While preparing for a presentation I will be giving at an upcoming conference, I have been reading books about margins and balance in our lives. These topics are very appropriate to my freelance work as well, I think you will agree.
“Margin is the space between our load and our limits. It is the amount allowed beyond that which is needed. It is something held in reserve for contingencies or unanticipated situations. Margin is the gap between rest and exhaustion, the space between breathing freely and suffocating.”
(Source: Page 69 of Margin by Richard A. Swenson, M.D.)
Margin matters in all aspects of our lives. It keeps us from being overloaded and overwhelmed at work and home. If you are like me, you are trying to balance a lot in your life. As many freelancers in the game industry, freelancing is a passionate part-time job for me. I have to balance freelance projects with my day job and family responsibilities, church involvement, and my caregiving duties. Within all those aspects of my life, I still need to retain margin. To maintain balance and margin, I have to make some hard choices at times.
My recommendation, take a hard look at all your commitments and responsibilities. Set reasonable limits on the amount of time you can commit to freelance work each week. Know how long a typical freelance project takes you. Know how much time you have available in the coming weeks. Knowing those limits ahead of time before you communicate with a publisher is key.
There will be times when a freelance project timeline conflicts with your other commitments and responsibilities. If you really want this project, you might have to reschedule a personal event or utilize more time in an evening or weekend to complete the project. That flexibility should be exception, not the norm.
Communicate that with the publisher as you discuss and agree upon a timeline for the project completion. If your time limits do not meet the needs of the publisher nor can you flex them to meet, then be honest up front. As Swenson states it, you might need to “decline with gratitude.”
“Most people overestimate the repercussions of an appropriate ‘no,’ fearing wrongly that it might represent the end of a friendship or a job”
(Source: Page 163 of In Search Of Balance by Richard A. Swenson, MD)
You might have to decline or postpone a project that you do not have the margin available to complete. Be polite and thankful, but be honest. A publisher would much rather have you honestly decline a project then to have you agree to the project to later fail to complete it properly and on time.
If you are constantly scheduling more freelance projects than you have the margin to complete, then something in your life is suffering. If you do have not margin left, then it could impact the quality of your work on the freelance project, may be impeding your day job, likely is taking time away from your family and friends, and/or might be impacting your health from stress and likely lack of proper sleep.
Do you know when to “decline with gratitude”? Do you have success stories where declining honestly helped build your relationship with a publisher? I won’t ask for horror stories of where you over committed to projects you should not have. We have all been there at least once.