Lesley O’Connell recently joined the Groundwork community after moving to South Dartmouth with her family. She impressed us immediately by showing up to the Business Buzz shortly after her first day. Lesley is a writer by trade, and as someone who struggles to work on my own writing between running a business and working for clients, I’m inspired and impressed to read how she’s making her own work a priority.
Read on to see how Lesley stays inspired and manages time and motherhood in this interview:
What’s your profession?
I’m a writer, editor, and content strategist. At the core of it all, I’m a storyteller. Specifically, I write and edit marketing and communications material for clients ranging from higher ed to healthcare. I also do some food and feature writing, and I’m at work on a short story collection and a series of children’s books.
Describe a typical work day for you.
I don’t have a typical day. Last April, I left a full-time job managing an editorial team in higher ed where my days were super-structured, filled with meetings and deadlines. Now I make my own schedule depending on client deadlines and my own time-stamped goals. My work is primarily organized around the two days/week my young son is in child care. The other days, I work when I can: while he naps, early in the morning, or on the weekends. Whatever the schedule may hold for a particular day, I aim to fit in some form of exercise—yoga, barre, or a run—and reading (a mix of industry and writing craft material and fiction) and writing.
What’s the biggest challenge you face at your job?
Going from a full-time job in a fast-paced environment to being self-employed has been a huge transition. I find I’m just as busy, but in different ways. I’ve had to find new ways to work and experiment with different project management tools in order to find a gear that works for me in this iteration of my career. Mostly, the challenge comes from managing my time effectively in order to meet sometimes competing deadlines while sticking to my own writing goals.
Do you have a morning routine?
It depends on the day. Most days, I start by reading the news and then working out. A local 6 a.m. yoga class is my new favorite thing. I leave while my son is still sleeping and my husband’s getting ready for work and I’m back in time to jump in with the morning routine.
What are your favorite productivity tips or hacks?
I write down the three things that I MUST accomplish on a particular day and start with the most difficult task first. I’m a fan of the Pomodoro method, breaking work into short, timed intervals, as well as the principles of David Allen’s Getting Things Done: breaking projects into actionable tasks. Changing locations: I often go to Groundwork for part of the day and work in my home office for another portion. I find that switching things up keeps inspiration and energy flowing. As a way to stay accountable to my writing goals, a writer friend and I exchange a weekly email to update each other on our progress, challenges, wins, and disappointments.
What do you listen to during the day?
I listen to a lot of Spotify and tailor the playlist to the kind of concentration I need. I find that music can be inspiring; in fact, certain lyrics have sparked the beginnings of short stories for me. If I’m working on a writing project for a client that requires a lot of focus, I often go for silence or classical sounds. While I’m driving, I like podcasts or audio books. I recently finished S-Town, and New Yorker Fiction and NPR’s All Songs Considered are perennial favorites.
How do you benefit from using a coworking space?
I love the energy at Groundwork. It feels productive and friendly. After working in my home office, it’s a nice way to change up my environment and be around other working adults.
What’s in your digital toolbox?
I’m a big Google user: mostly docs and sheets. I like Trello and I’m experimenting with that as a project management tool. I use Submittable and a Google sheet to track my short story submissions and plan to add Duotrope to that list. I like Headspace for structured meditation and aspire to use that more. LinkedIn is a great way to stay connected to a network and industry news. I also follow a ton of authors, content strategists, and fundraising professionals on Twitter; it’s such a great source of current info. For hardware, my laptop, phone, and noise-canceling headphones are my essentials. Meanwhile, I still take old-fashioned notes and keep lists (on paper!)!
What is the most surprising or unusual aspect of your life?
After years of fitting my own writing in the spaces life and work allowed, I’m finally able to prioritize it. It’s both exciting and scary to be fortunate enough to devote real time to art.
What inspires you?
Good writing, especially in short stories, novels, and essays. I admire and study masters of the craft, especially those gifted in the use of language. The way my toddler son looks at the world, as though everything is new and fresh. Innovative food. Bright new ideas from brave thinkers.