Freelance Health

  • Five reasons why meditation is worth a try (especially if you’re a spiritual cynic)

    For over a year or so, I’ve been meditating regularly. It was originally suggested to me by a fellow freelancer, Fran Swaine, for a good way to deal with stress. As a not particularly spiritual, terribly cynical kind of person, my initial reaction was a little…doubtful.

    Thankfully, meditation has come a long way over the years, and has been adapted to work for those with busy, technology-fuelled lives. I found a selection of great apps and online tools to help me get into meditation:

    screenshot596

    Meditation Newbie

    I started using an app called Headspace first, which sets you a challenge of 10 minutes of meditation each day for ten days. As a newbie, it was a great way to ease in to meditating, and get an idea of the benefits. There is a fee now to use it, around £3.74 a month, but the first 10 days are free so it’s worth giving it a try.

    Podcast Pro

    I found several meditation podcasters, which were handy for train journeys in particular. They have a tendency to be a little more spiritual, but they’re useful all the same. Many of them are tailored to deal with specific situations or areas.

    Calm_2

    Craving Calm

    My favourite method of meditation at the moment is using the Calm app. I’ve got the pro subscription, which gives me access to dozens of different meditation programs, ranging from ‘creativity’ to ‘anxiety’. Each program has a choice of times – 2 mins, 5 mins and 10 mins (the standard relaxation one has more length options too). Once you’ve chosen your program and time,  you can choose the background music and scene. Scenes vary from a waves on a beach to a misty lake, and includes a number of relaxing music options. You can also try out the Calm website too, for a work break.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that meditation works best for me when it’s guided – otherwise I find it too each to get distracted and switch off. However, you may find that once you get used to the basics, you’ll be happy to do it unguided. I usually tend to do 2-5 minutes a day, sometimes 10 if I’ve got a quiet seat on the train or it’s the weekend. 5 minutes a day isn’t tricky really, is it?

    But what does it actually do, Emma?

    Ok, so that’s how I get my meditation fix. Here’s why it helps me.:

    • Helps deal with anxiety and stress – When I’m having a stressful day, I try to take two minutes for a quick meditation break. At home, it’s just a case of taking a break on the sofa. At work, I try to grab a minute at lunch, or have been known to pop to the loo with my phone and headphones in my pocket! All that deep breathing and visualising really helps calm my mind and stops me freaking out. Some companies now encourage meditation, so if you know of a few colleagues who might be interested, why not suggest a lunchtime course to see if it improves business?
    • Improves productivity – When I do a morning meditation, I feel far more focused throughout the day – especially if I go for one of the creative or confidence programs. It helps organise my mind, so I feel like I can move on to new stuff. A bit like doing the filing for your brain.
    • Clears my mind for new ideas – More often than not, during a meditation, a new idea pops into my mind for a blog post or a project. If you’ve got a case of writers block, a spot of meditation could be just the thing.
    • Sleep – I’m lucky to not struggle too often with sleep. But when I am struggling to drop off, a 10 minute meditation session for calm usually sends me straight off
    • Improves mindfulness – Meditation, and using apps like Happier and Lift, are great ways to practice mindfulness. This is a way to focus and appreciate what’s happening now, which could make it easier to identify and deal with strong feelings or emotions. When you’re a freelancer, it’s easy to become overwhelmed without realising it, so mindfulness helps deal with that.

    There are a bunch of other benefits here (100 of them!).

    Are you a fan of meditation? What benefits have you found? If you give meditation a try this week, I’d love to hear how you get on!

  • Five ways to improve your freelance confidence

    freelanceconfidenceRecently, someone asked me about how to boost your confidence when freelancing. I’m not sure this post will entirely address this. I’m a big believer in faking it until you make it. I get why celebs like Lady Gaga and Beyonce have these personas that they put on when they’re in the public eye. In all honesty, most of the freelancers I know have the occasional (or regular) crisis of confidence. Many admit to feeling like a freelance fraud – that someone will rock up and say “Hey, who do you think you are? You can’t run your own freelance business? Hahahahaha. Go home freelancer, you’re drunk” That all said, there are some things you can do to boost your confidence and beat those nasty little voices in your head that tell you you’re not good enough.

