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The Freelancer's Guide to DIY-ing A Basic Contract

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I almost DIDN'T write this blog post. Why? Two reasons:

1. I was afraid of what my lawyer friends would say when they saw the title to this blog post. Would they say "leave the contract-writing to lawyers!"?

2. I wasn't sure if you'd be interested in this sort of topic. I've written about blogging, branding and marketing in general -- but not something business-y like this.

As with every blog post that I write, I struggle with doubts. Is this blog post relevant? Will people hate it and then hate me? Do I know enough to write about it?

But eventhough the doubts were overwhelming -- I can't help but think about the person I used to be. I used to be a freelancer, too. And while I don't claim that THIS blog post will solve all your freelancing troubles, I hope it will help.

Anyway, enough rambling by me. Let's get down to the topic at hand: DIY-ing your own contract as a freelancer.

Do I really need a contract, even if I'm a small-time freelancer?

When people hear the word 'contract', they usually think of an official document that only professionals or the big shots bring out for big big projects. Signed with an expensive pen and then placed in a briefcase. (Preferably dark brown leather, kay.)

Well, today I want to give you another perspective on contracts and why you need them even when you're just starting out in your freelancing business.

A contract is a form of communication between two parties. You and the client.

Picture this: You have a business where you provide services. A potential client contacts you and wants to meet up to discuss 'the project', aka what you're being paid for.

So you meet up with the client at a nice cafe, and you guys talk about the details of the project. What to do, when to do it, etc etc. Then both of you go your separate ways.

Is that it?

What if someone forgets something? What if the client forgets that she has to make the 2nd payment after you've done a certain task? What if you forget something important that the client mentioned?

After a (good) client meeting, the freelancer will always be on a high. Someone likes my work and wants to pay me. Oh yeah baby. (I noe how dat feel) The client will feel excited for the project to start too. And the details of the meeting will feel so VIVID.

But after a day or two, after you've come down from the high, the details will be less fresh.

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That's where the contract comes in! It's a recorded version of whatever it is you and your client have discussed and agreed on. You basically turn your words during the meeting into written form, so that both you and the client can refer to it again and again.

So back to the question just now: Do you really need a contract if you're just starting out?

YES, yes you do. And I have two reasons for saying so:

  1. Having a contract for every client is considered the BEST practice. Even if you're a small-timer, why not adopt this practice from the beginning so that you could start your business right? You can adjust the length of your contract to suit the size of your business/project.
  2. When you do as the professionals do, you'll look like a professional too. If only professionals use contracts, then hop on the lorry! When you bring out your contract, your client will get the impression that you're serious about the project and they'll feel more confident in your abilities. A clear and fair contract will help you build trust with your client.
 

You may ALREADY have a contract in place...

When you're liaising with your client over WhatsApp or email, you'd definitely have mentioned a few things that your client NEEDS to know. For example, Payment must be made before 10 pm or The client must provide the correct details. These need-to-know things are the terms and conditions (T&C). So in effect, you already have a contract with your client.

If it's just a simple buy-and-sell kind of transaction, there aren't that many T&Cs. But if you're a freelancer, you usually provide services that are more tailored to your client's situations. That means that your services are more complicated than just buy-and-sell.

The more complicated your services, the more T&Cs you and your client need to agree on.

I'm not saying you're doing it wrong when you use WhatsApp or email to 'come to an agreement' with your client. I'm saying, if your services are complicated, it might be EASIER to have everything, all the T&Cs in one document.

That kind of contract will be the focus of this blog post.

 

Things go right, but they also always go wrong.

OK, I'm a pessimist. But when I offered freelance designing services, things went wrong MORE than they went right. And it sucked big time because I was so excited for the projects!

The cause? Failure in communication.

Sure, we had client meetings. Over the phone, in-person at a nice cafe. The initial discussions were so awesome -- I even convinced myself that I'd definitely be bestfriends with my clients down the line. (Such wishful thinking.)

But down the line — it became clear to me that my clients and I were expecting DIFFERENT things from the projects. 

  • One client expected me to do more than what we originally agreed on. 
  • One client disappeared near the end of the project and wanted to resume around 2 months later. Also, no compensation.
  • Another one disappeared also. 

 #sadaina

And you know what? I take responsibility for things going wrong. 

As the freelancer, it was my responsibility to ponder things like... 

  • How do I make sure that the project runs smoothly?
  • How do I make sure my client and I are always on the same page?  How and what do I communicate?
  • How do I perform my service in the best way possible?
  • What do I need from my client?
  • How do I protect my own interests? 

It’s NOT the client’s job to think about all this. They don’t go into the project thinking: What do I need to do? 

So yeah, despite my initial resentment towards them (I’m only human), it was ultimately my fault because I didn’t have a contract in place. I should have known better, they literally teach me this in university. Sigh.

 

The contract prevents and cures

Kay, the contract — YOUR contract — is not a magic wand. When you and the client sign the contract, it doesn't literally bind both of you to the terms and conditions. No one will be struck by lightning if you breach a T&C.

BUT, like I've said before: Projects fail due to failure in communication. It’s pretty safe to assume that most people aren’t evil witches. They were just expecting different things.

What the contract does is that it PREVENTS miscommunications. Everything important is put on paper for both you and the client to read. Now it’s not gonna be a matter of Who said What.

The contract also CURES. During the project, you owe the client something (your work). The client owes you something (money or compensation). 

