Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Working With Freelancers



I saw a thread of people complaining about terrible freelancers they had worked with, and I was shocked how many of them had neglected even the basic, common sense things that would have spared them all the stress and heartache. It made me realise maybe these things are not basic and common sense and that a blog post about them might be helpful.

Despite working with friends, strangers, people overseas and people without former clients, I have never had any problems with freelancers. Some might say it is luck, but I think it has a lot to do with the following guidelines. The first is most important of all, and if you are only going to pay attention to one part of this, make it the first part.


Contracts:

If you are working with a freelancer, regardless of what they are doing for you, or how much it costs, you should have some sort of contract. Even if they are a friend and always, always, always if money is involved.

You don't need to be scared of contracts. They don't have to be like those hellish 300 page terms and conditions none of us read or can understand. A contract is just a document that states what is happening, who is getting compensated what and what you will do if things go badly. Both parties should understand it and both parties should be protected by it.

A contract should contain the following information:

- What service are they providing?
- What are the costs?
- When do they have to be paid?
- What happens if you are dissatisfied with the service?
- Timeframe, and what happens if deadlines aren't met?

Don't sign anything you aren't willing to abide by. And never listen to anyone who says: 'that will never happen' or 'if that happens we'll X, it doesn't need to be in the contract'. If X will definitely happen, there is no reason not to put it in the contract.

Remember, a contract should protect BOTH of you, so make sure you are covered, and don't be a complete shit-heel about the stuff that is protecting them.


Word of Mouth and References:

Anyone can write a testimonial and put it on their website. If you are looking for someone with a skillset that doesn't have an easy to view portfolio (EG: editing, as opposed to cover art), I suggest asking around. Some freelancers may have previous clients who are willing to talk to you. You can also contact state associations for recommendations (EG: The Queensland Writer's Centre or Editors Queensland INC).

Ask in facebook groups, on forums and google anyone you are considering using to see if you can find any complaints against them. Ask other writers you know who they recommend and, if possible, ask to see samples of the freelancer's work.

Obviously if you don't like someone's samples, portfolio or what you heard about their practises, don't hire them. There are literally hundreds of thousands of freelancers in the world. Don't go with the first one someone suggests. Round up at least five people who come highly recommended and go from there.


Samples, Sketches, Rough Drafts

When working with freelancers, it’s a good idea to check in on them throughout the process. Ask to see sketches and drafts during the process, so if there are any issues, you can address them early. I commissioned an artwork of myself recently, and while I was very happy with the art, in the sketch phase I realised the artist had forgotten my glasses! It was an easy fix, but one we were both glad I had caught before the inking and colouring phase.

Depending on what sort of freelancer you are hiring, seeing sketches and drafts may be difficult. When hiring copy editors, for example, I believe it is work paying for them just to edit the first chapter to start with. And if you like their work, then hire them to do the rest of the book.

Don't ask for them to do samples for free. You wouldn't ask a hairdresser to give you a free trim so you can decide if you want a full cut and colour. Pay for the time you are asking for, but don't over commit by sending them the whole book up front, then finding out they are sloppy.

This is a bit trickier if you are looking for structural edits, since no one can do structural edits for a novel after only seeing the first draft. It may be worth paying for structural edits on a short story, before you commit to the expense of a full novel. It could save you money in the long run, finding the right structural editor for you. Alternatively, with some freelancers, you might just have to rely on word of mouth and the samples they have on their websites.

Never hire someone if you haven't seen some of their work, in some capacity—be it a sample, a smaller project you have paid for, or examples provided by someone else who has worked with them.


Be Reasonable

Don’t be an asshole. I feel like this should be a given, but a lot of people seem to have very unrealistic expectations of how freelancers spend their time. Remember that freelancers are human, they have other clients and probably another job. They are not home all day, doing nothing but working on your project.

To that end, stick to realistic time frames. It's okay to ask for proof things are happening, but don't badger people. Ask them when they can get it done, discuss and schedule and make sure it is outlined in the contract. If you need it by a set date that is set in stone, make sure that is in the contract too (and ideally tell them the set date is a week or two before the ACTUAL set date). Keep communication channels open and ask them to please tell you if anything comes up that is likely to delay them.

Furthermore, don't be difficult to work with. Communicate clearly, without criticism. Return phone calls. Answer emails. Be polite. Don't make them chase you and don't make them guess what you want. Unless you are hiring a psychic, they have no idea. Be clear and concise.


Keep A Recording Of Correspondence

Mostly to cover your own ass, it is a good idea to keep a record of all correspondence. If they are smart, they are doing the same thing. As much as possible, I like to communicate via email. Because then both people have a clear record of what was said and when.

