Sprint 15: Being “Funemployed”
March 1, 2016 by David T. Allen
February was the first month where both Leslie and I were “funemployed.” Thanks to the extra time, we accomplished far more than any month before.
Note: Dave has a job, it just hasn’t started yet (^-^).
My major focus was to finish edits to Echo Chamber Heist based on my beta read and to critique every story from a soon-to-be published Steampunk Fairy Tales collection. My first two weeks were spent copying notes from my Nook into our manuscript. Book progress was slow because it was also my last two weeks at work, and I had a lot to wrap up. My last two weeks were spent applying larger edits to the chapters I thought needed them most.
Leslie traded our manuscript with two other writers in order to get fresh feedback on her January edits. She had to read and critique two full books by end of month. Since she finished early, she also beta read a novella by our friend, Angela Castillo. Additionally, she applied edits to our Steampunk Fairy Tale, The Mech Oni and the Three Inch Tinkerer.
New Career, New Healthcare
Since I’ve changed my career to contract work, where I’m paid hourly, we had to procure our own health insurance. It was challenging, at first, since we didn’t fully understand the nuances between plans on healthcare.gov. We took a day to visit an insurance agency to answer our questions. The owner is my childhood best friend’s mom, so I knew she would do a great job. She explained everything in great detail, so I’m confident about our choices now and feel like I saved hundreds of dollars.
I assume this is standard, but you don’t pay insurance agents—they are paid by receiving a portion of your regular insurance payment. If you need to pick out your own insurance, I recommend talking to an agent.
I had a standing desk, and used to joke that I stood until my knees hurt, then sat until my back hurt. Before leaving my job, a Neuromuscular Balance Chiropractor visited us every few weeks to make adjustments. After one appointment with him, I could stand at my desk all day without pain. I plan on writing a more in-depth article about this later but, to be brief, I came to trust him.
Leslie has had headaches for ages now, and has visited many doctors and chiropractors. I convinced her to visit Lucid Chiropractic Clinic in Lawrenceville, since I had seen results and was impressed with their approach to treatment. She’s never tried a Neuromuscular Balance chiropractor before, so she agreed to go.
Unfortunately, her headaches haven’t gone away yet, but a different problem was resolved. Previously, she always felt exhausted and couldn’t get good sleep. Her grogginess has been lifted. Given no one told us this could be fixed with adjustments, we’re attributing it to the adjustments and not to a placebo effect.
While this was health-related, we considered it a writing task since headaches and grogginess were the biggest negative impact to her productivity.
I filled my first two weeks with tasks, taking into consideration how little time I would have.
When the third week came around, I only planned that week, because I wanted to edit and didn’t want other tasks to distract me. I have a tendency to sometimes avoid what’s most important in favor of what I want to do. Only having editing tasks on the board was a constant reminder to edit, and edit only.
Since I was new to staying home, I used toggl to track my hours and analyze whether I was spending my time appropriately.
The fourth week, I finished any remaining critiques for Steampunk Fairy Tales and handled a few other tasks.
Leslie didn’t plan any tasks in week one because she was exchanging beta reads, and the exchanges hadn’t been posted yet. She researched agents, did other tasks related to beta reads, and edited The Mech Oni and the Three Inch Tinkerer.
Once the beta read schedule came in, she planned how many chapters she would read each week to finish on time. She finished early, so she outlined changes suggested by our beta readers and delivered a few more critiques.
We had an amazing month, partially due to me not having a job for the last two weeks. As you can see, we broke week 3, and had to put finished tasks in the to-do column because there wasn’t enough room under DONE.
Four colors are represented on the board:
- White is a planned task, which we posted before the week started.
- Orange means winging it, and is used when there’s no upfront plan.
- Pink represents scope creep, or surprise tasks that are important we favor them over planned tasks.
- Green is for crushing it, and is only used if all planned tasks are complete and we’re over achieving.
The numbers are:
- 85 planned tasks (Leslie: 43, Dave: 42)
- 127 finished tasks (Leslie: 82, Dave: 45)
- 82 finished planned tasks (Leslie: 42, Dave: 40)
- 8 finished winging it tasks (Leslie: 8, Dave: 0)
- 8 finished scope creep tasks (Leslie: 4, Dave: 4)
- 29 finished crushing it tasks (Leslie: 28, Dave: 1)
- 137% - 149% completion by task count (depending on how you count “winging it”)
I’m not sure how much completion percentage really matters, since one task could take thirty minutes or five hours, and we don’t track time at a task level. What I care about is: did we meet our original expectations?