    Build a network

    When I’m feeling low or unconfident about a decision I need to make, I turn to my network of freelance friends. They’re a supportive and honest bunch, who can advise me or give me a second opinion. As cliche as it sounds, we act as each other’s cheerleaders. Or, y’know, intervention team.

    Remind yourself of your achievements so far

    All those brilliant things you’ve done? Make a note of them, and return to them every time you’re feeling less than confident. Even if it’s as simple as ‘started as a freelancer’ or ‘nailed that scary pitch’. Or ‘didn’t spend my entire work day in last night’s pyjamas’. Penny Golightly suggests having a look at your CV to remind yourself of what you’ve done.

    Ask for recommendations/testimonials on LinkedIn

    I make a habit of sending my clients a LinkedIn recommendation request after completing a contract. This is useful for two reasons – it gives my LinkedIn a power up, so it looks particularly good to potential new clients, and it’s a great thing to visit when you need reminding about your achievements (see previous point)

    Don’t compare yourself to the more experienced

    This is an entirely pointless exercise. In fact, don’t compare yourself to anyone. Everyone works in different ways – and having plenty of clients or big names on your portfolio doesn’t guarantee happiness and success.

    Get Happier

    I’m addicted to the Happier app. It’s an app and social network that asks you to submit three ‘happy moment’s each day. The theory is that sharing happy moments, no matter how small, can contribute to making you happier and healthier. Personally, I think it’s a nice way to remember all the lovely little things that happen each day, which you might otherwise overlook.

    If all else fails….

    I adopt the ‘it won’t kill me’ approach. I recently started a new job where I have to stand up in front of a group of adult students and teach several times a day. This is terrifying. And full of opportunities to embarrass myself (I am a naturally awkward person). But y’know what? It didn’t kill me. No one has ever died of embarrassment. How do you boost your confidence as a freelancer? Joanne Mallon has put together some (arguably far more practical and useful) tips on how to boost your confidence on her blog.

  • A very overdue holiday

    cruise

    By the time you read this, I’ll hopefully be all checked in to my honeymoon cruise with my new hubby and preparing to sail around places like Oslo, St Petersberg and Tallin for a whole 13 days. Hopefully with a ridiculous cocktail in my hand. Bliss.

    I’ve been on a few 3-4 day breaks over the last few years, but this is the first proper holiday I’ve been on in over five years – and the husband’s first in over a decade. To say it’s overdue is an overstatement. Not least because I haven’t been practicing what I preach about taking breaks.

    The very best bit? There will be no wifi and very little signal. So I really won’t be able to work while I’m away. My iPhone will be getting a proper break too. While this wasn’t the only reason we went for a cruise (hello unlimited buffet and onboard crazy golf), it’s certainly a great perk.

    I’ve got a couple of posts scheduled to go up over the next couple of weeks, so it won’t be entirely quiet here. And I’m sure I’ll be back with a notebook full of post ideas.

    When was the last time you took a proper holiday from freelancing?

  • Freelance Health: Weight Watchers

    I’ve been thinking about starting a series of posts about healthy eating as a freelancer for a while now. When I started freelancing, I was a size 10-12. A few years of working from home and a lack of exercise (thanks to a lack of commute) has led me to being a size 16.  From various discussions, I know I’m not alone in this, so I thought it might be useful to go through the kinds of food approaches/diets you can take when you’re your own boss and working from home. It’s not necessarily about losing weight, more about being healthy so you can be the best possible freelancer.

    So, this week I’d like to kick things off with one of the most popular diets – Weight Watchers.

