Sharpen Your Focus: 5 Ways to Kickstart Your Freelance Life

Remember this post? It was all about ways to treat yourself for less than $10 on Valentine’s Day, with or without a valentine.

10 Ways to Treat Yourself (For Less Than $10)

It’s not Valentine’s Day today, but I’m always looking for small (read: free) ways to appreciate what I have, and improve my quality of life. Aren’t you?

Today is Friday, though, so I’m thinking it’s an extra-appropriate time to go into the weekend mindfully and kindly–considering how you can get the most from your your body, your home, and your freelance life.

(Spoiler: You can be kind to yourself every day. But somehow, kindness doesn’t seem as accessible on a Monday morning.)

Give these ideas a try this weekend, and let me know how it goes. And don’t forget that sometimes, taking five deep breaths is the best gift you can give yourself.

1. Lay out your clothes every night

Let me tell you how often I don’t do this. But when I do, my day starts much more quickly and smoothly.

Especially when you work from home, it can be easy to sit down in your pajamas with a cup of coffee (or wine, depending on the time of day/level of alcoholism to which you adhere). Before you know it, it’s 11AM, and you feel, well, kind of gross.

Beat that feeling to the punch, and stop stumbling around in the morning, trying to find clean pants through all that crusty eye makeup.

PRICE: Free.

2. Walk around the block every morning

This is the natural next step after getting dressed in your laid-out clothes every morning. I read somewhere that somebody famous did it. You want to be famous, don’t you?

PRICE: Free.

3. Drink a glass of water before you eat

Are you hungry? Are you sure? How bout you drink some water first?

God, I love food. I try to remember to hydrate before I dig in, though. It’s a great tool to keep from overeating.

PRICE: Free, unless you live in California or sub-Saharan Africa, in which case: Damn, sorry.

4. Change your pillowcases

Studies show you’ll sleep better when the fabric next to your head doesn’t smell like morning breath and face dirt.

Okay, no one’s done a study on that, but you’ll have fewer breakouts if you change your pillowcases at least once a week. Plus, it’s my personal opinion that the smell of laundry detergent helps you fall asleep.

PRICE: Depends on how often you do your laundry. Basically, free.

5. Write down what you’re grateful for

Do this either at night before you go to sleep, or take a few minutes before you start work every day. By noticing the little things, you’ll start to build a naturally grateful outlook–which benefits you, your work, and everyone you know.

PRICE: Priceless.

 

Anything to add? Leave it in the comments!

The 5 Easiest Tools for Keeping an “Idea File”

5 Easiest Tools for Keeping an Idea File

Y’all, we’re all geniuses. We have a lot of great ideas, and if we lose them, THE WORLD LOSES THEM. So we write them down and save them for later–but where do we write them?

In an Idea File, of course. Check out the simplest 5 tools for keeping track of your brainwaves–from smartphone solutions to good ol’ pen and paper.

Just remember: However you choose to catalogue your creative impulses, don’t editorialize, judge, or dismiss them. Just write them down, and look at them later to find the ones that shine.

Gmail task list

This is where I, trained as a ninja in the art of digital task management, excel. Like many of you, I use my main To-Do list to check off items when I complete them (and give myself a boost of glorious can-do motivation).

But I also keep a separate list, creatively titled “Ideas”. It’s a good dumping ground for the times when I’m stuck in my email and don’t want to open anything else. And when I use an idea from the list, I can check it off and get that same boost.

Also, if you’re not using Gmail, what are you even doing with your life?

Evernote

I’ll admit: I was slow to come to Evernote. But now that I use it to keep track of my workouts (hello, Stone Age), I’ve come to appreciate its magical capacity to sync across platforms.

Also, I lost my phone during Mardi Gras, and it took losing all of the ideas in the phone’s Notes app to get me to use Evernote. The world will never know about circle bacon.

Fishbowl with scraps of paper

Sorry, no link. This is the most old-school method ever, and I hear it works really well–from the four people who still use it.

Just kidding. If you’re ever hard-up for inspiration, fishing a scrap of paper out of a bowl (or jar) can be the touch of whimsy you need to see an old idea in a new light.

Index card organizer

I like to think of this method as the more tangible, less fire-and-hurricane-safe version of Evernote. You can organize your ideas by alphabetical order, type, or degree of separation from Kevin Bacon. Then, you can use your cards to create an outline for your sixth-grade history paper!

Pinterest, Polyvore and other virtual bulletin boards

Artists, stylists, and other people who think and work more visually should give Pinterest and Polyvore a try. Though Pinterest does have a lot of crap (you only need so many recipes for “green juice,” after all), it’s easy to make private, curated boards that convey a mood or theme without words.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, and I’d love to hear what other people do. How do you keep track of your ideas?

10 Ways to Treat Yourself (For Less Than $10)

In honor of the massive February 14 gift-buying bonanza, here are 10 things you can do–whether or not you have a Valentine–to treat yourself.