If any of you doesn’t fulfill what is owed, you have something to fall back on: the contract! I’m gonna talk a bit about how you can enforce your DIY contract at the end of this blog post.

You won’t only be at this ~small-time freelancer~ stage forever.  The more your business grows, the more you need to protect yourself.


 

Let's rewire how we think of contracts.

1. A contract is 90% business and only 10% legal.

The biggest misconception when it comes to contracts is that only lawyers know what to put in the contracts.  

For example:

Other people: Aina, draft a contract between our company and Company X. We want to start the project in 2 weeks kthxbye.
Me: Okay... But what is the project about? What kind of terms do you want? What are the people involved supposed to do? What’s the timeline? How is the payment being made?   

Since the contract is a recorded version of what was agreed between people in the project, the lawyer WOULDN’T know what to put in the contract. (Unless they were present during the discussions too!)

Even if you don't want to DIY your contract and want to hire a lawyer to create one for you, your lawyer will still be asking for your input. Your input is the MOST important part of the contract.

2. Forget the fancy legal words.

When I draft contracts at work, I use fancy legal words. But that's because I'm representing a corporation. The parties involved are companies, so the language that's expected to be used is more fancypants.

But if you're dealing with clients on a one-to-one basis, your contract should be in words that both of you understand easily. If you use fancypants language HERE, your client could feel like you're being shady.

Stick to the point. And use bullet points if you want to, it's fine.

3. A contract should be fair, it's not only for you.

Even if YOU prepare the contract and not the client, it doesn't mean that each T&C should be to your advantage only. I mean, you can make it like that, but your client wouldn't be too eager to sign on the dotted line, yaknow?

A lot of people think that having a contract means you get to cancel all the risks, but that's not how it works. There will always be risks to your business and your contract is supposed to eliminate those that can be REASONABLY eliminated.

For example, there's always a risk that you wouldn't get paid by the client. So how do you handle that?

  • Reasonable: Each client must put in 20% deposit from the total fee. And pay in instalments after every stage of the project.
  • Unreasonable: Each client must pay 100% in advance before the project starts.*

*Unless you're really in-demand, most clients won't agree to pay 100% upfront because then it will be a risk to them.

There's a lot of give and take here. You want to minimize risk, the client wants to minimize risk. So do expect to negotiate on some of the T&Cs because both of you need to agree on ALL the T&Cs.

4. Contract first, THEN project. 

I used to think that I can figure out the contract as we go along the project. NOPE! Wrong way of doing it. (What can I say, I'm an impatient lady.)

The contract is has to be agreed upon by you and the client BEFORE the project starts. That means all the hard-thinking parts must be done before you start doing any kind of work.

Yes, you can tweak the contract along the way if you need to -- but everything should already be in place already.

 

What to put in your freelancer contract: the Must-Haves.

A contract can be long or short. Again, it depends on your project. If it’s a complicated and long project, it makes sense to have a longer contract so that you and client can thoroughly know what to do. 

But regardless of how long or short the contract is, I’ve listed below the must-haves. These freelancer contract must-haves are important because they’re directly about your project, so do allocate some time to think them through. Even if you hire a lawyer, they'll be asking you the same things.

DISCLAIMER: The advice I’m giving in this blog post is general. Since I’m not your lawyer, I don’t know the specifics of your project. So please treat this post as a guideline rather than a specific advice for your specific situation.

Therefore, I need to mention this, please don’t hold me responsible for any issues in your contract or project. 

If you want to be sure, I recommend hiring a lawyer to develop a contract (or contract template) that’s tailored for your business. It’s a great investment especially if you do a lot of freelancing. Protect yourself! 

OK, now that the disclaimer is out of the way — let’s get cracking!  

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1. Roles & responsibilities

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This part covers the things you and your client are supposed to do for the project. All the things. 

Eventhough the roles and responsibilities are obvious and make you go, umm duh?, never assume you and your client have some sort of telepathy and you know exactly what each other are saying. (It rarely happens that way)

So yes — this is the first thing you should start with. Defining the things you and your client will do/are responsible for. 

What I like to do is to have two columns side-by-side. One is for your responsibilities and the other is for the client’s responsibilities. It helps to compare them like this because you can see if the client has to do something in response to you and vice versa. Like this:

Your responsibilities Client's responsibilities
Provide questionnaire to determine client's ideal kitchen before project starts Answer questionnaire and email to designer before project starts
Provide 3 kitchen design options to client for consideration Choose 1 design option and give feedback

For example, you have to provide 3 design options for the kitchen to the client. In response to that, the client has to choose 1 design out of the 3 options.

This helps the client be aware of his/her responsibilities throughout the duration of your service. You need their participation and cooperation, rather than just ‘get the payment and do the job’.  

Should you include every single task that you have to do for the project? In my opinion, yes. No task is too small to be included. The reasons are two-fold: 

  1. It gives the client an accurate picture of exactly what you’re doing. No more remarks like, “Well, I could have done this myself!”.
  2. It helps you provide an accurate Project Timeline, which is another point that we’ll be talking about after this. 
 

2. Scope and limitations

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The next important thing to include in your contract is the scope and limitations of the project. Basically, what IS and IS NOT covered in your service to the client? 

In my experience, this is the part where freelancers and clients often fight over.  

Freelancer: Umm no, that’s not included in the package. 
Client: What do you mean not included? I’m paying you to do it! 

