A Freelancing Introvert Versus Workflow

Other bloggers I follow will update with “DITL” (day in the life) posts once in a while. I don’t know how often I’d like to share those here myself (my days are kind of repetitive), but at least one is theoretically interesting, right?

7:30 – 8:00 AM

I usually wake up somewhere in this window. I roll out of bed and (if I remember) put on the kettle for the two of us. While the kettle is warming up, I catch up on email, blogs, and Twitter. I browse a few hashtags I like to participate semi-regularly in to see if anything interesting happened while I was asleep; email always includes news digests from The Guardian and The Correspondent, two news sources that I support with monthly subscriptions. I like to care of work emails in the mornings as well, if I have any. I like the work that I do, and I’m privileged to have extremely warm and kind clients, but I’m still averse to writing emails in general, so I try to apply the “eat a frog first thing in the morning” principle here.

8:15 – 9:00 AM

If I remembered to put the kettle on when I woke up, I pour myself a cup of tea. Otherwise, I put the kettle on now.

Then I meditate for around forty minutes: a twenty-minute guided meditation, and then twenty minutes of zazen, a technique I studied (somewhat shallowly) when I lived in the US. When I first studied zazen, I knew little about the possible health benefits; I just knew that it helped me be less anxious. Last year I finally hit critical meditation mass–it seems like every book I was reading or MOOC I was taking was pushing meditation–and started up a daily habit. I miss the trappings of meditating in a zendo, but nonetheless I feel that I reap the benefits.

9:00 AM or thereabouts

I enjoy my by-now room temperature tea (I like it that way!) or pour a hot cuppa, put on a special playlist I have for work, and get down to brass tacks. Depending on how I’m feeling and what my work schedule looks like, that might mean warming up with a blog post, jumping right into an editing project, or lesson planning. Recently, this is when I sit down and try to write a blog post or two, which I’ll either post immediately or schedule for later as a bulwark against dry periods. Other times, I use this time to work on my own writing projects. Sometimes I spend all morning on that kind of work; other times I only spend half an hour or so on this before I shift gears to editing.

12:00 PM – 1:00 PM

I take my first big break of the day sometime around here. I use the Pomodoro technique during the first work block (with one or one and a half hour working sessions and then ten or fifteen minute breaks). This break is longer, maybe around an hour. It’s when I have lunch and check in with my sambo (who studies from home). This is usually the first thing I have to eat all day; I’m not typically hungry enough for breakfast to be worth it (and whatever small appetite I have is probably dampened by all of the strong black tea I drink, thanks caffeine!). I make up for all of this with a big lunch, and I relax with some TV.

In addition to my freelance work, I run an Etsy shop on the side; I also have a network of friends around the world involved an informal tea exchange. Between these two, I have a lot of mail coming and going, and so this is when I might also take a walk to the not-a-post-office to pick up a package or mail one. Other times I have a library book to return or check out, so I’ll head into town.

2:00 PM or thereabouts

This is the second round of work, and it’s almost always editing. I’m awake, alert, and warmed up; this is my peak time for attentive and detail-oriented work. It’s also when I’m most likely to get sucked into the black hole of the comma mines and completely forget the time. Sometimes I punch out early, at around 4:00, because I have a social engagement in town and I need to look halfway presentable, or because it’s a run day. Other times it starts later than 2:00 because my errand in town took longer than expected, or I had a daytime social appointment instead of an evening one.

6:00 PM or thereabouts

I call it quits and go to the store to pick up whatever we might need for dinner. Then I check social media again while my sambo prepares dinner. If I have a lot on my plate (I mean editing, not dinner), or a deadline coming up, I might take one more trip into the comma mines. Otherwise I use my evenings to blog (casually), write, catch up on Facebook, or read. I should also confess to being an on-again, off-again gamer (some in the community might refer to me as a “filthy casual” and they wouldn’t be wrong), and my evenings are also when I’ll get sucked into a game. At the moment it’s Diablo III.

There you have it: my editing day, more or less! It is somewhat idealized, I have to admit, but it’s a pretty good rough outline. What does your schedule look like? I’m curious!

Armchair BEA, Day 2, Part 2

ArmchairBEA is the Internet/social media version of BEA: Book Expo America. BEA is a chance for readers, authors, and publishers to mingle and share their love of the written word, not unlike Stockholm’s own (much smaller) Litteraturmässan.

I missed ArmchairBEA this year, which is a shame because it’s my favorite way to hear about new books and to find new book bloggers (and, increasingly, BookTubers — people who vlog about books on YouTube). It’s a potpourri of Twitter chats, giveaways, and blog prompts, and I’m so bummed about missing it that I’m going to participate anyway.

I’m continuing with the prompts from Day 2 of the event. There were actually two questions, and I got so carried away with the first question about what makes a good book that I had to save the second question for another day. That day is today!

The online book community has changed so much over the years. How do we keep up within our own book-sphere as well as within the community as a whole (i.e., libraries, bookstores, authors, publishers, etc.)?

