Saturday, October 01, 2011

Audit of my work priorities. I am tired of feeling like a hamster on a wheel, of always scrabbling to meet my expenses, and of overcommitting myself because I see a complex, intangible benefit to the activity such as "good for building your profile" or "important to give back". Whereas the top priorities in my work should be: money; creative satisfaction; psychological well-being. I feel as if I have been neglecting the first and third at the expense of the second, and in pursuing activities that satisfy other, less important criteria.

Here's a screen shot of my work commitments for September. In my calendar I use green for work-related events and blue for personal events. You can see how few non-work-related appointments I have. And I didn't even go to four of the ones that are listed here.

So yesterday I decided to list all my commitments and activities, and to rate them all out of ten according to these three criteria. Then I will cut back or cut out the 'low value' activities, and devote more time to the ones that will get me more money while simultaneously being the most creative and best for my mental health.

 Here's how I imagine the categories.

Money: Pretty simple – how financially rewarding is the activity? Something that earns more money is ranked high. Something that's a secure source of money ranks higher than a one-off activity. Something that pays reliably, but not well, is ranked around the middle of the scale. Something that is currently free but can lead to money-making opportunities is ranked low. Stuff that pays in kind rather than with money is ranked low. Stuff I do for free is ranked zero.

Creative: How well does the activity let me pursue the things I'm good at and love to do? Activities in which I get sole credit or am allowed to make my own creative decisions are ranked high. Activities that prioritise my own interests are ranked high. Activities in which I work creatively but within a preset formula or paradigm are middle-ranked. Activities in which I 'churn out' work, work anonymously or with little autonomy are ranked low.

Psychological: How stressed, relaxed or energised an activity makes me feel. Activities that excite me, that I look forward to when I get up in the morning, are ranked high, as are activities I find soothing, comforting or absorbing. Activities I dread and procrastinate about are ranked low. Activities that make me angry and frustrated are ranked low. Boring, repetitive or routine activities are ranked around the middle of the scale. An activity that makes me so anxious and stressed that it feels as though a fist is squeezing my heart, and I basically want to die, ranks zero.

Okay, so I ranked these activities last night, and here are a few insights. First of all, here are all the activities that scored 0 on the 'money' criterion:

Twitter – personal
Twitter – clothes
Hipster Tipster Tumblr
A Wild Young Under-Whimsy
Footpath Zeitgeist
The Dawn Chorus
The Enthusiast
RRR radio shows
A sekrit activity I can't blog about

Here are the most lucrative things I do:

Monash teaching
Age Life & Style features
triple j magazine
Right Angle custom jobs

Here are my most creatively satisfying projects:

Proposed book
The Enthusiast
Age Life & Style
Monash teaching

And here are the best things for my mental health:

A Wild Young Under-Whimsy
Twitter – personal
Proposed book
Twitter – professional

It's probably not a good idea to list the commitments I'm planning to ditch or cut back on, but one thing I've been doing way too much of lately is guest speaking and panel appearances. Lucy thinks "being on a panel" is prestigious in the same way I idealise "a book deal", but public speaking gigs are not well paid unless you're with an agency. Some don't pay at all, or pay with vouchers or bottles of wine.

Catherine Deveny once told me that she considers the low-paying gigs to be high in goodwill capital – they lead to better opportunities in future. However, someone else pointed out to me that Deveny does some very highly paid corporate gigs and hence can afford to be generous to small-time events organisers.

Whereas it's silly for me to gamble on the likelihood that these kinds of gigs will lead to further professional opportunities for me. In September, I did five of them, and only two paid me in real money. In August I did two, only one of which was paid. In future, I'm going to prioritise the speaking gigs that score highest on the money criterion, then on the psychological criterion, then on the creative criterion.

The other weird thing about public speaking gigs is how most of them involve me giving advice to emerging writers. I feel ill-equipped for this because even though I'm in my thirties, I don't feel established in my career. I feel as though the baby boomers and older Gen-Xers have the secure, lucrative and influential positions locked up, leaving me sandwiched between them and the hungry youngsters who are prettier, bolder and less ashamed of marketing themselves in openly narcissistic ways.

Lefa has pointed out that emerging writers find it encouraging to hear from someone who's relatively close to their age and only a little further down the path than they are. It's a good point, but I don't think I can be that person any more. It's time for me to nurture my career, giving it a forward momentum rather than hustling to stay in the same spot, which is how I currently feel.

Mel, I thought it worth mentioning that to me, you are most definitely an established writer, someone with a career. Perhaps it doesn't feel like it, but perhaps it never does. I once talked to a very successful consultant in international aid, in his 40s, much in demand around the world, and he still talked about the insecurity of each consulting gig and never feeling quite as if he was there. But you always surprise me with what you've been doing whenever I see you - it always seems to be further steps down that imaginary career path, and as someone who is locked in the public service and has recently most definitively gone backwards, I look at you as someone to admire and emulate. Particularly as a freelancer who draws their own route and has to take themselves there on their own steam, without the 'career pathways' and 'mentoring' that my government job allegedly offers.

I'd also like to thank you for making the spring BBQ one of those few blue things you attended, and offer my condolences that you had to see 'Abduction' the next day.

Hahaha, actually Abduction is one of the greatest (unintentional) comedy films of 2011. My favourite line is, "THERE'S A BOMB IN THE OVEN!" and then they go to check and sure enough there is, a cartoonish-looking affair with like seven seconds left on the clock!
Also, of course I was coming to the BBQ! I take my potato salad bringing responsibilities seriously.

Looking at that screencap though I am realising I forgot to actually put all sorts of things in my calendar, like Enthusiast meetings and the time I met Andrew and Ben for brunch. I need to develop better routines for transferring things from my brain to my electronic tools because otherwise the tools are no help!
Is 'Abduction' a totally awesome Friday night DVD movie? I'm a bit way of 'so bad it's good' ever since wasting 90 minutes of my life on 'Glitter'.

I'm totally with you on the electronic things - I've finally worked out that the weak link in the whole chain is actually my brain. Electronic tools will never work for me, because my brain is not reliable enough. So ironically enough, all I have to rely on for appointments is my brain.
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