As much as there are clients who purposely ask for things they know aren’t included (they like to try their luck), it’s your job as the freelancer to set limitations.  

OK, let’s use the previous example. (In fact, we’ll just use the example for the rest of the blog post okay) 

You’re a freelance interior designer and you only design kitchens. You need to define the scope and limitations of your interior design service.

SCOPE - things that are included:  

  • One home kitchen (dry or wet) If both, the fee is different.
  • Includes designing, researching layouts, researching products and styling products. 

LIMITATIONS - things that aren’t included:

  • Does not include cleaning/ decluttering BEFORE and AFTER the project. 
  • Does not include DIY-ing existing furniture.

At this point, you may feel like you’re being too negative. Oh, I don’t do that. No, I don’t do this. It feels like you’re always saying NO to the client and isn’t that bad customer service?

Setting limitations is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s healthy for the project and your relationship with the client.

  1. Both of you know upfront what the client is paying you for. No unpleasant surprises down the line.
  2. You get to focus on what you’re really awesome at: your service! If you’re an interior designer, you can’t be sidetracked by cleaning. 
 

3. Project timeline

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Ah, we’ve come to another part of the project where there is often so much misunderstanding. 

(BTW, I’m sorry if I sound jaded and negative. I’m just speaking out of experience at my work and business — the timeline is always a hot topic.) 

To a client, the project should start as quickly as possible and finish, like, yesterday.  

Sometimes, you can’t blame then. They’re just very very excited for the results. (Which is very encouraging!)

But on other times, their impatience comes from.... 

  1. Not knowing exactly what you do as the freelancer. 
  2. Not knowing how much time certain tasks take.  

So it’s also your job as the freelancer to inform them these things and set REALISTIC expectations. 

How long will the whole project take?

The first important thing to address is the project DURATION. 

Unless your arrangement with the client is on an ongoing basis, you need to have a definite duration for how long the project is going to take.

For example, for your interior design service, you’ve estimated that it would take 2 weeks at the very most.  

For you: This is good because you know how many clients you can book for every month. (4 weeks / 2 weeks = 2 clients)

For the client: This is considerate because the client can make the necessary arrangements. For example, the client won’t be able to cook in her kitchen for 2 weeks, so she can order takeout in advance / not buy so many groceries.

How long will EACH task take?

The next important thing is stating the time allocated for each task. Your client needs to know how long you'll take to do each task listed in the 'Roles and Responsibilities' section.

You may feel like this is unnecessary because you’ve already told the client the duration of this project. Like, what else do I need to tell? 

But like I’ve mentioned before, the client wants everything to be done yesterday. Or better yet, before the last dinosaur on Earth hatched out of its egg. (Random hyperbole)

This is because the freelancer hasn’t informed them how long things actually take.  

For example, your client for your interior design service may feel like: 

Why can’t she just come over to my house after signing the contract and start on my kitchen? 2 weeks is too long! This should just take, like, a weekend to finish.

But in actuality, you need at least 2 days to research kitchen styles properly, 1 day to come up with design drafts, and so on and so forth.

When you let them know how much time certain tasks take, they’ll appreciate the creative process so much more. And as a result, they’ll appreciate what they're going to get from you so much more.

Putting it all together for a Project Timeline...

The last thing to do under this part is setting up a Project Timeline. The Project Timeline is a a start-to-finish look at what’s going to happen in the project.

Starting from Day 1, you combine the responsibilities (yours and the client’s) with the days allocated for each ‘task’. I have two ways you can visualize this timeline: 

1) USING A TABLE

Timeline Task
Day 1 Go over the questionnaire for ideal kitchen together to finalize the vision
Day 2 - 3 Develop 3 design options for the kitchen by researching and outlining layout
Day 4 Present 3 design options to the client for consideration and request client to make final choice
Day 5 Send client a 3D look of the kitchen based on design chosen, for approval

...and continue this till the end of your project!

2) USING A FLOWCHART

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You can use Google Drawing or Lucidchart to make nice flowcharts! I used Lucidchart for the flowchart above.

Any option you choose, make sure the Project Timeline can be easily understood by the client!

 

4. Payment methods

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Freelancers need money. Freelancers need to get paid. But you’d be surprised at how reluctant most freelancers can be to include this in their discussions with the client. 

This is what your contract can do for you: Ensure you get paid by the client.

It does this by....

  1. Informing the client WHEN you should be paid. 
  2. Informing the client HOW you should be paid. 

Let’s take a look at it one-by-one.

When and how often can you say "ka-ching"?

You can inform the client WHEN you should be paid by creating a PAYMENT SCHEDULE. A Payment Schedule is a timetable for payment. Here's what it looks like:

Event Payment
Upon signing of the contract 10% of the total Fee = RM100.00
Upon sending of the 3D image of the kitchen 20% of the total Fee = RM200.00
Upon confirmation of order with kitchen cabinet/furniture supplier 50% of total Fee = RM500.00
Upon confirmation that work is completed 20% of total Fee = RM200.00
TOTAL RM1,000.00

(Yes, this is what I use even at work)

The first thing to do for your payment schedule is to decide how often you get paid... 

  • Payment in lump sum or instalments? 
  • Upfront or at the end of project? 
  • Deposit or no deposit? 
  • How many instalments? 

Look at your own needs as a freelancer and decide the frequency of payments accordingly.