Generally speaking, I don’t like to follow actual authors on social media. Not fiction authors, anyway. It seems like a marketing model best described as “the cult of personality” has taken over the fiction market, where you buy someone’s books based on how much you like them as a persona rather than how interested you are in their writing. But nonfiction writers seem to be followed more as a nexus of information, and that’s perhaps more relevant to their writing than how they perform their personalities.

There are three ways that I stay plugged into the book world at large. And the phrase “plugged into” suggests a deliberate intention that I don’t really have, so I should be clear. I’m not invested in the book news world in any serious way. It’s more like a happy accident because I like to talk about books and writing.

The first is through my annual(ish) participation in ArmchairBEA. The blog hops and the Twitter chats always bring a few books or book bloggers (who then recommend new books) to my attention. An introvert can handle being social once a year! 😉

The second is through NetGalley and Blogging for Books. I don’t think any of the books I’ve read through them have gone on to be huge splashes (except for the comics series Monstress), but they are by far my biggest source for new releases. Limited shelf space and the knowledge that we’re going to eventually move out of this apartment means that I have become very conservative in my acquisition of new (physical) books, but I’ll take all the free ebooks I can get!

But mostly I keep tabs on the book world through a few book bloggers and BookTubers (booktubers? bookTubers? I wonder what CMOS has to say about that) who seem to have tastes similar to my own. They’re like my psychopomps in the realm of new books. It’s worth it, because that’s how I end up finding out about books like A Tale for the Time Being. There are some new things under the sun!

So, to that end, I’d love to know what book bloggers or BookTubers you follow! Who do you recommend? Comment or Tweet at me: @KobaEnglish.

A Freelancing Introvert Versus Phones

Does anyone like talking on the phone these days? It doesn’t seem like it.

I contributed more than my fair share to the phone bill as a teenager, thanks to summer camp friends who lived a few area codes over. I never stressed over making those calls, or having to exchange brief niceties with a parent or sibling, or leaving a message on the answering machine.

Image courtesy Lia
Image courtesy Lia

But something about the phone changed, and I don’t know what it was. Maybe the introduction of the cell phone–now people can be anywhere when you call them. That seems trivial and unrelated until you think about all of the new ambient noise that includes. Before, if you called someone’s landline, they would actually have to be home to take the call. Even the loudest family, I think, isn’t as loud or as sound distorting as traffic or crowds. Also, it might be my imagination, but the sound quality on a cell phone is a little (or a lot, depending on your reception) worse than a landline. Ambient noise + iffy quality + the never-ending problems with poor reception = a lot of “I’m sorry, what did you say?”

Maybe it was growing up. By college I connected with friends via the Internet instead of the phone. The phone was now either for chores or for tedium: booking appointments, telemarketers, calling into work sick, etc. Phone calls meant I was getting called in to cover on my day off or something equally unpleasant.

Whatever the reason(s), by adulthood I had a proper aversion to using the phone. Anxiety, even, would not be far off the mark. Even as an introvert, my friends and social connections are important to me; much as I love my hidey-hole, once in a while I need some company to share it with. I love hosting parties and lecturing people about my niche interest. (Do you want to know about caves? The subjunctive mood? Greek mythology? I’m your woman.) This enthusiasm surprises people sometimes, and they wrongly assume I’m an extrovert. Nope nope nope. Outside of a controlled scenario that includes boundaries and scripts, I’m a mess. Surprise interactions with new people are stressful, not exhilarating. And “surprise interactions with new people” pretty much defines telephone calls.

Now I’m a freelancer. People need to be able to get in touch with me, so I include my phone number in all of my advertisements. This means I have to be open to random phone calls at any point during the day. Not only that, but phone calls from strangers and unknown numbers–calls that, as a student, I could afford to screen. Especially since an unknown number usually meant some kind of marketing scheme or other. Not anymore. Now that unknown number might help me pay the bills or have dinner. (Or it might be the tax office, which is not nearly as profitable but nonetheless important.) Someone once said that you should do one thing every day that scares you. For me, it’s answering my phone. (Hah, if only I were getting daily calls from new customers!)

Image courtesy DodgertonSkillhause
Image courtesy DodgertonSkillhause

Of course, with the advent of cell phones came texting. A godsend. A text message isn’t instantaneous–it’s only as fast as you can text–which is sometimes an issue, but it has the advantage of permanence. If you give me directions over the phone, I’ll have to scramble to write them down or ask you to repeat them a few times to make sure I won’t get lost. If you text me, I can just open up the message and access that information anytime I want. I can take all the time I need to formulate my response without seeming rude or inattentive.

Fortunately, most other people seem to be in the same boat as me. Whether it’s because of the tension in my tone, or because of their own personal preferences, a new customer almost immediately switches to text messages after the initial phone call. Is it because more and more people have developed an aversion to phone calls? Is it because we’re all immigrants struggling with a shared foreign language? Have I lucked out and attracted a client base with a similar temperament to mine?

I don’t know, but keep on texting.


A Freelancing Introvert Versus Conversation Classes

People having conversations.
Image courtesy Sascha Kohlmann.

Conversation classes are a popular genre of language courses. People are often insecure when it comes to spontaneous language production (i.e., speaking) and the bravest among them sign up for conversation courses to improve this aspect of their language.