Sometimes phone calls and in person meetings are necessary. However, in those instances, ALWAYS make notes of what was said and follow up by emailing those notes to the freelancer you are working with, so you can both be sure there have been no misunderstandings. EG:

'Thank you for meeting with me today at Café Ver. I was very pleased with the progress you have made and loved the sketches. As discussed, I would like to see the crumbling tower moved from the left to the right side of the image, as I feel this will balance it better. And I have made a note of the new delivery date as per the extension you requested. I am looking forward to seeing the finished product on the 8th of June.'

After receiving an email like this, the freelancer can either respond with an agreement, or a clarification. Even if they don't respond, if something breaks down in the process, you will have the email to forward them in the case of a dispute.


You Get What You Pay For

There is no getting around this. You get what you pay for. The only time you might not get what you pay for is if someone is ripping you off, or you are ripping someone else off. And I would hope, if you are a friend of mine, these are equally unappealing.

When you hire a freelancer, you are paying for someone's time, education, equipment and materials, and creative flare. And whatever they are doing for you, it is probably harder than you think it is. Or you would be doing it yourself, right?

Have money put aside before you sign the contract, or even begin looking. This is for two reasons: 1. You then know what your budget is and 2. When it comes time to pay, you don't have to scramble to find the funds. They are there, ready to be sent.

Don't ever make people chase you for payment. If they have done the work, and you are happy, PAY THEM. The stress and heartache freelancers' stuffer chasing payments is the worst part of the job. Don't inflict that on someone else, particularly someone who has been working hard producing something just for you.

If you follow all this advice, even if things go pear-shaped, you should be covered. After all, what happens when things go pear shaped is covered in the contract you signed, right?


So that's it. I hope that has helped you and given you a clear reference for the future. Working with freelancers doesn’t have to be stressful and it certainly shouldn't be a waste of money. Follow these guidelines and hopefully you will enjoy many successful and rewarding partnerships with others. Also, never become one of these guys: https://clientsfromhell.net

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Managing Chronic Illness: 06 - Dealing with Medical Professionals (without killing them or yourself)



IMPORTANT: You Are The Client. You Are Paying For A Service

If you only read one line of this blog, I hope it is the one directly above this one.

Doctors are well paid. Even in Australia, where you personally don't pay much, they are being well paid. To the tune of hundreds of dollars and hour. They are being paid hundreds of dollars an hour to treat you and manage your health care needs, and if you let them get away with NOT doing those things, they are still getting paid. They are getting paid for doing nothing. For providing a terrible service. And its all tax payer money going to waste.

Put on your goddamn 'can I speak the manager' face. Make it very clear what the roles are. You are not a child, to be lectured. You are not 'lucky' to be seeing them. They are being paid A LOT OF MONEY to treat your medical conditions, and part of that is treating you with respect and dignity.

And if they fail on any of those counts, you are within your right to voice your complaints.
And you can voice those complaints to the Health Ombudsmen. For more info on that, go here:
http://www.abc.net.au/health/consumerguides/stories/2003/02/20/1837237.htm


Shop For A Better Doctor

Furthermore, if you are unhappy with your doctor, find another one. I know finding a new doctor is a pain, I know every time you meet a new doctor it is stressful, disheartening and often embarrassing. Its rare that chronic illness doesn't come with elements we don't really want to talk about. However, staying long term with a doctor who you dislike, who id disrespectful and makes you feel miserable, is going to have a long-term impact on your health. You'll avoid going to see them, even when you need to, and they will probably miss key diagnosis, that could prove fatal. Worst still, there may be a simple, safe treatment option you are never offered, because they didn't do the research.

I have some tips for finding a good doctor though.

1. Try a lot of them. If you decide one of the earlier ones needs another chance, or was the best of a bad bunch, go back to them.

2. Ask for recommendations, either from local chronically ill friends or online in chronic illness groups and forums.

3. Take a printed sheet that outlines everything clearly. This should include your current medications, any allergies, current symptoms and any previous diagnoses, along with a concise, but detailed medical history. Make sure to include any drugs you have tried in the past, and why you stopped taking them.

Ask them to scan it and put it in your medical file.

Its generally a good idea to keep an updated medical file like this at all times. On your computer, at least, or even printed on your person in case you end up in ER. It will be helpful for doctors, and it will also protect you in several ways. First, it will spare you from forgetting anything. And secondly, you have a printed record of what you have shown a doctor, and you have watch them read it. So, in the case of negligence, you can hold it up in court and say: "This is the print out they were given. It was scanned and is in their computer system."


Its Better To Go Away, Do Research, Then Come Back

If a doctor suggests a treatment plan, a new medication or any other long-term changes and it is not something you are already well educated on, its worth going away, researching it and coming back with questions when you are better educated on the topic. This is particularly relevant for medications that have dangers side effects, and any exercise or weight loss plans.

Doctors generally don't want to answer a lot of questions about these things, because they often haven't done the research themselves. This should be a huge red flag for you. Doctors should know what they are prescribing, and they should have read the research on success and failure rates before they suggest a course of action.