    I’ve had success with Weight Watchers a couple of times. Once when I was around 17, and once when I finished uni, at around 22.  Both times, I lost about two stone over 8-9 months. The basic concept is that you have an allocated amount of daily and weekly ProPoints you can use, and most foods have their own points (although many types of fruit and vegetables are 0 ProPoints).

    Weight Watchers recently sent me a bundle of their products to try out, including:

    o   Oaty chocolate chip mini cookies – Great for 4pm munches

    o   Oat wheat crackers – herb and onion – Again, great for snacking in the afternoon. I’d probably prefer a plain version though

    o   Sicilian lemon and elderflower cordial – Lovely and refreshing for the summer

    o   Fruit Crumble Biscuits (Apple, Apricot and Peach) – These went down particularly well in my house, with me and my fiance.

    o   Roasted garlic cooking sauce – Nice to try a slightly different sauce, and gave some chicken I had a nice punch of flavour.

    o   Blueberry slice – Pleasant enough, but I probably wouldn’t necessarily rush out and buy them again.

    o   Jaffa mini roll – Devoured during a girls’ night in. The most like the standard jaffa rolls

    o   Fresh and Easy Everyday cookbook – Simple to use, and plenty of ideas for things to cook in the evening.

    As you can see, there’s a great variety of food on Weight Watchers, and most of it is in the supermarkets. Additionally, they have online lists and books available for all other food, so you’re not just limited to branded products.

    Now, I have to be honest, the recent changes to the diet (a new points system and weekly points) hasn’t worked for me this time around, possibly because I’ve yo-yo’d too much over the last few years. I also think I’m at a point where I’m tired of counting everything. But I know plenty of people who it has worked for. If you’re disciplined enough to count the points, it’s a diet you can fit around freelancing. Especially as they have a super-useful app and weekly points you can use for a splurge.

    So, the pros and cons:

    Pros

    • Easy to use. Once you’re set up, you can add all your meals easily either online or using the app.
    • Meeting support. For a lot of people, having the support (and pressure) of a meeting can help with weight loss.
    • Relatively affordable. Packages vary, but most of them are less than £5 a week.
    • Unlimited options. In theory, you can eat what you like, as long as you have the points for it.
    • Exercise motivation. You can earn extra points for exercising. Knowing you can eat a Kit Kat after a workout helps with getting your butt down to the gym.
    • Results. Many doctors actually recommend WW. That’s a pretty big recommendation.

    Cons

    • Counting points. Sometimes, when you’re out with friends, the last thing you want to do is get your phone out and work out the points. If you’re going out, it’s worth looking at your options before you arrive.
    • If you’re used to the old WW, you might find the new one trickier. I know I have, and a few others have, but I think sometimes this is the body getting used to a different way of eating.

    So, that’s Weight Watchers! What’s your preferred eating plan when you’re working from home?

  • The (return of the) Weekly Freelance Challenge: Meal planning

    Oops. Dropped the ball on this series.

    I like to cover a range of topics in this freelance lifestyle challenge, ranging from how to pitch to new clients to how to fit exercise into your schedule. The last few challenges have been work-based, so I thought it might be time to throw in something freelance lifestyle-related.

    Food.

    Ah food. Working from home means you’re close to a) a fridge full of the stuff, and b) numerous gadgets to cook it up. No more supermarket soggy sandwiches for you! Unfortunately, this often means a hastily thrown together mountain of pasta, or something deep fried. Or nothing at all, aside from a constantly refilled coffee cup.

    For me, one of the best ways to get on top of food and meals as a freelancer, is to create a weekly meal plan. Sitting down to plan out your meals for the week will hopefully save you time, money and, if you’re on the diet wagon with me, calories/fat/carbs. I tend to do it on a Sunday, then do the shop on a Monday (when the shops are quieter).

    Here are my five steps for Meal Planning success.

    Find your recipes

    Search through your cookbooks, Pinterest boards, favourite blogs and bookmarks for recipes. The first time you’ll do this, it’ll probably take a while. To make things quicker in the long run, keep a notepad by your side and make a note of all the recipes you like.

