Katherine Bilsborough

Creating ELT materials

Helping teachers make excellent classroom resources

Looking ahead: small changes, big impact

woman with binoculars

It was recently ‘that time of year’, when everyone was looking back at the year that was drawing to a close. It was the perfect time to reflect on achievements or on lessons learnt. I’d intended to do the same but holidays got the better of me, so now, instead of looking back at the past year of ELT writing, I’m looking ahead. I can’t know exactly what I’ll be doing, of course but I do have ‘intentions’. And I think they might be life-changing – in a good way of course. Here are four of them. There’s a fifth, but I’ll save that for another day.

  1. Fewer freebies

In 2022 I’m going to think long and hard before saying ‘Yes’ to free writing work. This might sound mean because it’s good to give back, right? But I already ‘give back’ in a number of ways and over the past few years I’ve had several official voluntary roles that have taken up a lot of my time, and in some cases, prevented me from doing paid work during my work time so subsequently taking away what was supposed to be my free time.

Notice I didn’t say I wouldn’t do any unpaid work. Some things are worth considering because they are for a good cause or because they provide me with an opportunity to connect with teachers and talk about things I feel passionate about.  My work with the ELT Footprint community ticks both of those boxes. [Join us on Facebook here or check out the website here.] I am of the firm belief that everyone should do some voluntary work, at some point. It’s a great way to make connections, try new things and sometimes get a sense of what’s really important and what isn’t.

2a. Fewer working hours

In 2022 I’m going to work fewer hours. I’ve considered how this might work in reality because there are lots of possible set-ups, from regular three- or four-day weeks to taking whole weeks off. I’m keeping my options open for now because as any freelance writer will tell you, we can’t control everything. In fact, we control very little.

For now, in January, I’m working fewer hours each day and taking whole afternoons or mornings off. It’s great because it gives me an opportunity to do other things or just to laze around, watching a series or reading a good book. We should never feel guilty (as I used to) for doing ‘nothing’. As Winnie the Pooh said, “Doing nothing often leads to the very best of something.” And he knew a thing or two.

2b. More income

While I plan to cut back on my hours, my idea is also to increase my earnings. While that might sound like an impossible task, it really isn’t. I learnt a lot about working smarter last year. I read some useful books – more on those in a future blog post. And I did Rachael Roberts’ course ‘Switch off stress. Switch on success.’ which I recommend to anyone thinking about going freelance or starting their own business. You can find out more about Rachael’s course and other services here.

3. Acceptable pay and conditions

Everyone deserves to be paid fairly for the work they do, whatever line of work they are in. When it comes to the kind of specialist work many freelance ELT writers and editors do, a fee needs to take into account not just ‘time spent on the job’ but the unique skill set, expertise, experience and knowledge we bring to the table. This is sometimes more obvious for other sectors.

The Engineer Joke

The best analogy for this concept is the engineer joke, a story that has been going around for decades, probably centuries, in various forms. In brief, an engineer is called to look at a machine that has broken down in a big factory. The owners want it fixed urgently as production has stopped. The engineer looks at the machine and soon sees what the problem is. A few minutes later he returns with a hammer and gives the machine an almighty wack, fixing the problem and putting the machine back in action. He hands over a bill for $5,000 and the factory owner, shocked, asks for an itemized bill. So the engineer gives him a new bill which says:

  • Hammer $5
  • Knowing where to hit the machine with the hammer: $4,995

It isn’t rocket science. Except that sometimes, it is. Never forget that you know where to hit the machine with the hammer.

4. Only fulfilling writing work, please

The other day as I was gathering documents to do my three-monthly, tax return I was reminded of some of the projects I’d been working on. The best ones were ones where I felt fulfilled, engaged, got into the whole ‘flow’ vibe, and actually looked forward to turning my computer on and getting down to work. This wasn’t the case with all of the work though. A couple of projects weren’t right for me.

On example is ‘assessment materials’. I just can’t get excited about them. Others can though, and that’s good. But even though I know this, I haven’t always borne it in mind.

[Note: I just fell into a Google rabbit hole while checking it was ‘borne’ and not ‘born’.]

I’ve sometimes accepted work offers that I really should have turned down. While there are obvious reasons for this, such as those nagging thoughts that if I don’t say yes to this particular work, I might find myself without any work. But in my experience something always comes along. And if it doesn’t, I shout out that I need some work, and someone usually hears me.

Doing work you find boring can be soul destroying. Obviously there are elements of all projects that can be monotonous and distinctly unexciting, but I’ve decided to take a Marie Kondo approach for the foreseeable future. If the job description doesn’t spark joy, or at least interest, curiosity and a tiny bit of excitement, I’ll quietly retreat. Even the thought of only working on projects that I love makes me feel positive. I mean, what’s the point of being self-employed if we can’t cherry pick?

So that’s it. Do you plan to make any changes to your work life in 2022? If so, I’d love to hear what they are. Oh and the photo? That’s me looking to the future in my curlers.

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1 thought on “Looking ahead: small changes, big impact”

  1. Pingback: 35 ways to improve your life without really trying – Katherine Bilsborough

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