The most prudent practice is always to take a deposit at the start of the project, especially if your project duration is long. It’ll let you know how interested the client is in the project and lets you have some extra cash to buy your supplies. Also, if by the end of the project the client disappears, at least you’ve gotten some payment. Better than nothing.

So, assuming you’re taking a deposit and want your client to pay by instalments, it’s time to figure out what events in the Payment Schedule will trigger payments.

OK, let’s go over that again.  Events in the Payment Schedule will trigger payments.

For example, when I send my client the 3D image of the kitchen based on the design they had chosen, the client will pay me 20% of the total fee. The trigger here is the “send 3D image”.

Both you and the client must be totally onboard with this. Payment is a sensitive issue so there’s no room for miscommunication. 

Soooo... That’s why the next step is really important: The trigger events in your Payment Schedule must match the Project Timeline.

Meaning, if the event is not one of the tasks in the Project Timeline, then it has NO business being on the Payment Schedule. Cuz if it’s not in the Project Timeline, the client will be confused about when they’re expected to make payment.  

Like — if the client didn’t know that you’d be sending her a first draft, she wouldn’t have set aside money for payment. Right?

Even if you have a payment schedule, make sure you officially remind your client to pay by sending them invoices after the relevant ‘triggers’.

So go through your Project Timeline and make sure it links to your Payment Schedule.

Do you accept vegetables as payment?

The second thing to do is to decide HOW you want to get paid.

Trust me when I say that you can’t take this for granted. What do you accept as payment?

  • Cash?  
  • Attention / credits / publicity / exposure?
  • Vegetables?
  • Love and affection?

Even if you’re doing the project for FREE, or even if you’re doing it on a barter basis — SPELL IT OUT.  

I took this part for granted, TWICE. Both times, I did the work in exchange for exposure. You know how it goes, do work for someone famous, get mentioned on social media, gain some followers. Simple, right? 

Both times, I made the mistake of NOT requesting/specifying the kind of exposure that I’d like. I just assumed that the other person would know what to do and all will be well. 

What I should have spelled out were these things: 

  • The social media platform(s) that I wanted exposure on
  • The description (or even photos) I wanted to be mentioned with
  • How many times I’d be mentioned
  • When I’d be mentioned (specific dates!)
  • All my social media accounts that I should be tagged with

Because I didn’t spell out all these things, the end result was that my work was undercompensated. 

It’s such a sucky feeling you know. I know I should be grateful for the opportunities to work with those people and not ‘demand’ the exposure, but I wasn’t doing those projects for fun. I wasn’t busting my ass for fun. I provided value. And exposure > More clients.  

So don’t be like me. Negotiate for what you want in return for your services, and then put it in writing. 

Remember, a good client will want to be fair. They’ll want to provide value to you in exchange for your service. So if your potential client refuses to discuss this part or brushes you off, you know it’s a red flag.

 

OK, let's recap a bit...

You can put any T&C in your DIY contract, but the FOUR contract must-haves above are the ones that MUST be in your contract.

  1. Roles & responsibilities - what you & your client are supposed to do.
  2. Scope & limitations - what IS & ISN'T covered by your services.
  3. Project timeline - the deadlines for your project.
  4. Payment method - how & when you're gonna get paid.

If you have other T&Cs that are more specific to your industry/services -- please put 'em in! Create new 'headings' if you have to.

 

How to start DIY-ing your freelancer contract

Now that you already know roughly what a contract is for and what you have to put in them, it's time to start DIY-ing your own. This part is straightforward!

Firstly, I recommend that you brainstorm and jot down everything that you can about your project. Don't limit yourself to only the four contract must-haves.

  • If you have a 'standard' process for your services that won't be changed from client to client: jot down every step that you usually take for your previous clients.
  • If this is your first time as a freelancer or if your contract is more personalized: refer to standard practices in your industry or your meeting notes with your client.

Secondly, separate what you've brainstormed into headings.

  • For T&C that fit under the four contract must-haves: Put them under 'Roles & Responsibilities', 'Scope & Limitations', 'Project Timeline' and 'Payment Methods' respectively.
  • For T&C that don't fit: See if you could group them into bigger categories. Those categories will be your new headings. For example, if you provide maintenance and support, you could have a heading called 'Maintenance & Support'.

Thirdly, decide what format you want your contract to be in.

  • WhatsApp: Not recommended. Too casual and has limited space/formatting.
  • Email: Recommended for contracts that are 'standard', where there's not much personalization. Your client can just reply that they agree to the T&Cs and you're done!
  • Google Doc: Recommended for most situations, including 'standard' contracts.

The reason why I highly recommend Google Doc is because your client can view, edit and comment on the contract before it gets finalized! You just need to send a link to the contract to the client for them to check out.

I've prepared a sample of the contract for you in Google Doc to use if you want. Feel free to copy it into your own Google Doc and personalize according to your project!

Fourthly, the contract has to be agreed upon by you and the client.

Notice that I haven't said anything about 'signing' the contract yet? Just like when you buy things online, your actual signature isn't actually required for the contract to take effect.

When you happily click on those ‘Pay Now’ buttons, you’re basically showing that you agree to the T&Cs through your actions.

That's why it's enough if you can have your client reply to your email I agree to the Terms & Conditions in your email below. Or any kind of wording that shows they agree to the contract.

