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When You’ve Said "Yes" Too Often

Posted Saturday, March 15, 2014 in: Nerd Life

I don’t write many posts about things that aren’t mostly about houses or interior design. But since this relates to my blog, I thought it related! It's been more than a week since I last wrote a post that shows what Mr Nerd and I have been up to (although I have put up other kinds of posts) and because you guys are so nice and you all support my blog so much, I kind of feel you deserved a bit of an explanation for my ‘absence’. 

Simply put, I’ve been saying yes too much, and no not enough. I bit off much more than I could chew work-wise and I don’t mean just in a past fortnight. This has been happening over the course of the past year and I have been pedaling frantically ever since trying to keep up with my workload!

People sometimes ask how my job works when they find out I am a freelance writer. Basically, I work from home, editors or agencies email me to offer me an assignment, I accept it, then I do any research and visit the house.

Doing a house interview. This one owned by Linda Slater of Paleo Rescue and on the blog soon. Photo by Heather Robbins of Red Images Fine Photography.

I do my interviews, drink coffee, write the story and email it in. I get paid per story (or I quote for and charge my hourly rate). I don't see the story again until it comes out in the paper or a magazine.

Freelance is glorious and addictive because the more assignments you take on, the more you can earn. When I started freelancing full-time I was 22 and would say yes to anything (and any topic) for that reason. At one point during that time I made more than $10,000 in a month, and I looked like a Walking Dead extra, but I was absolutely delighted with myself. You can sustain these workaholic tendencies for a while – but eventually, you will burn yourself out. I see this happen to friends of mine who are also freelance (or contractors or small business owners). They overwork, rarely take a full day off, say yes to everything that arises and hardly leave their desks.

Ask any freelancer what they like about freelance and they will likely say it’s so nice to be able to work your own hours. Of course it is. But because freelancers don’t have set hours, it’s easy to work too many hours, to never switch off and make a clear break between work and home life. The freedom of freelance is also one of its pitfalls; a slippery slope into obsessive workaholism. “I’ll make the time,” you tell yourself when you add yet another assignment to your burgeoning file. “I can do it.” But if you don’t set limits on your work hours, over time you will just exhaust yourself! 

Once I started writing House Nerd, I got even busier work-wise. I started getting such a lovely response to the blog, and I was so chuffed. The thing is, I do want to say yes to lots of the exciting stories and opportunities that come my way. But I am still trying to finish all the OLD things I have to do and now the list is as long as my arm.

It comes to a point where I have said ‘yes’ to so many things that when I think about it too much, I feel like screaming, or maybe hitting a piñata very hard. (Even while I’ve been writing this, I’ve gotten an email for a sponsored blog post, a text asking if I can take on some copywriting next week. And I’ve said yes to both. See what I mean?)

I know I am sounding like a massive whinger, but I know the fault is my own; a combination of bad habits worn in over years and an inflated, overly optimistic estimation of how much time and energy I really have. “Yes, I can write that story by the end of this week.” Or, “The deadline’s not for three weeks? I can fit in that in.”

The writing, and the coming up with ideas, is never the hard part. It’s just trying to get the time and energy to do it all. I don’t get writer’s block, I get writer’s diarrhea. I want to write about so many things. I am always jotting down story ideas and random thoughts in notebooks that if anyone were to find they would think I were crazy. When I am trying to sleep I think of ideas and have to get out of bed and scribble them down. I don’t think I suffer from lack of motivation, but I suffer from having too much in my head, and to having taken on and started far too much.

Sometimes it feels like my brain is so jam-packed there is no room to just enjoy the moment and relax, and not think about work and writing and what I 'need to do next'. I have realised that I can’t stretch myself quite this thinly anymore and sustain it. I don’t have the time or the energy. I find myself considering a job, thinking that will take me two hours. It takes me five, because I am tired and can’t focus straight. Do you ever wish there were two of you?

My House Nerd Instagram might show the nice fun stuff in my life; cafes and market jaunts and picking fruit from the garden. But my Instagram is like photos from a holiday, where you show only snaps of pics of yourself where you are in a beach resort making a duckface over a fishbowl, and not the pics where you have just gotten off a 14 hour flight and look like Iggy Pop.