I feel like this month’s success was related to these factors:
- Dave quit his job halfway through the month, so he didn’t have to work surprise late week nights or weekends.
- We had fewer goals, so we didn’t have to split our focus as much as in previous sprints.
- Our goals were clear, so we planned our work appropriately.
- One of the manuscripts Leslie beta read was fairly polished, making it easier to complete than originally expected.
Alter planning as necessary. Sticking to two-week planning sessions is nice when there’s a clear picture of what you need to do. Leslie signed up for a beta swap at the end of January and hadn’t been assigned her books until week 2 of February. How much work she had depended on how long and polished the manuscripts she had to read were, so she waited to plan instead of just putting things on the board.
Give yourself credit for tasks that aren’t just reading, writing, editing, critiquing, etc. When you start a new job, a portion of your first week is spent on paperwork. If you treat writing like a full-time job, then stuff like get health insurance counts. Since Leslie’s headaches affect her productivity, visiting a chiropractor was also considered a writing task, since maybe it would help.
Try tracking your hours. I used toggl to keep track of my daily activities, from editing, blogging, critiquing, to walking the dogs and cooking. Tracking your hours can help you stay focused or, if you don’t feel like you accomplished much, offers proof that you had been working diligently and some objectives just take longer than you expect.
You can accomplish more when there’s fewer variables in your life. Sometimes, I had to work on Saturdays and wake up very early.
If things didn’t go well, I could be there all day. It also usually meant late nights on Friday and, sometimes, the entire week prior. This led to not sleeping enough, being stressed, and general unhappiness. Sometimes, I would go 72 hours without sleep, just because my body was hopped up on adrenaline. In a good week, I find it difficult to fall asleep before 1am. This is unhealthy, both physically and emotionally, and relationships suffered.
Not only did working weekends shoot my plans for writing, but a portion of the next week was also ruined, while I tried to return to a normal life. That’s a lot of down time, and it was hard to account for in our monthly writing goals. Other times, if I had a writing groove going on, I would stay up until 4am. That’s incompatible with waking up a few hours later to go to work.
I often said I worked at two startups: one during the day, and one during the night and weekends. Unfortunately, my projects stagnated when my regular job needed more of my time. By removing those hurdles, I believe we’ll be able to produce faster.
We’re leaving for Mexico in 6 hours so we haven’t prepared the board yet, but our primary focus will be implementing changes from our beta readers’ feedback.
Reflecting on February
Leslie and I worked together in my study on the first Sunday and savored how soon, I would be working from home every day. Notice there’s no snow.
Two days later, and the yard was covered with snow. Personally, I love it, and am happy when the weather is doing what matches the season.
That night, we went to Independent Brewing in Squirrel Hill to celebrate Megan and Dave moving to Idaho. We got an Allegheny Rum Barrel, partially because it looked good, and partially because the name Boyd & Blair Stonewall Rum appealed to us. Echo Chamber Heist features a gentleman’s club by a similar name.
The twelfth was my last day at work.
We celebrated Valentine’s Day with a heart-shaped pizza.
We went bowling as a last hurrah for Megan and Dave with a group of our friends.
It didn’t take me being home long before I could relate to J.K. Rowling’s tweet.
Right after Megan and Dave packed, we took some family photos. We had thought about doing it at a department store, but there just wasn’t enough time.
Dave actually called us to say he found Linus’s fur in the dipstick of their car. That dog sheds everywhere; that’s why I call him lint trap.
While trying to get into good habits, Leslie and I (erm … mostly Leslie …) prepared a large batch of food on a Sunday. Big batches make it easier to prepare healthy dinners throughout the week, so we end up saving a lot of time.
While taking a walk, I found this guy in someone’s yard. Notice there’s no snow again.
Our friend Lauren came to have a New Year’s party on the twenty-fifth. Normally, we celebrate New Year’s with her and Garett, but we did something a little different this year. Still, we wanted to keep up the tradition, even though Garett was on tour.
We watched Roseanne and Buffy The Vampire Slayer, since Lauren hadn’t seen either. She also brought an awesome green tea pie.
We’ve really enjoyed our new lifestyle. Here’s a picture of our favorite Pittsburgh stairway, which leads to donuts.
That’s it! Thanks for sticking around!