BUT -- if it's not inconvenient for you to print out your contract and sign it with your client, DO IT! Not only is it the best practice, you can also go through the contract one more time with your client. This builds trust.

 

Can you enforce your DIY contract in court?

The answer depends on a lot of factors, but generally, your DIY contract can be the basis for you to bring your claim against your client in court. Specifically, the small claims court.

Under this small claims court, you can sue your client (or any other party) if your claim is LESS than RM5,000. So for example, if the client was supposed to pay you RM4,900, but failed to do so, your case will be heard by the small claims court. For a more lengthy explanation on the process, check out Syahredzan Johan's article.

You won't be allowed to hire a lawyer to represent you (which means no legal fees), but don't worry -- the judge will guide you on what to do.

Please note that I said you can definitely sue, but WINNING your case isn't 100% guaranteed, even if you have a contract (DIY or not). It all depends on the facts in your situation.

 

Is that it? Can I start using the DIY contract now in my freelancing business?

Yes, you can!

Like I’ve said before, a contract is 90% business and 10% legal.  As long as you have a clear picture of what you’re doing as the freelancer and what you want out of your project, your contract will follow naturally.

Just like marketing and bookkeeping parts of your business, the legal-ish part of your business needs to be taken care of too.

What’s the most important T&C that you want to incorporate in YOUR DIY contract? 

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Juggling Work With Passion: Leaving Work at 6 PM Sharp

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For the past few months, I’ve had trouble leaving work early. My hours are 9-6, and I used to be able to hop merrily home 6 on the dot, but now it’s usually 9-7 or 9-8. And on very stressful days, 9-9. Add another 80 minutes of commute time on top of that and you have a zombie Aina.

I have friends who keep much more frightening hours (9-11 whaaaat?) and I’m still demoralized by the fact that I had to leave work late. I can’t imagine how my friends feel.

But because the month of November has been a super special kind of hell, I was forced to reconsider how I work and when I should send in my resignation letter (Just kidding! Or maybe not...) Here are my thoughts on work:

 

1) It’s hard to juggle work and passion when you feel like you need to prioritize work.

It’s work that pays my bills. It’s work that pays Narrativity’s bills. (Running this blog has some overhead!)

I wish I could care less about work, like I can shrug it off by 6 pm, but it’s not possible. Narrativity may make me happy, but work has the potential to make my life absolutely stinking miserable (if I neglect it). So when it’s like that, it’s hard to not to feel like I should prioritize work more.

For example: Sudden strike of inspiration, feeling like I want to stay up until 3-4 am to write and design and etc.

  • Inspired me: Yes! Let’s do this all night long!
  • Work me: Don’t be crazy (aka stupid). Sleep now or you won’t meet your deadlines tomorrow.

It’s hard to know which voice to listen to, you know? Of course I want to focus on Narrativity, because it's really my passion.

BUT, I owe it to my job to give it my best. My employers pay me a salary every month. (Narrativity pays me nowhere enough. Yet.)

So when I’m thinking like this, it’s hard to pack up my stuff when the clock turns 6. I keep seeing the things in my in-tray and I’m thinking:

If I don’t do this today, I’m gonna rush like crazy tomorrow. Let’s do just a little bit more so that tomorrow is less hellish. I’ll go back an hour, two hours later so that I can get this done. It’s just one/two hours.

But guess what? IT’S THE SAME THING THE NEXT DAY. Which brings me to my next point...

 

2) Work never ends and you can count on this fact.

Most of my colleagues have been at the company I work at for years. So when they see me still at my desk at 6:

Them: Aina, kenapa tak balik lagi?

Me: Ada banyak lagi tak siap nanti esok rushing.

Them: Balik la Aina. Nak tunggu kerja habis, memang takkan habis.

I used to think, easy for you to say! You’re not the one feeling MY stress! (Then I start getting bitter about the amount of work I’m getting...)

But you know what, they’re RIGHT and I’m WRONG. Work never ends.

If it does end, then I won’t have a job anymore because I won’t be doing anything. I have a job BECAUSE there’s work to do. Count on the fact that work never ends. Yes, there will be busy seasons and chill seasons — but again, work never ends. There’s ALWAYS something you can do at work. (Or there’s always something your boss will tell you to do)

So in that case — what am I waiting for?

  • WHY am I putting my life, my passion on hold for the day when there’s no work to do?
  • WHY am I postponing things that will make me feel fulfilled for the time when my tray is empty?
  • WHY THE HECK do I put in 1-2 extra hours when I could use those extra hours to work on my passion? I can’t even claim overtime!

It’s like those cartoons when the character is trying to empty a boat full of holes in the middle of the sea but the water just keeps pouring in. Work will just keep pouring in. It’s you who has to plug the holes and go on to live your life.

 

3) Work doesn’t need more time, work needs better strategies.

A big part of my motivation to do overtime is I hate getting phone calls from colleagues chasing deadlines.

  • “Aina, bila boleh dapat ... eh?”
  • “Aina, saya punya ... dah siap?”
  • “Aina, nak tanya pasal ...”
  • “Aina, next meeting ... haribulan tau, kena siap before that tau”

I can’t even go to the pantry without bumping into one of the deadline-chasers. I started feeling more and more harrassed that I willingly put in overtime just so that I could give them what they want and stop feeling harrassed. But that’s not solving the REAL problem.

