Work Habits for the Self-employed

December 1, 2014

It's one of our first really cold days (4 measly degrees), and this morning it was hard to shake off thoughts of skipping out on work in favor of curling up on the couch with a heating pad and some leftover pie. When you work at home there's always the temptation to break the deadline you made for yourself. Motivation has been harder than usual for me lately. I'm genuinely excited about what I'm working on-- I've just needed a little help getting into a groove. Austin Kleon wrote this, insisting that there's still a lot of the year left at the beginning of December. I agree. I want to make the most of it. Here are some ideas for refocusing when you're out of a work groove: 
  • Step away from the computer: Computers are really helpful for, say, computing. It's great to write emails and researching things and make spreadsheets. A lot of times I begin my work day by automatically sitting down at my computer when I don't necessarily need it. The computer is full of distractions that will take me down. All of a sudden I have 8 tabs open unrelated to my original search. All of a sudden I'm on Twitter. Or checking email for the 10th time-- and I'm unsure as to what I even set out to do in the first place. Today I was reminded of the importance of a separate analog workspace and a good old fashioned pad of paper and pen. 
  • Organize: My work is a combination of performance projects and writing/web content projects. And then there's the book keeping and promotional and administrative bits. I also have to schedule dental appointments and pay bills and find new health insurance, etc... This hodgepodge of tasks can leave me really scattered. This week I put everything down on paper and grouped similar tasks together: home/family, current work, future work, self care, producing, outreach... It doesn't matter what kind of categories you use, just that they make sense to you. Deadlines and billable work always gets first priority, but I try to scatter other things into a work day, too. 
  • Make space for balance and fun: If you dread your to-do list, you're doing it wrong. There should be some fun stuff on it-- otherwise what's the point of being master of your own schedule? I like to mix in coffee dates so that I'm sure to see other humans. I write this blog because I like to. I take movement/gym breaks and try to cook myself the occasional exciting lunch. I mix my favorite aspects of the job with my least favorite ones, and make sure to surround myself with sources of inspiration. 
  • Move it, move it: Taking movement breaks isn't just about physical fitness or health, it's about mental sanity and optimal brain function. I work better when I go on long walks daily or stretch every hour for a few minutes. It's icy outside, so I rely on classes and the track at the Y for exercise. Movement is also really helpful for warding off SAD. 
There's also a handful of usual work habit suggestions I give clients. They are pretty straight forward, but invaluable for me:
  • Don't work for longer than 90 minutes without a break: Your work will be better!
  • If you are dragging your feet about something, commit to doing it for just 20 minutes: A lot happens in 20 minutes, and you might end up getting into the groove once you start.
  • Limit the coffee dates: Your time is valuable, and you're the only one who can enforce this. Don't be afraid to schedule something a few weeks out if it's not directly related to billable client hours.
  • Set attainable goals: I make my to-do list at the end of the previous work day, rather than at the beginning. If I get too ambitious, I get frustrated.
  • Do your hardest work in your prime time: When do you work the most effectively? Use it wisely.
  • Give yourself structure: Most people I know crave a certain amount of structure. Even if you make your own schedule, figure out how to find some. Can you work out at the same time each day? Work on a particular project on certain days of the week? 
What are your best suggestions for getting sh*t done?


  1. I just don't know why there aren't like a bazillion comments on your brilliant posts. You are saying such engaging things! My favorite trick to get me in the mood for working is to put on a particular album of classical music (no words), which I have been using as "focus music" since I worked on grad school applications. It now has such a strong association with focusing on work that my Pavlovian response to it is to sit my butt down and get to work--for at least 20 mins, which is enough to get me lost in whatever task I'm working at, and to make a fair amount of progress. So find--or perhaps make--your focus music, friends! It helps, truly.

    1. I love it! I think I need some new focus music... XO



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