Probably the biggest challenge to being self-employed is self-management, especially when it comes to time. The harried housewife understands this problem quite well. I am here to tell you that you can learn a lot from many of the household management techniques for housewives, as well as other techniques to put your brain in the “work” frame of mind.
It’s a non-trivial problem. When you work from home, you’re moving from a situation where you’re leaving the office worries at the office and merging your work and home lives. One of my self-employed friends commented to me when I started that she didn’t think there was a single day when she did not work. She wasn’t saying it as a lament, but merely a comment. She understands well the importance of recreation and living purposefully. On sunny summer days, she gets up early and works hard so she can “play hookey” and go splash in the river all afternoon. But for those of us who get sucked into things or worse, have procrastination problems, learning some formal time management skills is essential.
One of the dangers, especially if you love your work, is that you’ll neglect other parts of your life for it. Having a passion for what you do is great. I encourage it. But that same passion should be applied to your family, your friends, your loved ones. People are important. Don’t let your family only interact with you with your face bathed in the light of a computer screen.
None of these things are magic money-making machines. But what they are is good self-care that will get you geared up to take the day seriously. Do not underestimate good self-care when it comes to motivating yourself.
Routine is also important. Not necessarily that there needs to be a daily grind. In fact, if you want to work for yourself, chances are good that a daily grind is about on the level of your “want list” as bad breath and excessive toe hair. But routine? You want to make habit work for you rather than against you, so you’re going to want to be very, very sure that you’ve established habits that will help you.
I joke a great deal that I’m a bum, that I don’t have a job, things like that. The thing is, while that’s a fun joke to make, you really do have to work and work pretty hard to make a living without a job. It’s just that it’s more fun to me than working in an office, so it feels like play in some ways.
“Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” – Benjamin Franklin
Remember me talking about working on the balcony as the sun rises over the ocean. Clearly, I am a morning person if I’m enjoying a sunrise on vacation! I’m not going to tell you that you need to be up before the sun just because that’s what I do. The advantage of early rising isn’t actually the point. It’s a proxy for other behaviors that accompany the apparent success of the early bird.
Being an early bird isn’t always an advantage. My father, from whom I inherited my morning tendencies, is usually in his office before most people are rolling out of bed. Most of his clients, however, are about three time zones to the west and are not morning people themselves. His day is almost done before they even hit the office. They often want to discuss matters with him many hours after he’s put in a good, solid working day. He has to structure his day to accommodate this or all he does is work.
The so-called early bird advantages are really a set of behaviors that are simply things we see more often in the early riser. The early bird tends to be notorious for three things: working out, eating breakfast, and getting dressed and ready for the day right away. These behaviors are indeed behaviors that encourage success. If you’re a night owl and one of the attractions of being self-employed is that you don’t need to be up before ten, more power to you. But even so, if you do not get up and hit the day like an early bird would, this program won’t work. Be your rising time “oh dark thirty” or “Oh yeah, it’s nearly noon”, make it consistent and have a start the day routine!
I’m not talking about becoming an athlete here. Screw getting skinny or any of that vain nonsense. It’s not what I mean. I mean, get up and get the blood pumping to your brain within fifteen or twenty minutes of getting up.
I didn’t used to believe this was a big deal. But, in the past two years, I’ve noticed a link between being willing to work out early in the morning and how many contracts I get. I’m not talking about working out so hard that you hurt yourself or throw up. None of that crap. I just mean that you need to get red in the face and breathe hard for half an hour every morning. No biggie. Whatever it takes to do that is your call. Fitness levels vary. My father, who also works from home, uses an exercise bike. I swim. I know people who like to take a walk, run or swing a sledgehammer. It doesn’t matter what, so much as it is that you do.
Regular moderate exercise has several qualities that make it good for the home-based worker. It’s a mood enhancer, first and foremost. To make being self-employed work, you do have to have the sort of d’Artagnan quality of charging into a challenge with a merry jest and your sword swinging. But that attitude can be hard to keep up after weeks of no contracts, or a difficult client! Exercise is great for the attitude adjustment.
Regular exercise keeps your energy levels up and regulates your sleep. You do want something that’s going to ensure that you conk out hard each night, as getting used to the ups and downs of being self-employed can be hell on someone prone to wake at night and worry. You want to be tired and sleep at night!