I post the pretty stuff, because I don’t want to bore you with the minutiae of what I do with the majority of my time, which is sitting here at my desk and writing stories due, uh, tomorrow morning (and typing them on a ginormous, ugly ergonomic keyboard because I get RSI pains from typing so much).

I try NOT to be a boring workaholic, but many days, I am at my desk from 6am til 11.30pm or later, breaking only to run Nala, perhaps get groceries, make food, or go to an interview, work meeting or a house. At my worst, I do this for days on end. During these times I would rarely just chill out and spend a night on the couch watching TV, or read more than a chapter of a book a day because “I should be working”. It’s a bad habit that turns me into a boring and unhealthy stress bucket.

Lately I haven’t been spending much time doing things I enjoy; cooking, trying new healthy recipes, looking after my vegie garden, going to Zumba, or just kicking back and reading other people's blogs without guilt. I’ll run Nala, not walk her, because running takes less time. And my lovely craft room? I’ve barely had a chance to spend time in it.

Photo Heather Robbins of Red Images Fine Photography.

I feel like I’ve neglected my brand new husband a bit (sorry, babe) sometimes I feel guilty for spending hours with friends on the weekend when there’s a voice in my head squeaking, “You should be working.” But the thing is that you will be much more productive and good at your work when you are happy and balanced. I look grey and worn when I'm stressed. It’s not the way I want things to be!

I want to change my destructive work habits and as part of this I am going to:

  • Say no more often to things I really don’t want to do.
  • Value my own time more.
  • Try to cut back on things that sap energy that leave me feeling drained.

I recently read this story Dawn Gluskin wrote for The Huffington Post called 37 Life Lessons in 37 Years. The one that resonated with me the most was this one, on the value of our time:

“Say "YES!" to everything that lights you up. Say "no", unapologetically, to anything that doesn't excite you or you don't have the bandwidth for. Time is one of our most precious resources that we can never get back. Manage it wisely.”

I actually wrote this out and stuck it above my desk. I realised I frequently said yes to work things that, if I was honest, took up so much time that they sapped my energy for things I really wanted to do.

Recently I went to a business workshop by business coach Shannon Bush of Creative Possibility. It was timely, because I’d just had to say no to someone the day before, and one of the things Shannon talked about was saying no to things that were not in line with your goals so you could retain your energy for the things that did.

The workshop was funny, because at recess two of the women in the class approached me to ask if I could do writing for them about their work. It was an exercise in saying no already! While once I could have worked with either one of them to produce stories on wellbeing and beauty, now their goals were not in line with mine. There was something kind of liberating about having the confidence to say no to them just straight up, no umming or aahing like once I probably would have. I am since getting better at saying no. And the more you practice it, the easier it gets!

Shannon also encouraged me to look at things that took time away from what I really needed to work on. And I know that one of the worst bits and biggest time-sappers of my job is EMAIL. I have realised that I cannot reply to every email I get. Not anymore. 

I remember when my inbox would be cleared every day by 4.30pm on the dot. I was 21, living at home, barely lifting a finger around the place, and was the Red Bull-swilling eager beaver editorial assistant of Oxygen magazine and MuscleMag. Now with more and more stories and posts to write and keep on top of, I’m lucky to clear my inbox once a month.

I love that so many people read my blog and it really makes me so happy when people take the time to tell me how much they enjoy it or send me suggestions for stories. You guys have no idea how affirming it is to read your nice emails. It is like a gentle hand in the small of my back every time, pushing me onwards.

But the bigger the blog has become, the busier I have become, and the more tired. I now get hundreds of emails about this blog and my writing every day, and I have learned the hard way that when I try (keyword being try!) to reply to all of them, it takes so much of my time that I actually don’t have time to blog… or to do things to blog about!