There will always be urgent work. The next urgent thing. I can’t control that. What I can control is how I manage the urgent work. Here's some of the skills that I plan to build up so that it's not so nightmarish:

A) Negotiate for more reasonable deadlines and expectations. Not every deadline people give or ask for is set in stone. There's room for negotiation, if you ask.

B) Priorize deadlines according to actual importance. Not everything is urgent, despite all those 'URGENT' sticky notes.

C) Shrug off the frustration fast eventhough people are rude and things keep going wrong. I can't control other people, I can't control how things have happened. I can only control my blood pressure.

D) Stand up for yourself and take initiative to improve processes to make it more convenient for YOU. No matter how junior you are, if you have ideas on how things can be improved at your workplace, execute those ideas. Start with yourself, then start proposing them to other people.

I used to be one of those people that won't read on career tips. I'll be like, nahh. I don't plan to work at a company for too long. I want my own business!

But if I'm gonna be spending a lot of time at work anyway, and I'm constantly getting stress-related health problems, I have to make this thing work. I'm still no corporate lady, but it's getting a tiny bit more bearable.

 

4) Commit one small act of rebellion every day.

When it’s JUST work, the days blend together. I was trying to list down my weekly expenses the other day and I got confused about what I did or ate. It's like every day is the same shitty day. LOL.

And it's such a shame when this happens. I want my days to count, but they're all one big mushy pile of blahblahblah. Tedium. Routine.

That's what I think it's so important to rebel against the routine every day. Even if you do it on a small scale.

For me, my small act of rebellion is bringing my laptop to work and working on my e-guide for one hour before work starts. (From 7.30-8.30 am)

The difference that hour makes is amazing. It's just one hour, but it helps me feel like the day is already great. Whenever a problem crops up, my mind goes, NOT TODAAAAY, [expletive].

And I manage to get over that problem quickly instead of marinating in the stress. Because I'm a REBEL!

If you're like me and you've been feeling grey and blahblahblah, I encourage you to rebel. Create something eventhough it sucks. Plan for that Youtube video you've been wanting to film. Outline your blog post. Post your artwork on Instagram.

You have more than just work, you have your passion with you!

 

How do you juggle between work and passion? Agree/disagree on anything I wrote? Leave a comment below. You know I'd love to hear from you.

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For The Peeps Who Feel Like They've Been Wasting Too Much Time

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I started this year with good intentions. 2017 is my year! I'm gonna make it my best year yet. I'm gonna write all my goals nicely on a piece of paper, paste it on the wall and ACE THEM.

It's now August, the 8th month of the year, and I'm nowhere near achieving my goals.

And I feel depressed. With just 4 months left, I don't think 2017 will be my year. You know?

It's funny how a year used to feel forever to me, back in high school. Now that I'm working, it's SCARY how many days and months pass by without me really fully waking up.

And despite not wanting to, I've been living only for the weekends.

When you live only for the weekends, you keep wishing for time to pass faster during the week. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday... You feel like you want to skip them all.

I hate feeling like that. I hate feeling like I could only feel good or happy 8 days in a month.

And I also hate myself for not using my time to build something great for my future, you know? I know I'm supposed to DO more, but all I could manage is distract myself with entertainment. Youtube, Instagram, Facebook, streaming movies online... It's like my head is filled with other people's stories but I'm not writing MY story.

So that's why if you're struggling like me, I wanted to drop by and say it's OK.

It's OK to be disappointed and angry at yourself for squandering your limited time. You expected more of yourself.

It's OK to look back and feel ashamed at how you've been spending your time. You ruined your carefully made plans.

It's OK to be sad and envious when you look at other people's achievements. You feel left behind and insignificant where you're at now.

Wanna know why it's OK to feel all these negative emotions?

Because they're already there. Acknowledge them. Feel them. All the things you do to distract yourself are because you didn't want to feel these emotions.

If you don't confront these emotions, they're going to pile up. You'll feel heavier and gloomier until you lose hope.

Here's the thing, friend. You may not be able to achieve your goals this year. You may not be able to transform your life completely by the end of 2017. Life can't be compressed into a 2-hour movie. But keep your dreams alive.

It's easier to give up than to keep having all these negative emotions. If you gave up, you'd never have to feel disappointed in yourself again. But your dreams are worth it, aren't they?

The journey is worth it, right?

Baby steps. Baby steps.

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A Day In The Life: How I Juggle My Job & Blog

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Before I begin, I wanna start off by giving you a little background info about, well, me!

I'm a 25 year old who works as a legal executive at a company in the financial services sector (like a bank), located in KL. I live in Shah Alam, so I commute to work by taking the KTM.

I live with my parents and little brother. Another brother is in Japan, doing his degree. (Side note: It's my lifelong dream to travel to Japan) 

A perfect day out for me is watching a really epic sci-fi or fantasy movie at the cinema (and all the trailers because I love trailers) and then reading a book at a cafe somewhere while eating dessert. I love getting lost in stories. I don't know why I'm telling you this particular fact... But maybe I should a take a day to do this. It's been a while.

Anyway, what I wanted to talk about in this post is juggling a job with a business, a blog, or a passion.

All jobs are stressful in their own ways. There's no escaping stress. But I'm sure a lot of people think, even for just a minute, about how good it would feel to be their own boss and run their own business. Selling or doing something they really LOVE.

Most times the main motivation is not even money. The true goal is getting the freedom to do what you want, when you want.