For me, conversation classes are stressful. I’ll be honest with you. As an introvert I have a rich inner life, full of thoughts and observations, but that does not always translate into engaging conversation. In fact, conversation classes are where I’ve felt the most awkward and the least competent.

I’ve developed a method to combat this, but it’s a method that requires some level of student input. If you book me for a conversation class, here’s what will happen.

1. Before our first meeting, I’ll ask you to take a brief online assessment to rate your level within the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages and send me the results. “Online assessment” sounds scary, but the whole thing only takes around 20 minutes.

2. Our first meeting will be something like a casual interview. I’ll ask about your history with English, your general interests, and your language goals. Take some time before our first meeting to think about your thoughts on these topics (write them down if you want!). Other follow-up questions may naturally occur, but these are the three areas I want to cover first. Specific questions I will touch on include:

  • How do you want me to address error correction? (As it happens? At the end of every lesson? Once a month?)
  • Are you trying to improve your social English? Interviewing? Business presentations? Traveling? Pronunciation?
  • What kind of work, if any, do you want outside of class?
  • Are you currently studying English elsewhere? If so, at what level? What material? What do you like and dislike about the class?
  • What were your favorite and least favorite classes in school? Why?
  • What hobbies and interests do you have? How do you like to spend your free time?
  • How are you currently using English in your everyday life? (E.g. reading blogs, watching movies, meetings with coworkers, etc.)
  • What are your favorite and least favorite parts of studying?

3. As someone who is not always a sparkling conversationalist, I base my conversation classes (especially in one-on-one classes) on short readings (one page or less). I make every effort to tailor these readings to your interests: beauty, science, health, etc.

Hot tip: you can contribute, too! This is the secret to English conversation class success: bring in material of your own that you felt was interesting, or that you found difficult or confusing. (The Internet is a great resource for English-language material about literally anything.) Have questions prepared for your conversation class sessions, whether about grammar, vocabulary, or just how they spent their weekend. Things are much less awkward that way, especially if you’re studying one-on-one.

4. I will periodically bring grammar or vocabulary exercises based on gaps in knowledge I’ve observed in our conversations. The idea of quizzes, worksheets, and tests can intimidate people—some students opt for “conversation classes” because they find tests and assessments stressful—but periodic testing is one of the most efficient ways to retain and remember new material. This also gives my introvert side a chance to be still and reflect for a few minutes. Don’t worry: the focus of a conversation class with me is still always on speaking and conversing.

My goal in any conversation class is two-fold: to build up and maintain your confidence in speaking, and to provide you with tools that will enable you to speak more fluently and more precisely.

If this sounds like a conversation class that’s your speed, you can email me (in the right-hand column over there) and book a time. I hope to see you soon!

A Freelancing Introvert Versus Doors

I was an introvert before it was cool. It’s something I intuitively knew about myself almost from the beginning, though I didn’t find the word for it until a quiz I took in a glossy preteen magazine: “Are you an innie or an outie?”

No one in sight? Finally, I can relax! (Image courtesy Ryan McGuire at Gratisography)

This means a lot of things for teaching in general and how I run my business specifically, but for now I want to touch on one of the smaller aspects of it: doors.

I bring all of my tutoring to you. That’s one of the conveniences of hiring a private tutor. And in my work I’ve been to a lot of apartment buildings, and all of those buildings have doors. Self-evident. Not all of these buildings have the same philosophy about front doors. Not so self-evident.

Sometimes the front doors are unlocked when I come to visit, and I can just let myself in. (My own apartment building, for example, locks the front door at something like 8:30 or 9:00 PM.) Other times the front doors need a key code to unlock them. In this case, people give me the code ahead of time and I can let myself in as if it were unlocked. These are my favorite front door philosophies: minimal fuss.

Other buildings have no means of allowing a non-resident instantaneous access. This is where I start to sweat things. Not because I always have to contact a customer to get in—after a few lessons, it feels as natural to text a customer as it does one of my friends. What sets my introvert nerves on edge is that there is always the possibility for a wildcard factor to disrupt the routine: someone else trying to let me into the building.

Awkward Turtle hates potential unplanned social interactions.
Awkward Turtle hates potential unplanned social interactions. (Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons and Dakota L.)

In this kind of front door situation, the “let me in” text message functions as a sort of courtesy: “I’m here! Time to put your pants on and clean up a bit!” It quickly becomes expected (at least, it would feel that way for me, if the roles were reversed). Bypassing that courtesy and showing right up at the door feels a little…untoward. Unfair. But then ignoring someone holding the door open for me also feels rude, and simply telling them, “Nej, det är lugnt, tack.” opens up a whole possible conversation that I am not prepared to have. “Yes, it IS biting cold out, but the person I’m here to see will let me in soon and I’d rather she let me in on her own terms than I turn up randomly on her doorstep. Yes, she’s expecting me, but still.” So far, I’ve just said nothing and fiddled with my phone, like I’m waiting for someone to come meet me. It’s worked pretty well.

Every time I arrive at an apartment complex of this last variety I experience a small moment of panic: will I have those five or ten seconds to myself? Or will I have to navigate an imaginary conflict of manners over the door?