Welcome to the open skies of self-employment. You’ll read an awful lot about organizational tech toys and how to do your taxes, but nothing will help you more in the new life you’ve chosen than learning how to rope yourself into self discipline.
You Are the Boss of You
Freelancing and online work has become cool. There was a time many euphemistically described the ranks of the self-employed as individuals "in between jobs," and now those very same folks have crossed over and are flying solo next to us. So, welcome to the open skies of self-employment. You’ll read an awful lot about organizational tech toys and how to do your taxes, but nothing will help you more in the new life you’ve chosen than learning how to rope yourself into self discipline.
It sounds far easier than it is. Life maintenance tasks like dishes, laundry, grocery store runs and the like are always around. And if those are no temptation — which I must admit, for me they aren’t — napping on cold, grey, rainy days is almost irresistible. Almost.
Fortunately I have effective ways of bossing myself around. To work from home you have to really understand that you are the boss of you. So just like a boss, you have to observe yourself and understand what pushes you to perform and what enables you to waste time. Otherwise, come pay day… wait… payday won’t come. And there in lies the problem.
Lead You Not Into Temptation
Social Media is a great business promotion tool to be used once you’re done doing the actual work that you have in front of you. You know, the work that you get paid for?
Email is much the same. Read work related emails, especially those that require action on your part. Then and only then, set aside time to gab about your best friend’s date last night or to hit play on the YouTube jokes sent your way. We all think it only takes a minute, but it never really does. Have someone else time you and you’ll see what I mean.
Games are even more hypnotic. Forget about serious money-generating productivity once you’ve busted out the Wii.
Television is also a time vacuum. You see, no matter how mighty your powers to focus are, everything about TV is designed to draw you in, so with the TV in the background your attention is in fact divided and your concentration diminished. Everything will take just a little bit longer and your ideas will be just a little bit influenced. Depending on what you do, this last one may or may not bother you. I work with words all day, and I’d prefer they be my own, rather then phrases that creep in through the background when I’m not looking.
Nothing gets your blood moving like a ticking clock. If a literal clock countdown makes you too nervous to function, then try something subtler, like a play list of songs that lasts about the amount of time you’ve set aside for a particular task. A CD, for example, will typically last 50-60 minutes. If you prefer a more Zen approach, light an incense stick as a timer. Do whatever it takes to track time in some other way besides just relying on your sense of what “about an hour” feels like. Racing makes you more aware of time slipping away, which drives you to focus.
You can also get technical and use time-tracking software. For many people just knowing where the time goes is a focus tool. Some people will track manually, but that makes less sense to me. Given the technology available, why waste time on tracking time so you can save time? What a waste of time!
Personally, I don’t track, since I have the opposite problem. For me, getting away from my computer and resting in bursts during long projects is tricky. I like what I do a lot, so I get sucked in completely. My salvation: iCal alarms and time announcements.
I schedule my coffee dates, lunch arrangements, dinner plans, and get-togethers with three alarms for every event. That keeps me aware of how much time I have to get ready and such, it keeps me from forgetting what day it is, and it signals me when it’s time to stop. Plus to make sure I don’t sit for six, eight, ten hours straight, my computer tells me the time every hour on the hour. It’s my Pavlovian signal to stand and get my blood moving.
Make a Useful List
Lists are wonderful for making sure you actually do something with your day. The trick is to make sure what you are doing is useful. It won’t do you much good to write things like “check email,” since you know you will do that anyway. So writing it down is not useful at all. Get enough useless items on your list and you may have the satisfaction of checking off many things, but you won’t have accomplished anything that will get money in the bank.
There you have it: a long version of “know thyself.” It’s also a good idea to check out books and videos on working from home. Train yourself well. We may not control the market fluctuations, banking laws, traffic jams, or the effects of El Niño, but we can learn to control ourselves. So eat well, get your 8 hours of sleep, cheer yourself on — remember, you’re your boss, so it’s up to you to encourage you — and above all, force yourself to understand just how valuable your time is.