Do you know the game Mah Jong? I used to play it a lot back in the day when I didn’t have much work and I was too tired to send yet another cover letter. Playing Mah Jong somehow puts my brain on autopilot and I relax and even recharge. But wait, why am I telling you all this.
While I was playing Mah Jong the other day, I realized it has a couple of things in common with working as a freelancer, and without realizing it at the time, the game has taught me some valuable lessons about freelancing. Are you curious now? Read on.
Lesson 1: Practice makes perfect.
As I said, I used to play Mah Jong a lot when I was starting as a freelancer – too much time on my hands, I guess. I was pretty good at it, too. I think my high score was somewhere north of 10,000.
Then I got busy and didn’t play as much, only once in a while. The other day I was too tired (or lazy) to do anything and decided to play a bit. I barely reached the 6,000 mark. What did I expect – I haven’t played for months.
And then it hit me! Playing Mah Jong is like anything else – if you don’t practice, you are no longer as good as you used to be.
So if you are serious about your freelance career, never stop improving. Read what’s new in your professional industry. Get better at what you can do. Learn new skills. Never stop moving forward. Don’t be satisfied with the level you are at – always strive for more.
Lesson 2: Take your time and stick to your repeatable process.
Don’t rush into doing whatever you are doing. It will take exactly as much time as you need for the task. Not more, not less.
This was also something that my shooting instructor told me. You cannot hit the target faster than you are physically capable of. Aiming and squeezing the trigger takes you that much time – use it. If you rush into squeezing the trigger, you’ll miss the target.
While playing Mah Jong, I am always amazed how is anybody able to clear that board from so many tiles, and with a timer ticking, too! Back in the day, when I was a Mah Jong master, so to speak, I developed a methodical approach to clear the board in time. As the level goes up, it gets harder, naturally. But I could do it only that fast.
I tried to clear it faster the other day when I played. I failed. Trying to do it for less time than I actually needed, I kinda threw my methodology out the window, thinking I can do better, which resulted in even lower score than anticipated.
So the best thing one can do at any given moment is take their time, stick to their repeatable process, and do what they know.
For example, if you are a copywriter and create email campaigns for a living, you are not likely to get 100% open rate the first time you start working with a client. Sure, you can try – but you need to know the audience and you need to have significant copywriting experience to pull it off. Until then, you need to do your homework.
Do your research, write that email, then edit it, test it, then edit it again, until you finally get it right. On your nth campaign, you might get that 100% open rate you want so badly. Not before that, no matter how hard you wish for it.
Lesson 3: Don’t leave your assignment until the last minute.
Right, I know, this sounds somewhat contradictory to my first lesson. Take your time or do it now – which is it? Well, both.
While playing Mah Jong, I have this big board full of tiles. Yes, I have a methodical approach but when the timer gets closer to zero, I start panicking – as if my life depends on clearing the board before the timer goes off. (I’m competitive like that ;-))
So, sometimes I forget about my methodical approach and start frantically looking for matching tiles. I end up going over the same tiles (which don’t match, of course) and miss the ones which do in fact match and are staring right at my face, in the middle of the screen.
Right at that moment, I usually think – “If only I had seen them earlier, I could have earned a couple of more seconds to get it all going again and I might have improved my high score”.
But it doesn’t work like that now, does it. You have to do it all for so many minutes. If you don’t, you lose. It’s similar with working as a freelancer.
I know it’s tempting to procrastinate – I have done it so many times. Say, I have to write that email (the one I am trying to achieve a 100% open rate with) but the campaign is so far away that I say to myself – “I don’t feel inspired, there’s time – I’ll do it some other time”. And before I realize, it’s the due date and I am rushing to get the piece done even though I feel even less inspired than the first time I attempted writing the piece.
What I’m saying is – when you leave your assignment for the last moment, you make silly mistakes. You overlook details which you wouldn’t normally miss, should you have had more time.
So don’t leave your work until the last minute, no matter how far away in time you think the deadline is. If you feel uninspired, get in the mood. Find inspiration, but get it done. Now. You can improve it tomorrow but get started today.