Know What Questions To Ask

Words are hard. I'm an author, my life is all about how hard words are. However, you'd be surprised what you find on google, if you know what to key words to search for. Try searches like:

'Things to ask your doctor about weight loss.' (About 33,300,000 results)
'Things to ask your doctor about diabetes.' (About 2,770,000 results)
'Things to ask your doctor about new prescriptions.' (About 3,980,000 results)

Make a list. Print that fucker out and leave space to write down their answers. Let them see you writing down their answers. Trust me, they really start paying attention and doing what they're supposed to when they see you taking notes.

Taking notes is also fantastic for when you have brain fog later and have no recollection whatsoever of what was said.


Have An Idea What You Want Before You Go In

You know those jokes about men being clueless to what women want? The sexist ones that infantilise men and allow them to get away with bad behaviour? Yeah, I hate those. But apply them to your doctor.

When to visit a doctor, state the problem you are having very clearly, but then also state the OUTCOME you want very clearly.

EG: Problem: "I have a terrible pain in my upper right abdomen."

Outcome: "I want this problem investigated until we have a definitive cause, however many tests that takes."
OR: "I believe it is X, but it is stopping me from achieving X. I want a pain management plan that addresses it, allowing me to do X."

Giving them a very specific goal to work toward is best for you and them. It tells them what you expect and that you aren't going to stop hounding them until the goal is achieved. It gives them a starting and an ending place for the issue.

If possible, gently encourage them to repeat the desired outcome, out loud. Say something like: "Just so we're on the same page, what is the desired outcome here?" If they can't repeat what you literally just said, rinse and repeat.


Don't Be Afraid To Remind Your Doctor To Do Their Damn Job

Once I described a problem I was having to my doctor.
Doctor: "Mm, yes, that does sound frustrating. I don't know what would cause that."
Me: "However its your job to find out what is causing it, so how are we going to go about that?"

He looked surprised. He ordered tests. You don't have to be rude or confrontational, in fact, I would say that would hinder you, but you do have to be firm and confident. This is their job. Their job is to make diagnoses and prescribe treatments that will fix or alleviate the health problem you are having. They are being paid a lot of money to do this.

If you hired a cleaner and they came to your house, played your CDs for a bit, and then left, you wouldn't pay them. So why are doctors getting paid for NOT DOING THEIR DAMN JOB?

Mostly, its because we feel inferior to our doctors and superior to our cleaners. And we are wrong to feel that way on both counts. In both cases, we are a client, hiring a professional to provide us with a service. We should treat them with equal respect and have equal expectations that they do the job they are being paid to do.

Doctors are not holy beings. They are not better than you. They are a professional, providing you with a service. And you have every right to receive the service you are paying for.


So that's it. My guide for dealing with medical professionals without killing them or yourself. I hope you got some tips from my many, MANY years dealing with hundreds of doctors. I have had some truly bad ones. From doctors who have been verbally abusive and negligent, to doctors who meant well, but almost killed me anyway.

Thankfully these days, using the tools and methods I have discussed, I have a great GP and a truly brilliant physician assisting me with my medical care. They're not saviours, I won't be throwing them a parade any time soon. They are professionals who do the job they are paid to do. I find them enjoyable to speak to, pleasant to be around and helpful when it comes to my frankly very difficult medical situation. I wouldn't ask for better.

I hope you can find the same.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Managing Chronic Illness: 05 - Socialisation, Time Management & Goal Setting.




The Important and Benefits of Socialisation.

Humans are highly gregarious and social isolation is cruel and damaging. What a shame then, that the most isolated people tend to be those who least deserve it. The elderly and the chronically ill.

Isolation is damaging to your mental and physical health, in contrast, people with strong, healthy community ties, live longer, are happier and are healthier. So, there is a lot of reasons to develop and maintain a healthy social community.

It is difficult when you are chronically ill, but not impossible. The internet means you can connect with others from your bedroom, from your bed. Even while you are on the toilet. I am sure most of us find face to face contact much more rewarding and stimulating. However online bonds can be just as close and deep as face to face ones.

Most of my friendships are maintained almost entirely online. One of my dearest friends, Annie, and I have been talking online for two hours, every day, for over fifteen years now. These days we usually skype—using voice chat while we play a video game together or even watch a movie together.


The Best Socialisation Tools for The Chronically Ill.

You are probably already aware of many of the tools available to the chronically ill. Twitter, facebook, skype, Instagram, tumblr, etc. These are online platforms that allow you to find a community and interact with people within that community.

However sometimes that can still be very isolating. As it seems like everyone else is out doing fantastic things and you aren't. I suggest you focus more on the connection aspects, than the feed aspects. Use these tools to have CONVERSATIONS not to look in on other people's lives.