Honestly, you can try the things on this list whenever you want, Cupid be damned. These are quick, cheap, quality-of-life improvements. You deserve them.

Quick note: With the exception of a couple of low-maintenance suggestions, there’s nothing on this list that you actually have to do. So if you’re looking for stuff like, “Try a new fitness class/hairstyle/hobby!”…well, find another list. We’re lazy around here.

1. Make your bed.

Made bed
Though if you really want to treat yourself, get a bigger bed.

Nothing makes you feel more put-together than a made bed. Do it, and go to work. The workday stress will wipe your memory–and when you get home to a nicely made bed, you can pretend you have a maid!

PRICE: Free

2. Dish gloves.

Dish gloves
Playtex Handsaver Gloves. What are you doing to that poor towel?

For most of us, doing the dishes is a serious drag. A cheap pair of dish gloves makes the whole stupid, terrible, repetitive process easier on your hands and nails. Channel Grandma and slap on a bright yellow pair. Dish gloves also help prolong the joy of the next item.

PRICE: $1.33 from Amazon

3. Nail polish.

Essie Butler Please
Essie’s “Butler Please”. I’m obsessed.

I recently learned to polish my nails (without making it look like I’m a toddler who broke into a salon, that is). It’s such a nice surprise when I catch a glimpse of a bright color on my nails. Why not treat yourself to a fancy new shade?

PRICE: $5.65 from Amazon

4. Wash your feet.

Bare feet
You won’t be able to stop suggestively running your toes over your leg.

Every night before bed. No, you don’t need to spend an hour on ritual ablutions. But you walk around all day, and then you shove your cold, dirty feet into your (hopefully made) bed. Spend five minutes washing your feet with warm water and scented soap. It makes a difference.

PRICE: Free, y’all!

5. Flowers.

Flowers
If you’re really broke, pick ’em from somebody’s front yard.

I can hear you already. “Flowers are expensive!” “Flowers are wasteful!” “Flowers are a tangible manifestation of the botanical bourgeoisie!”

Calm down. A couple of cut flowers brightens up a room like nobody’s business. Often, floral shops will throw out flowers that have been around for a few days, or lower their prices. Nab a small bouquet and enjoy it while it lasts.

PRICE: Try smiling at the florist.

6. Pills  A daily tiny treat.

Pill box
Ezy Dose Weekly Pill Reminder in size Humongous. Now imagine it full of jellybeans. Hurray!

I cannot have chocolate in the house, because I have no self-control. BUT, using one of these old-people-style pillboxes, I can at least try to restrain myself to one small chocolate a day. Think of it as a slightly creepy advent calendar.

PRICE: $5.98 from Amazon

7. Read this.

Charm School
Full disclosure: I wrote it; you’ll like it.

PRICE: $2.99 from the Maven Store.

8. Nice pens.

Micron pens
Micron pens. So sexy and precise.

When was the last time you wrote something and thought, “Holy shit, I want to make out with this pen”? Most people would say that’s never happened. I feel sorry for most people. Grab yourself a Micron or six, and start your lovefest.

PRICE: $9.50 from Amazon

9. Buy a pop song.

Headphones
A song is cheap. Good headphones, not so much.

There’s a reason they’re so catchy (hint: they’re manufactured to be catchy). Spend a buck on the latest noise to take over Top 40. You might find yourself nodding along.

PRICE: $0.99 on iTunes

10. Take 10 deep breaths.

Trees
You are here.

The positive benefits of breathing deeply can’t be overstated–and yet, it’s something we all forget to do. Before you go to bed tonight, take 10 long, slow breaths. Time your exhales and inhales evenly, and remember: You got this. You’re awesome.

PRICE: So incredibly free.

Happy Valentine’s Day! <3 The Maven

Take Back Your Weekend

How to Maximize Downtime Whenever You Get It

Dear copywriting,

You’re a slavedriver, and I love you. But wait–this isn’t that letter.

This letter is about you, my friend, and the last time you enjoyed a stress-free, work-free weekend. Raise your hand if you don’t remember when that was, and then put your hand down because everyone in the coffee shop is staring at you.

Freelancers know the myth of the “weekend” all too well. Clients want work delivered, and they want it now–whether it’s after 5 pm on a weekday or 10 am on a Sunday morning.

Even if you’re not a freelancer, chances are you’ve seen countless weekends disappear, spent in a haze of errand-running, chores, and catch-up work. You wake up Monday morning already depleted, because you never had a chance to relax.

Weekend Definition
Thanks, Google.

Weekends are supposed to be filled with picnics. Bed-lounging. Reading things printed on actual paper.

Mine usually look just like my weekdays–but I have no problem with this, because I’ve set up a three-pronged system for carefully managing my downtime.

…Want to read more? This whole post will be delivered to your inbox tomorrow. Just click here to sign up for the never-spammy, always-awesome English Maven newsletter!

(It also sometimes features cute pictures of my cat, because he’s more popular than I am.)