I'm no stranger to that. I want to be my own boss too. So what I'm doing now is juggling my job with my blog by dedicating time to both. This way, I don't have to sacrifice my dreams for financial stability.

So I came up with a routine to make the best of my limited time. I know I'm not the first to do it, nor is my routine unique. But I'd thought it'd be nice to share it with you. I'm gonna share in the context of my blog, but you can definitely apply it to your business or passion. 🙂

 

My routine changes up depending on what 'season' I'm in: ON or OFF.

What my 'On' Season looks like

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My ON seasons are basically days when I feel extremely -- extremely -- motivated to work on my blog. It's those days when physical and mental exhaustion don't affect my motivation to just DO. 

Someone pissed me off at work? Psshhh, who cares. I'm just brimming with ideas.  

Here's a breakdown of what my ON day looks like: 

  • 6.30 am - Wake up & get ready for work
  • 7.35 am - Leave house to go to the KTM station
  • 7.55 am - Browse my favourite websites while waiting for KTM
  • 8.05 am - Get on KTM and write (if I get a seat or manage to lean on a wall). If I have to hang on to the handheld thingy for dear life, I just read blog posts or ebooks on business
  • 9.00 am - Work
  • 1.00 pm - Write on my phone, office computer or notebook*
  • 2.00 pm - Work
  • 7.00 pm - Wait for KTM and write on my phone
  • 7.15 pm - Get on KTM and write again (see 8.05 am)
  • 8.05 pm - Drive home and discuss certain blog post / newsletter points with myself out loud**
  • 8.20 pm - Reach home and rest, and spend time with family
  • 10.30 pm - Cross off tasks on my to-do list that require a computer (e.g. Designing blog post headers, formatting blog post). If I finish early, I spend more time with family
  • 12.30 am - Sleep

As is normal with any office slave (haha), I only have short windows of time during the day. So I try to do the bulk of my writing during those short windows. My brain is fried by the time I get home, so, yeah.

* To save time, I buy 2 packs of the same food for breakfast AND lunch. Or I'll eat lunch that my mum has packed for me. (Thanks Mama!) This saves about 15-30 minutes that I would have spent if I went out to buy food.

** Yes, I talk to myself a lot. Rather than get the hated writer's block in front of the laptop, I discuss the points out loud as if I'm talking to a friend. It helps me clarify my thoughts and write more naturally. (I explained more about it here)

 

What my 'off' Season looks like 

OFF days are days when life doesn't feel so good. I may have woken up late, my stomach may be hurting, work may be extra stressful, or I'm just generally BLERH.

On these kind of days, my principle is to not force it. I won't beat myself up for 'not being productive'. After all, tomorrow's a new day. It's OK to take it easy today. :) 

Here's what it looks like:

  • 6.50 am - Wake up & get ready for work (Yes, I know how late that is)
  • 7.35 am - Leave house to go to the KTM station
  • 7.55 am - Browse my favourite websites while waiting for KTM
  • 8.05 am - Get on KTM and SLEEP (if I get a seat). If not, I cry internally and browse Reddit on my phone
  • 9.00 am - Work
  • 1.00 pm - Buy food at the cafeteria and watch Netflix (digging the Outlander series right now)
  • 2.00 pm - Work
  • 7.00 pm - Wait for KTM and browse Internet
  • 7.15 pm - Get on KTM and SLEEP. If not too tired, I watch Youtube or read fiction
  • 8.05 pm - Drive home while karaoke-ing my favourite songs
  • 8.20 pm - Reach home and rest, and spend time with family
  • 10.30 pm - Watch Youtube
  • 11.30 pm - Sleep
 

How to juggle without going crazy

It's easy to burn yourself out by juggling if you're not careful. And burning out means you'll dread your job and dread your blog / business / passion. Here's 4 tips to keep in mind to prevent burn out:

1. It's normal to have ON and OFF days.

I used to think that I had to be productive every single day. Or HUSTLE, as they say.

But mentally, I'm not equipped to be ON every day, and I shouldn't! Getting that mental rest on OFF days allows me to make my ON days more productive. And I don't sacrifice my job performance too. 

Despite sticking to this lax and unpredictable schedule (sometimes I think I'm getting too much sleep) , I've managed to cross off a few things on my list:

My results are just peanuts compared to other bloggers. But I'm proud of them because I didn't sacrifice family time, my job and my hobbies. 

Don't feel too bad if you find yourself relaxing after a long day instead of tending to your business or blog. That's your OFF day. Enjoy it guilt-free, and then be productive the next day!

You might want to experiment to see what combo of ON and OFF days works best for you.  

  • Maybe like me, you can alternate 1 day ON and 1 day OFF. E.g. Monday is ON, but Tuesday is OFF. 
  • 1 day ON and 2 days OFF
  • 2 days ON and 1 day OFF
  • Or even 1 day ON and 6 days OFF (meaning you only do stuff 1x a week)

 It's the quality, not the quantity (yeah yeah, cliche). 

2. Focus on doing, not learning.

OK, this is the kind of tip that goes AGAINST what a lot of people are saying.

The usual advice is:  

Learn as much as you can.  

What I'm advising is: 

Do as much as you can. (And learn) 

Too much learning can be a bad thing. I can read cookbooks, watch MasterChef and Youtube videos on cooking (Buzzfeed's Tasty mostly)... But is that enough to make me an expert on cooking?