Most days, I try and find the time to message one or two people to see how they are. Some are too busy to respond, some who are equally isolated will happily chat to me all day.


Time Management and Chronic Illness

Chronically ill people have to be time management experts. If you aren't, life becomes a complete and utter disaster. Its always a balancing act between commitments and spoons (Spoon theory: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spoon_theory) and when you are going to have the time and energy to get things done. I don't think I have ever met a chronically ill person who can do things spontaneously. There is no such thing as: 'Hey, are you free? Let's grab coffee.' Everything is organised weeks in advance and even then, commitments can be hard to stick to, because illness is always getting in the way.

Usually, for important commitments, you not only need to plan that day, but the days leading up to it in a way that you will have the energy to go out. There are enforced rest days, or at least, days you know you need to stay home and not do anything too exciting, so you are well enough to go out the day after. Then there is the knowledge that you will be useless the following days.

I think most chronically ill people do this out of necessity. However, if you are still fighting it, take my advice and stop. Get a day planner. Schedule in rest days before and after major outings. Let your day planner remember commitments for you. Accept you can only be spontaneous once a year. Its nothing to be ashamed of. People are impressed with highly organised people too, I promise.


How I Manage My Time

There are a lot of ways you can manage your time and you will know what is best for you. I'm not going to suggest my methods are best, or even good, for most people. However, they might give you some ideas to improve the system you already have in place. There are four main elements to my system and they are outlined below:

1. Primary Project

I have one long term goal that is my primary project. This is usually a book I am working on. So, it may be in first draft or editing stage. Rarely, it will be a website or cover art. Usually a primary project will take between a week and three months to complete, so it will be with me for a while. It is always in the most prominent slot in my day planner and I try and do a little bit on it every day, even if it's just one page or 100 words.


2. Secondary Project

Secondary projects are projects that can, ideally, be done in one day and are usually a single part of a larger project, or an ongoing responsibility. For example, planning all my upcoming tweets for the month might be a secondary project. Cleaning out my inboxes. Researching something. Feedback for another writer. These would all be classed as secondary projects. Ideally, after I have done a few hours of work on my primary project, I will also complete a secondary project, so that other areas of my life keep moving forward too.


3. Day planner.

I live and die by my day planner. If something isn't in the day planner, it isn't happening. I only buy day planners with a full day for each day of the week—no shared page for Sunday and Saturday. Every day I put a word, editing and kilometre tally at the bottom, which go up throughout the month. I list my primary and secondary project, then all the things I have to do every day. These include medication, cleaning the house and feeding the pets. I also have a list of things that I contribute a small amount too, such as blogging (200-1000 words a day), reading (a chapter or more), journaling and praying.

Of course, if there are any events or appointments, they get pride of place. I also write in the birthdays of people I am very fond of, so I don't forget them.


4. Habitica

Habitica is an online habit tracking platform. My set up actually has a lot of cross tracking with my day planner. There are three columns in habitica: Habits, Dailies and To Dos.

My dailies section mimics my day planner almost word for word, and I check things off there and on my day planner when they are done each day.

Habits is for things I want to do more of, but don't do every day. Things like gardening, messaging friends to socialise, brushing Charlie, drawing or painting, etc. You can also add habits you want to stop there, and punish yourself when you do them, if you want.

To-Do is where you add one off things that need to be done. Most of my 'Secondary Projects' are listed here. So, when I am choosing what to do for the day, this is my reference list. I prioritise the most important and add that to my day planner for the day.

Habitica also has a rewards column. Since you earn 'gold' for completing tasks, you can list rewards and 'buy' them when you earn enough. I have 'buy a book' for 1000 gold on my reward, which allows me to buy a few books a month on amazon.

You can set up your own habitica account here:


Setting Realistic Goals So You Don't Make Yourself Miserable

I am planning a happiness project with will delve into this further, but comparison is the heart of all misery. You are always going to get stressed and upset if you compare what you can do to what healthy people can do. You are always going to feel poor if you compare your house to the houses of billionaires.

When it comes to goal setting when you are chronically ill, you need to be able to classify actions properly. What do you NEED to do every day? EG: Eat, feed pets, take medication, drink, etc. What SHOULD you do every day? EG: Shower, exercise, tidy, etc. What is your biggest long-term goal? How can that goal be broken down into actionable chunks that are realistic for you to do every day.

For example, if your long-term goal is writing a novel, writing most days might be your actionable task. However, if you say you need to do 1000 words, you're more likely to do zero. Because its too hard, so there is no point trying. 100 words is doable. If you make 100 words your every day goal and everything after that a bonus, you're going to get much higher word counts than if you set your goal as 1000 words.

Reward yourself, don't punish yourself.

And don't compare what you can do to what other people are doing.


Next week, we conclude this series chronic illness series with the post: 'Dealing with medical professionals without killing them or yourself.'