    Get scheduling

    Meal planning in Wunderlist

    Pop the recipes you’re going to do this week into a planner. I just write mine down in a Wunderlist list, but you could use a spreadsheet, or a whiteboard/blackboard on your fridge. I like this meal planner on Amazon for easy planning.

    Search and shop

    Make a shopping list of all the foods you’ll need. Have a look through your cupboards, check what you need and then hit the shops (or do an online shop). Personally, I like to visit shops like Aldi or Lidl first to pick up cheaper fresh produce, then check out one of the bigger supermarkets after for the rest.

    Store, freeze or eat

    Breakfast burritos being made
    Breakfast burritos in progress

    When you get home, work out if you can cook any of the meals ahead and freeze now, so you can just defrost and reheat later in the week. It’s no exaggeration that doing this has changed my life. Once a week, I cook a batch of breakfast burritos for the Mr to take to work, some pizza puffs for snacks and lunches, boil a batch of chicken breasts to shred and separate into portions, and some lemon chicken (just pop a raw chicken breast in foil, squirt lemon juice on it, add tarragon then wrap up for the freezer. Then bake for 45 mins from frozen) and some smoothie mixes (packs of mixed fruit).

    I can cook, pack or freeze all of the above in two hours. That’s it. Done for the week.

    If you’ve picked up a bargain piece of meat in the supermarkets that goes out of date today, throw it in the oven while you’re dealing with the rest of the week’s food.

    And….relax

    Sit back, smug in the knowledge that dinner is already sorted for the week. Also, keep looking out for potential recipes. Now it’s autumn (YAY!), you should be able to find lots of recipes for foods you can throw in the slow cooker (from the fridge or freezer), so you can smell it gradually through the day. Yum.

    I’ve got a little scrapbook of recipes now, both online and off, and a stockpile of homemade meals in the freezer so there’s no reason why I shouldn’t cook.

    If you’re not sure where to start, I’ve popped some useful resources below.

    Resources

    • Pinterest boards: I have a board filled with Freezables (including the recipes for pizza puffs and breakfast burritos). I’ve also recently created a Meal Planning board with recipes I’m planning to cook.
    • Once a Month Mom is the Queen of meal planning and freezables. She’s recently changed the site recently, so you may have to subscribe for some features, but most of the recipes are still available. I like that you can search by your need – e.g. ingredient, type of diet, style of cooking. It’s all fairly simple too, hurrah! I get the email updates each day, which I’d recommend.
    • Three bloggers, plus Pinterest, inspired me to get into meal planning. A Thrifty Mrs wrote a great guide to meal planning earlier this year. The Lean Times posts her menu plans for the week every Monday, along with recipe links, as does OrgJunkie who has a HUGE range of resources on meal planning.
    • Get using your Kindle. I like the Once a Week Cookbook, especially as it’s currently only £1.54 to download. When I find recipes I like, I screen grab them and save them to a special photo folder on my iPad.
    • If you’re a UK resident, you might notice a lot of the recipes are from the USA. Our friends across the ocean are hugely organised when it comes to food. Anyway, it’s worth getting a set of measuring cups as a lot of their measurements are done this way. I like this super-cute measuring cup set.

    I really do think you’ll be surprised at the difference it makes though. I’ve noticed that between shopping at Lidl/Aldi and doing this, I cut my weekly shop by between a quarter and a third a week. Plus, freezing a lot of it means you don’t waste so much fresh food. Best of all, I’m not far less likely to say “oh, shall we just order in from Pizza Hut?”.

    Gosh, that was a longer post than I had initially planned! As you might have guessed, meal planning is this week’s challenge! You don’t have to go to the extensive lengths I have – but try writing down a basic idea of what dinners you’re going to have this week before you do your shop. I bet you’ll find you avoid that panic in the first few aisles of Tesco, when you fill your trolley with anything plastered in a special offer sticker.