 I may 'know' about cooking, but I won't be an 'expert' on cooking. Experts are doers. They don't just observe.

So if you're passionate about something, be it cooking, fitness, make up, nothing beats getting your hands dirty.

You have limited time. Use that time to pick up that brush / pen / spatula / chosen tool and you'll find yourself satisfied with your progress. 

3. Make a short to-do list instead of a long one.

How many tasks do you usually put on your to-do list?  (Not chores, but stuff related to your blog / business / passion)

I sometimes go way overboard and list up to 10 things daily that I just supposedly HAVE to do. 

  1. Write new blog post on blog post promotion. 
  2. Outline Friday's newsletter. 
  3. Fix typos in email course.
  4. Make new sign up form. 
  5. Design header for newsletter. 
  6. ... 

You get the picture. 

And at the end of each night, when I'm so ready to pass out, I'll HATE myself for not completing all the tasks. Not to mention the-morning-after regret too. 

It's such a toxic, icky cycle where I constantly feel bad and guilty. 

My CURRENT daily to-do lists have a maximum of ONE task on them.

One task that has the most impact to my blog and business. It's something that'll allow me to say, "At least I've done X today so I'm satisfied."

This cuts down so much UNNECESSARY tasks that you give to yourself. When you have limited time and energy, ask yourself-

What is the most important and meaningful task for my blog / passion / business? 

And then do that task. I swear you'll feel more relaxed. 

4. Practice doing stuff in less than ideal conditions. (AKA, the perfect setup is NOT a necessity) 

Writing on my phone is really... annoying. It's not as nice as writing on a laptop, or an iMac. (Oh, one can only dream...)

But if I wait until I reach home to write on my laptop, I'm never gonna get much practice.

If you wait for your surroundings to be perfect before you start practicing, you won't get much practice. And the less practice you get, the slower you'll become an expert.

Investing in quality tools or making your surroundings picture-perfect is good. But in the end, your skill is IN YOU. Not in the tools or surroundings.

So if you only have a hand-mixer instead of the Kitchen-Aid mixer, it's OK. Do what you can with what you have. Your skills will still be sharpened! 😉

 

 

So that's how I juggle. My routine's not perfect, and there are times when I have more OFF days than ON days. But I'll keep juggling. I know that if I stick to it and focus on the right things, I'll get my freedom soon enough.

What's your juggling routine? Leave a comment down below!

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From Loser to Hero: The Underdog Brand

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We've all seen it before....(in the movies)....

A regular Joe / Siti / Abu....who suddenly wakes up and wants to do/has to do something *extra* in his/her life....

Along the way, Joe / Siti / Abu meets many challenges, many naysayers....plenty of cringe-y/heartbreaking moments....with only himself/herself (and usually max of 2 good friends) to support their efforts....

Joe / Siti / Abu achieves something good....BUT DID HE/SHE?....

Something awful happens and Joe / Siti / Abu nearly gives up hope....but someone somewhere says something wise....so Joe / Siti / Abu pushes through....and finally, FINALLY, succeeds.

Joe / Siti / Abu ends the movie with a smile.

 

It's the most common plot used by writers and screenwriters all 'round the world: The Hero's Journey.

LOTR. Harry Potter. Charlie & The Chocolate Factory. (I like the chocolates in that movie)

All using the same plot -- the underdog triumphs.

I want to ask you something. Have you ever wanted to do some cool project, but you DON'T want to show it to people until it's ready and awesome?

I do that all the time.

I used to fantasize about the day when I'd *suddenly* show up at a high school reunion and look all fit and strong and accidentally do some totally casual parkour.

And my old classmates will be like, "WHOA AINA!! You're so cool and strong!!!"

BASICALLY, I didn't want to tell people I've been working out. I wanted to do everything secretly and one day have a BIG reveal.

Like, Tada!!! *cue jaw drops by the audience*

It's so satisfying to fantasize about that big reveal isn't it? Skip all the cringe-y, pathetic parts and go straight to the happy ending.

 

Don't go straight to the happy ending.

But if Joe/Siti/Abu had skipped those unpleasant parts, would there have been a movie? Would anyone leave the cinema feeling inspired? Would anyone say that the movie inspired them to change?

No.

There's a reason why the Hero's Journey is the most commonly used plot.

People root for the underdog. People relate to the unpleasant parts. Without those unpleasant parts, the movie couldn't touch people's hearts. No one will say, "If he can do it, I can too!".

OK, lemme give you an example. Lisa wants to be a watercolour artist.

Lisa just wants to practice painting secretly and only wants to start posting her paintings on Instagram when she feels that they are "up to her standards".

But the problem is, progress takes time. Should Lisa just stay quiet until she's finally to ready for the big reveal?

Shouldn't Lisa share her underdog journey?

For YOUR brand, do not wait until you're perfect before you start sharing your journey.

  • Don't wait until your cake looks perfect.
  • Don't wait until your singing sounds perfect.
  • Don't wait until people say your painting is perfect.

Share now. Share even if you feel that whatever you've created is pathetic.

You may think that you're just another regular person wanting to do something extra, but you don't know who's watching your efforts.

Your perseverance will get you to that happy ending AND inspire someone else to pick up the brush (or some other instrument).

And when you have a brand that's inspiring and makes people feel good, it will ALWAYS be relevant. Just like the Hero's Journey is always relevant.

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