-tasting staples: Adobo, Nilaga, Tinola, Ginisang Gulay (with or without gata), Giniling with Patatas, Sinigang na Baboy, Sopas, Ginisang Munggo.
Iron Chef Quezon City Semi Finalist
As I’m typing this, I realized konti pa lang din pala (heh) but hey, it’s a start. I’ll admit though, I usually try to “outsource” all the prep work to my ever-patient wife whenever I can. I don’t have the patience to peel and cut ingredients.
That didn’t last, however. After taking a bite of a clove of garlic from the sopas I cooked, she asked why it wasn’t minced.
“Pinisa ko lang ng tinidor e, tinamad ako maghiwa”, I admitted. I was even proud of my technique because it saved me time. “Last mo na yan, she said.”
Since then she always asks me to mince the damn thing. Hay hassle. In hindsight though, it was another lesson why nailing down the basics is important.
Practice is essential. There are no shortcuts.
Discipline Equals Freedom
“Para sa ikauunlad ng bayan, disiplina ang kailangan”, says an old adage.
Here’s my version for freelancers:
“Para sa ikauunlad ng kabuhayan, disiplina ang kailangan”
Whether it’s ditching low-balling clients, being consistent in clearing your daily tasks, resisting the urge to take in more clients, staving off distractions, and fighting everything else that will negatively impact my output—discipline is the key.
I’ll admit, it’s a work in progress. Saying I’m disciplined is one thing, actually doing it is another. One Sunday morning, I woke up around the usual time. But instead of going straight to the kitchen to brew a cup of coffee, I reached for my phone and checked Shopee. I wanted to know if their hyped-up, 11-11 Sale is legit (It was).
After endlessly scrolling through an endless list of products, I checked the clock and realized I spent 30 minutes on the damn thing.
And I still didn’t have anything on my cart. Except for an Aeropress I’ve been eyeing last week (which was not discounted that day, gademit), I really didn’t need to buy anything. (Ended buying one in Lazada)
I lost a good amount of time (which could’ve been spent writing) and messed up my routine. Clearly, I’m not as disciplined as I would like to be. Oh well. At least I still have the “wake-up early” routine going. Yup, even on weekends. I just need to make sure it’s always optimized for work.
“Don’t expect to be motivated every day to get out there and make things happen. You won’t be. Don’t count on motivation. Count on Discipline.”
― Jocko Willink, Discipline Equals Freedom: Field Manual
Learn how to allocate your resources the right way
Some things I learned in the last few months:
- Working 2 hours in a coffee shop nets the same result, if not better, than working 4 hours at home.
- One client pays 5 times more than another for the same number of words.
- A 10-minute power nap refreshes me better than an hour of watching Netflix.
- A cup of brewed coffee perks me up better than a liter of 3-in-1 coffee mix.
The Pareto Principle of 80/20 states that roughly 80% of the results come from 20% of the causes. Note that the actual ratio is not important, it’s merely meant to highlight the gist of this rule: imbalance. It also works vice versa (20/80) too. Here are some examples:
- At one point, 20% of my clientele was the source of 80% of my income
- 80% ng profit ng Andoks galing sa tinda nilang inihaw na manok: Liempo, fried chicken, beer, chicharon, and kanin make up the rest (20%)
- Sa mga T-shirts ko sa bahay, may peyborit lang akong lima (30% ng T-shirt roster)
- Sa 84 apps ko sa phone, pinaka madalas magamit ang: Email, Scribd, Kindle, Google Play Books, Pocket, Wunderlist, Podcasts, GDocs, Google News. (Note to self, uninstall lahat ng games na nilagay ng magaling kong anak)
- 20% ng clients ko dati (previous job) ang nagbibigay sakin ng 80% ng mga problema
There are plenty of practical uses for the 80/20 rule. Once you identify the imbalance, you can adjust your actions and decision making to either maximize efficiency or remove the inefficiency.
I apply it when reviewing goals and targets for a specific time frame. For example, in reviewing my earnings for a quarter, I’ll ask myself: Which projects brought in the most profit in the least amount of time and effort? I then focus more time and energy on this particular client to get more articles done and improve the relationship.
Or vice versa: This client has been taking too much of my time for little pay (in relation to other projects). I think it’s best to drop it.
What will this achieve? One, it makes you conscious with your decision-making.
When buying groceries, I double down on items we consume the most. It can help you decide which phone to buy (which features will I use the most?). It helps me decide which type of clothes to stock up on (T-shirts). Also works in deciding if I’ll try fixing the faucet or have someone else do it (I’m bad at it)—(Will it be more efficient to have someone else do this?)
The key takeaway is this: Identify which items or activities will get you the most value out of your time and money.
Analyze what gets you value the most then focus all your resources on it.
Let’s say you’re working from home when your wife tells you that there’s a leak in the faucet. If you’re not familiar with how to fix it, will you still try? Sure you can, it’s always useful to be handy on these things. But I bet it will take you a considerable amount of time to do it. And that is if you have the right tools for the job.
Will you halt your work and then attempt to fix it? Personally, I’ll give it a try. See if it’s a simple fix. If it isn’t, I’ll hire someone else to do it. Because when I think about it, I’ll probably spend 30 minutes to an hour trying to fix the leak. I have other better and more profitable uses for my time. Here’s what I’ll do: Call a pro to fix it, get back to my work, pay him when he’s done.
Instead of laboring for an hour without a guarantee that I can fix it, I’ll choose to get back to work that I’m good at and get paid. Think about it: If the handyman who fixed our faucet had a problem with his refrigerator, do you think he can fix it? Sure he can try, but he’ll have better use of his time if he just takes it to a pro.
Mind you, we’re not shunning the virtue of learning how to do things by yourself here. If I had the tools and the time, I would’ve probably tried harder to fix it. It would’ve been a worthwhile experience in itself. But the truth is, I prefer spending it with the fam or going back to work. It all boils down to our own preferences.
This applies in career too. If you’re good at something and bad at another, I say get your good better (specialize) than waste resources trying to even out your skills.
I remember reading Steve Job’s biography where it mentioned that he dropped out of college and took only the classes that interested him. One of those classes was calligraphy. He didn’t had the slightest idea how it would be beneficial in the long run, he simply wanted to learn more about it. It fascinated him. So he decided to spend most of his time on it. An excellent application of Pareto’s principle in my opinion.
This was taken from his legendary Stanford commencement speech:
Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and sans serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.
None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But 10 years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts.
Imagine if Einstein tried to get good at speaking foreign languages to “balance” his skills. His time studying it probably would have hindered his groundbreaking discoveries in science. Or if a sushi restaurant tried including pork specialties in their menu simply because a couple of customers expressed interest in it. I bet it wouldn’t be a hit. Identify the 20% of your actions that brings 80% of the results.
Working from home has been one hell of a ride. It’s been awesome, and I don’t see myself going back to corporate anytime soon.
Unless of course Mama Sita calls and wants me for their next commercial.