I took part in a fantastic collaborative session (always the best way of working, to my mind), or ‘Mastermind Group’ this morning, at @WorkHubs.
If you’re not aware of the basic premise of Mastermind Groups, a selection of businesses/business owners get together to talk, brainstorm, and crack each other’s current business issues.
There were six of us involved, working across; website design and online production, co-working, collaborative business consultancy, project management (particularly in the IT sector), fine coffee (sourcing and selling), and – of course – copywriting.
We each, in turn, had to present a particular business issue we had, then invite the others to ask questions of us – to delve into the details of that issue – and feed back with ways to solve that issue.
The issue I presented was this (one that I’m sure is common to many copywriters, and freelancers in general):
My working days are ‘top heavy’. I am at my most productive (purely in terms of writing actual copy and coming up with ideas) between about 5pm – 1am, every day.
In fact, anyone that follows me on social media would be able to see that I’m a fizzing pile of neurons between those times, chucking out random ideas into the ether … but also typing (and thinking) like a demon.
Between those particular times, I can cover in two hours what I would normally cover in five hours.
It’s not that I don’t work during the day (quite the opposite) – it’s just that this work will consist of client research, replying to emails, hunting for new clients, writing blog posts, eating my bodyweight in Hobnobs.
I come alive at night though, and just feel full of fresh, new ideas.
Why is this an issue? Because it does tend to make general life, outside of copywriting, a little difficult. Sleep can suffer quite a bit (I usually put my head on the pillow while it’s still buzzing with ideas), and most of my friends work ‘normal’ working hours. This means the times when they’d like to see me, and vice versa, are often the times when I need and want to be working.
And, looking ahead, is this lifestyle sustainable? I’m currently single, with no ties. I can be as selfish with my time as I like. I don’t have someone else I need to lavish attention on, and I don’t have ‘date nights’ I have to commit to. However, I don’t plan to be single forever, so my working pattern would have to change if someone important came into my life: should I look to change my way of working now, so it’s not so jarring later on?
There’s another problem with my working pattern, too. The only way I can come up with new ideas (both for client work and personal projects) is by constantly filling my head with new reference points; watching three Danish films back to back, going to several art galleries in one day, seeing a new play or two, reading things that are unusual or insightful.
These things take time to watch or read – they’re not just dumped in your head in a matter of seconds. In any case, you need to take the time to see these things or you go both loopy and stale: if you spend all your time within four walls, you’ll only be able to think about, and refer to, things from within that environment (great for a brief on home furnishing, not so good for any other subject).
When you have friends and family who work ‘normal hours’, and only need an excuse to label you as a dosser (‘oh you freelance, do you? That’s cute’), no matter how hard you’re working, it’s hard to justify popping to an exhibition or watching a film during the day.
However, if you’re also working at night, then when do you go anywhere or take on any new influences and ideas?
The advice given from those in the Mastermind Group was simple and to the point:
1. Is the whole notion of ‘I work best at night’ just something I’ve convinced myself of i.e the whole ‘I’m creative / a tortured copywriter / late nights with a whisky and candles’ thing?
Could I just as easily replicate during the day what I do at night?
Perhaps working at night isn’t really a problem at the moment, so that’s why I’m not really doing anything about it.
2. (attached to the previous point) If something/someone that important comes into my life, I’ll have to change things. If I don’t want to change things then that thing/person probably isn’t so important.
3. Go out during the day (not the whole day, obviously) to free up my mind, fill my head, and do something other than write.
Why shouldn’t I do this? Because of guilt at what other people might think? How will they even know that I was out? In any case, if I’m putting 10+ hours of work in per day, who cares when I actually cover those hours?
These are all valid and interesting points, and they came from a room full of seasoned professionals from all different backgrounds. All of these points are worth taking on board.
The overriding point was, I found; can you change the way you think and work? Is it hardwired or do you just assume that you only work best in a certain way? Do you convince yourself of that? Is there a better way of working or is your current way better than any of the alternatives?
That’s for each individual to decide, but every now and then it doesn’t hurt to have a look at what you’re doing and whether it truly is ‘the best way’ or whether it’s time to try something different.