    Are you a meal planner? Do you have any tips to share? 

  • Poll: How do you maintain a work life balance?

    This week’s poll addresses a problem a lot of freelancers have: maintaining a work life balance. Funny really, considering how many people go freelance in order to work around their family or friends. But emails, flexible deadlines and varying workloads mean that it can be hard to tell where and when work ends and life begins.

    I’ve talked in the past about how to improve work life balance. Whether it be outsourcing parts of your life, dealing with freelance fatigue or making sure you fit exercise into your freelance life. I suspect that very few of us manage to get that work life balance perfect, all the time.

    But now it’s over to you! Let me know how you make sure you get work life balance  (you can choose multiple answers)- and if the option isn’t below, leave a comment below and share your balancing secrets.

    [poll id=”10″]

    None of these? Let me know how you do it below!

    (Image via Flickr user kowitz)

  • The Weekly Freelance Challenge: Fit in 30 minutes of exercise daily

    Confession time people: I’m not a natural fitness fan. I’m more commonly found on a sofa than doing yoga. But with falling energy levels, poor health and an upcoming wedding, I’ve had to re-assess my previously lazy routine. Plus, all the evidence suggests that regular exercise will improve concentration levels, productivity, reduce stress and . So getting more exercise really is good business sense.

    Therefore, this week’s weekly freelance challenge is a somewhat selfish one. I’d like to challenge you (and me!) to do 30 minutes of exercise each day of the working week. I’m already working with a personal trainer twice a week as I’ve got a fair bit of weight to shift in order to be healthy again, but for most people half an hour a day is quite achievable.

    30 minutes of exercise could be as easy as:

    • A brisk walk at lunchtime, even easier if you have a dog to walk. If you usually meet a friend for coffee, try arranging a catch up walk instead
    • Try the Couch to 5k running plan
    • An early morning swim
    • A quick yoga session (there are plenty of free YouTube tutorials about, or pick up a bargain Yoga DVD on Amazon)
    • A workout class – book ahead if you can so you’re committed to going.
    • A session on the Wii or Kinect. Several of the Just Dance workout videos have timed workouts to make it easier, and I think some of the sports ones do too.
    • Put your favourite music on and dance round the house.
    • Split the half an hour into sections, doing five minutes of exercise each hour.

    How do you fit exercise into your daily routine? Get it over and done with first thing? Or take a lunch break away from your desk to work those muscles?

  • Poll: How healthy is your freelance lifestyle?

    “When I go freelance, I’ll go to the gym three times a week at off peak times! And I’ll have time to make healthy meals and take long lunch breaks away from my desk, walking in the park….”

    Hands up, who’s said something along those lines to themselves before going freelance (or if they’re considering going freelance)? Most of us go into freelancing with healthy intentions.

    But then..well, some of us like to enjoy those little lie ins we gain from avoiding the morning commute.

    And sometimes we don’t have time to nip to the shop for healthy food when we’re on a deadline, so we end up creating something from the fridge that mainly involves cheese and carbs. Or a vat of chocolate.

    And a lot of the time, we’re a bit rubbish at taking those breaks from our desks.

    Being healthy when you’re freelance is harder than you may think, when you lose the daily structure and movement that you might have in an office job. I don’t think I’m alone with noticing a little (ok, a lot) of freelance fat creeping on. It’s not impossible, but you really need to MAKE the time to be healthy. Especially as being unhealthy can make you less productive.

    With wedding dress shopping coming up, I’ve actually taken desperate measure and got a personal trainer and healthy eating plan. But up until now, my exercise routine has been sporadic at best. My eating routine has been even worse – hello pasta at lunch. Oops, was that packet of Rich Teas full this morning?

    For those that juggle freelancing and a family and STILL manage to fit in fitness, I take my hat off to you.

    So, I’d love to know – is it just me? What’s your freelancing lifestyle like? Healthy? Unhealthy? Yo-yoing? Let me know in the poll below:

    [poll id=”7″]