So if you will forgive me (and I really hope this isn’t offensive) but from now on I won’t be replying to all emails. Although please know, I do read them all (many on my iPhone as I’m walking from my car to a meeting, or while I’m distractedly throwing sticks at the park for Nala). I know that sounds so rude. I WANT to take the time to write thoughtful, nice replies to everyone because they have taken the time to write something nice to me. But at the same time I have learned that when I try to do that, I just burn myself out. There’s no time to do House Nerd stuff!

But – I would LOVE it if more of you left little comments on the stories… yes even the short online squeal of, “I love this house!” always makes me feel great and spurred on and lets me know I am putting out stuff that people love and feel inspired by. Yes, I know I can go to Google Analytics and look at the web figures to see that people are reading, but that is so boring and sterile, it’s nicer to put a soul to a reader, if that makes sense. Grace Bonney of Design*Sponge recently published her latest report on blogging for the past year, and said her team had found readers had recently been commenting less across the board - although their readership was still increasing. So let me know you’re out there… you can be anonymous! And I promise I will reward you guys with good stuff on here! I have lots of exciting things in the pipeline for little House Nerd.

And if you are in the same stressed-out boat as me…

Feel like you have bitten off more than you can chew (and are just trying to chew frantically, with crumbs on your chin?) 

When I am feeling mentally scattered and overwhelmed, I like to read things by people who make me feel calm. I have dog-eared copies of the Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff books by the late Richard Carlson and his wife Kristine Carlson. I also love reading Leo Babauta who blogs at Zen Habits. He gives such sage advice but even though he is worldwide famous for being a proponent of minimalist, simple living, he is still humble enough to admit when he stuffs up a little and falls into an old self-destructive habit. I like that honesty. (And he’s releasing a book soon!)

And on a local level, I love to read the blog of Amanda of Homely One. I started reading her blog ages ago (and she mine) and after actually randomly bumping into each one morning, we have actually since become close friends! Amanda inspires me because she always stands true to herself and what is important to her - living a simple, happy life with her family. She doesn’t let herself get caught up in the endless mad rush and the glorification of busy-ness that can be modern life. Sometimes just reading her blog makes me feel like the tension is going from my shoulders.

And before I leave you, here’s a little look at what’s been happening with Mr Nerd, Nala and I lately.

I spent a lovely evening chatting over gin & tonics with Ariane Prevost, architect of award-winning Marimekko House.

Our bathroom renovation is slowly getting there!
The vanity was installed yesterday and oh my is the Caesarstone benchtop beautiful! The cupboard part needs sealing and painting, obviously, but I have a feeling it will all look great. Our cupboards also arrived for our laundry renovation - which is next on the Crap Shack hit list.

Mr Nerd and I made a pressed tin bedhead for our bedroom... and our bedroom makeover is finally finished!
The pressed tin bedhead looks awesome and I can’t wait to share our DIY on here. We used panels from Heritage Ceilings.

I’ve been writing a story on this amazing renovation.
It's a Bayswater house owned by Linda Slater of Paleo Rescue. You’re going to love it.

Photo by Heather Robbins of Red Images Fine Photography.

We had a photo shoot of our finished bedroom makeover. Photo shoots can be exhausting, but they are rewarding. My interior designer friend Nelly Reffet of Twinkle and Whistle, who was the creative brain behind the colour scheme and concept for the room, came to work her styling magic, and my photographer friend Heather Robbins of Red Images Fine Photography shot the photos. I saw them last night and can’t wait to share them all with you! Here's a peek.

Photos Heather Robbins of Red Images Fine Photography.

Er, my super-awesome beach volleyball team won our finals.
We each got a little volleyball that sits on a plastic stand as a trophy. I took it home in my handbag. Nala saw it sticking out of my bag and wagging her tail and cooing and smiling a big doggy grin because she automatically presumed the ball was a present for her. Oh. I didn’t have the heart to put it on the shelf. I gave it to her. It’s her new favourite toy, after Pinky the earless rabbit. It’s too big to carry in her mouth. So she just bats my trophy her ball around the house with her paws.

Not that she REALLY needs any more toys…

Thanks for reading my rantings everyone; every time you jump on here you are supporting me and I appreciate it. Maya x

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