By Lisa Alber
Two weeks ago I got laid off from my day job as a technical writer. After the initial shock and anger and slumpiness, I’m now in the process of adjusting …
So, now I’m in this scary position of creating a new life. Is there a perfect permanent position for me out there? Or, could I re-fashion myself as a contractor with enough time to write fiction? It’s a scary proposition, this thing called the “gig economy” — and paying for my own health benefits too?
As a technical writer, I sometimes write getting-started guides. In fact, I recently wrote one related to creating data strategies for analytics efforts. (I’m here to confirm that it’s all about data, folks. No joke. All the companies are doing it now.) What’s my getting-started guide for myself right now?
Please join me in a thought experiment.
1. Context and Vision
Why do I need a strategy — what will be my return? — and what’s my high-level aspirational vision?
I need a strategy because I’m a lost puppy right now. My return will be that I will have a higher quality life working from home with a flexible work schedule, and, most importantly, have time for my passion: fiction. I envision myself completing works of fiction and feeling immersed in a creative lifestyle while earning a flexible day-job living at the same time. (Notice that my vision doesn’t include things I can’t control, like landing that ultimate publishing contract.)
2. Core Information Model and Principles
A core information model in the world of data analytics is a definition of how a company will treat its data. Principles are like the guiding practices for doing so. For my purposes, this model is how I will treat my time and principles around that.
In my model, time is a raw material. Time is useful to the extent that you actually use it well, transforming those minutes and hours into productive output. What are my principles around this?
- When I’m working, I’m really working. When I’m not, I’m really not.
- Not all time has to be used productively; quality of life is a factor too.
- For fiction, the time allotted each day will be sacrosanct, and this schedule will be fairly rigid and for those hours, fiction trumps the day job.
- The day-job hours will be worked flexibly and for as long as needed to get tasks done.
- Use a consistent Monday through Friday routine. Allow weekends to feel like weekends; even if I’m still getting work in, do so in a looser manner.
- Social media is not time well-spent. I will need to establish clear limits.
3. Current State Assessment
This is a scored assessment of various dimensions that make sense for you. Score 1 (worst) through 5 (best–wish list level).
Fiction output: 1
My health: 3
WIP status: 2 (solid start on first draft, but needs a re-think)
Contracting status: 2 (have some stuff lined up)
Infrastructure: 3 (I don’t own a proper desk!)
4. End State Characterization
Same dimensions, but what they need to be to say that I’m achieving my vision. For example, my infrastructure will never be a five, because my house isn’t optimal. My office is small and kind of dark, rather than large and airy and bright.
Fiction output: 4
My health: 4
WIP status: 5
Contracting status: 5
You may ask, why not set the end state to all fives? Well, you’ve got to be realistic and think about what the original goal is: completing works of fiction, feeling immersed in a creative lifestyle while earning a flexible day-job living at the same time. I don’t need to be all fives to achieve this.
For my purposes, the architecture is the architecture of my life such that I can close the score gap and move to my desired end state.
Organization: 3 to 4. I’m pretty organized, but I could improve. This means actually using my planner — create goals for the week and write things down. I don’t need to be 5 because I don’t need to be a project management guru about it.
Fiction output: 1 to 4. Heavy lift here. This is bum glue, and getting back into the habit. No five here because in my world a five output can only occur if I didn’t have to have a day job. Not that this couldn’t be a goal, but I’m where I am now. That goal can come with some future, updated strategy.
My health: 2 to 4. I’m still getting over the medical stuff, so I’m aiming for a solid four. That seems realistic right now. Lots to do with this one: lose weight, get good sleep, gain strength, do PT exercises, etc.
WIP status: 2 to 5. Five is the completed state. If I use my time wisely and consistently I can get to five.
Contracting status: 2 to 5. This is getting enough contracting clients so that my income is consistent and livable. At a five, I’m even earning enough to save a little back. So this is a long-term goal, for sure.
Infrastructure: 3 to 4. Get a new desk and optimize my office given its restrictions, and I’ll be good.
Technology: 4 to 5. This is the easy one. I’ve already got all the equipment: big screen monitor, good all-in-one printer, laptops (yes, a Mac AND a PC). I just need to think about ergonomics–ergo keypad, wireless mouse, etc. No big.
The sequence of tasks to perform over time. This is fairly high level. The timeline isn’t some set thing. Some aspects may take longer (like feeling like I’m a healthy four) than we’d expect. For me, this is a chunking exercise. I’m going to set the roadmap for 2020. Break down the above things into various tasks. Some things are short term and easy: buy a danged desk. That’s a next-week task.
Some things will require further breakdown. Like what do I mean by “livable”? So then there needs to be a budgeting exercise too, which will include trimming the fat.
The WIP status is another thing altogether. Since I’m not trying to kill myself, I’ve decided that I’ll aim for WIP being completed by the end of the year. But, what do I mean by “completed”? Let’s imagine completed is first draft, revisions until I’m ready for beta readers, beta readers, then more revision, and then my final detailed self-editing process. You can imagine — working backwards, come up with a schedule.
7. Execution Plan
The nitty gritty. This is the kind of thing were you break down the roadmap into even more granular chunks, maybe on a monthly or weekly schedule. So for WIP status, let’s say March’s tasks will be: print out manuscript, read what I have so far, brainstorm the plot line that I already know is a problem, re-write that plot line up to where I am in the first draft overall, get an early trusted reader to give me story development feedback.
This is where I’m at. Writing up this blog post as a thought experiment has proven quite inspirational! Wish me luck!