Probably like the majority of the population, I've gone from working a 20 hour week as a freelance artist to working an 80+ hour week as everything I had originally done in person had to be adapted to online. Since March of 2020, there has been a great deal of schedule shifting and rearranging in an effort to find a balance that helps me get everything accomplished and enough money coming in while also trying to arrange downtime too.
Two weeks ago my 80+ hour work week brought significant eye strain to me so much so that I was suddenly unable to keep my eyes open as they would shut painfully even if I was still teaching. So I took a week off - mostly off as I still had to teach but not as much. Instead, I taught a few classes with one eye unable to open so I looked a bit ridiculous but still got through my class.
I actually enjoyed a proper weekend and didn't even turn my computer on which felt very strange and rather liberating and something I'd like to repeat in the near future!
The most difficult thing about being a freelance art teacher during a pandemic is that it's expected that I should be able to offer art classes outside of regular office hours so that those people who work Monday to Friday can have a creative experience on an evening or weekend when they have time. It makes perfect sense and before the pandemic, I was able to offer this without much issue as I could then arrange to take time off for myself when my clients were working.
However, this system has failed to work during this pandemic because when everyone else is working Monday to Friday, so am I - preparing online art lessons and online art lectures requires days of work before the actual event which in itself only lasts an hour or two which feels so little compared to the preparation put in previously. I wish for this reason that I could charge my actual fee of £25 per hour per person but the general public can't afford this basic rate which keeps me earning too little and also keeps me relying on government benefits which in turn, keeps me poor. It's an ongoing cycle that makes me feel as though I've nailed my foot to the floor and am going around in circles.
So I've adapted my schedule yet again in an effort to make digital eye strain less of a threat to my work life which means I'm earning less but feel that my eyes come first. I live with the hope that this year will be better than the last and that life may hopefully return to some form of normal for us freelancers so that working online for outrageous hours per week will be a thing of the past - fingers crossed.
I've found a few ways to cope with digital eye strain and so far I'm in less pain than before. If you have any solutions you've come up with then I'd love to hear from you and I hope you find my ideas helpful too:
First is sleep - more of it. Digital eye strain and too many hours staring at a computer screen creates total and utter exhaustion that can get bottled up for weeks and months and years, so the best thing you can do for yourself to start to repair the damage is sleep.
Second is being inventive - finding new ways to do your daily tasks. For instance, I have to produce a lesson plan before anything I teach. I create drawing exercises and games and then I have to try them out to find the best way to present them to my students. Instead of researching online or looking through books as I've done in the past, instead, I brainstorm by talking my way through a visual game and then listen back to my brainstorming about an hour before I teach which helps get me in the mindset of what I'm about to teach - plus it's nice to have a recorded brainstorm session on my phone for future lessons.
Third is audio research - I have to produce art lectures every other week and usually, this requires several days worth of online research plus collecting images for slides. Instead of all this, I installed a programme on my computer that reads text so that I don't have to. It's meant for people with visual impairment and I find it a lifesaver, especially when my eyes simply burn with pain trying to look at a screen too long. Listening to my own notes or kindle books on a topic I'm researching is enormously helpful as I find I'm more engaged in the subject and can then write down my thoughts on paper instead of online. This means I can shorten the time I spend staring at a bright screen.
Fourth is water - remembering to stay hydrated has been the biggest adaption I've made and the one that's been helping the most. When I sit in front of a computer screen for hours a day, time just slips away and before I know it, I've forgotten to eat or drink or move my body. Now I've changed things so that my phone is my timer for getting up and moving my body and eating regular meals and drinking water and getting outside (or at least opening a window!) Such a simple thing can make such a difference!
I'm really looking forward to a year from now and looking back through my blog posts and reading how I was coping during this pandemic as I like the idea that I'll have so much more to value then, that I can't have now. It's a good motivator!
Thank you for reading my blog post today and I hope you're managing to find ways to cope with our crazy online work life. Now I'm getting off the computer because I want to make a delicious meal and listen to my audiobook!