I was going to claim the next as anecdotal evidence, that exercise improves cognitive function, but it turns out that there have been real, peer-reviewed scientific studies that back this up. Regular moderate exercise helps you think better. For those of you whose office is your laptop, you’re probably selling THINK. Make sure you can brane good.
For those of you who go to the gym to work out, it also provides a certain necessary level of human contact. Yes, even the crankiest of introverts does need human contact. Yes, I’m going to dedicate a passage to dealing with isolation, don’t worry!
Let’s face it, if you’re working from home, chances are good that your job is both sedentary and solitary. It’s not unusual to pack on a few pounds when you start working at home, what with the nearness to the fridge and the lack of communal reference to what you’re doing. Of considerably greater importance, it’s also not unusual to find your physical fitness taking a nosedive. I’ll use myself as an example. I used to take the bus to my office job, ensuring about a mile walk total every day. I also was an administrative assistant on a college campus. That meant I walked to run errands pretty frequently. I also worked on the third floor of a building with no elevators. Those three factors forced a certain amount of activity that went bye-bye in favor of a maximum of a twenty foot walk to my computer.
What’s worse is that if you have the temperament at all to work for yourself, you’re going to find that you’ll lack the self-discipline to stop yourself from working a series of twelve hour days until you drive yourself a little nuts. If you’re a knowledge worker, this means you’ll be sitting on your butt quite often. For myself, I lived forty years without once having a backache. I had my first some fifteen months into being self-employed after a series of twelve-hour days and eschewing exercise and instead whimpering about working too hard. Don’t do that to yourself. Get some exercise.
Yeah, yeah, I know. You’re a special snowflake that doesn’t eat in the mornings because of your delicate widdle system. Have a damn banana after your workout and be done with it. You will notice a positive difference if you try this. I’m not saying you need something fancy here. Though, if you’re working out of the home, you might be like me and want to whip up a veggie-stuffed omelet or a bowl of really good pinhead oats. But don’t try to work on an empty stomach. You’ve been fasting for nine or so hours and you need fuel to concentrate on your work.
Besides which, if you worked out first, you’re probably going to be hungry.
I’m not going to lecture about specifics of diet. If you’re over 15, you’ve probably got a decent idea of how to eat to maximize your own mental and physical potential. So, do that. You’re a grown-up, so you can handle it. If you eat or drink stuff that breaks your think, you’ve only got yourself to blame.
I personally, take it a step further and prepare a cute little lunch in a Japanese box (called a bento) for my lunch break, so that I am ensured at least two moderately healthy meals a day. It actually does wind up helping concentration.
Some work from home franchises require that you get dressed as if you’re going to an office – right down to your shoes. It really can help you take your work seriously, and can be a sign to you that it’s work time! If this sounds like FlyLady, it’s because that’s where I first encountered the concept. You can’t get more into self-management than being a housewife!
For your own business, it’s a good idea to set a dress code for yourself. No, I’m serious. It doesn’t have to be a suit and tie, though there are those who are successfully self-employed who do exactly that! What you need is to set some standards for your office hours. I know of an artist who puts on a smock when it’s time for work. Yes, it’s an old dress shirt with a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon painted on the back, but it’s his professional garb and means it’s work time. These cues really do help.
Figart Consulting’s dress code is as follows: Clothes must be clean and neat with no holes. Ratty sweats are not acceptable, clean ones are okay. Hair must be brushed (I have quite a mane), but makeup is optional when not out at a meeting. Figart Consulting considers shoes optional, but since the main offices are in Northern New England, slippers are often worn.
I know it sounds goofy to speak of a one-man shop in terms of company policy, but it does help get you in the mindset of thinking appropriately about these issues. I’m not gonna claim I’ve never worked in my underwear or jammies or whatever. I have sometimes. For me, I use it as a motivational technique, rather like Casual Friday or a way to break a temptation to procrastinate. “If you get right on this, you can work in your jammies in bed today!” But it’s not a habit, nor should it be. You need to take work time seriously.
This is a problem I still work on. I love what I do and get sucked in. But, I’d hate to blink and find out I don’t know my family, you know?
 At least, the words flow better when I’ve had a good swim that morning. Hence the anecdotal bit.
 This may be a slight bias due to my chosen cardio. I swim. Swimmers are notoriously starved after a workout. Well-known fact, honest!