11.21.11 // My Mondays
Are you home-office compatible?
By Amy Rosenberg, published on May 01, 2009 – last reviewed on October 28, 2011 // Psychology Today
Should have started this article two weeks before I actually did. I couldn’t let go of another project long enough to start calling sources for this one. I needed a good manager to keep me on track, but my boss—well, she’s a nice lady, but she can be overindulgent, inefficient, and reclusive. The upside is that I can insult her in public like this without having to worry about losing my job. I’m a freelance writer, you see. My boss is me.
Freelancers of all sorts—designers, consultants, computer programmers, therapists—face the challenge of managing their time wisely. Many of us struck out on our own precisely because we can’t stand the idea of others imposing a schedule on us. We work best when we’re free from interference, office politics, and dependence on colleagues. We have the solo artist’s spirit.
But that doesn’t mean such people don’t have to cultivate freelance-friendly traits and fight a tendency to get pulled into family or household duties while on deadline. Some people are simply not cut out for the freelance life. And others should carefully consider the challenges they’ll face—given their temperaments and habits—before setting up their own shops.
“A person who has trouble working in a structured environment and who likes to be in control would make a good freelancer,” says Daniel Fisher, a psychologist and a partner in the talent management-consulting firm Fisher Rock. Consequently, however, freelancers must be able to tolerate isolation.
The most important trait a freelancer should have or be willing to hone, according to Fisher, is confidence. “When you’re part of a team, you can hide within it,” he says. “As a freelancer, you’re the one on the hook. You have to be able to pull that off.”
Self-assuredness is also crucial for one activity that freelancers absolutely must engage in: self-promotion. “Unless you can convince others that you’re worth hiring, you won’t get enough business to keep yourself going,” says Pamela Slim, a consultant and the author of Escape from Cubicle Nation. And that same belief in your abilities will serve you well when you face rejection. “If a relationship with a client doesn’t work out or a venture fails, you need to not take it personally.”
Nearly as important is the ability to shut out distractions. Several competitors are fighting for my attention as I type this: There are dirty dishes in the sink. My mother just called to ask why I don’t visit more often since I “don’t have a job.” And I can’t shake the memory of my three-year-old’s face when I dropped him off at preschool—he frowned tremblingly and said, “Mama, I just want to be with you.”
Staying on task at a “real job” is easier because you’re accountable to others. As Fisher puts it, “In an office, there are cues to work all around you.” At home, there are many cues to do everything else but work: read, finish that laundry, shave your legs, snack, surf the web, take a nap…
I give myself breaks to reward spurts of self-discipline. But I wonder: Are the most successful freelancers blessed with military-grade resolve? “If willpower is like a muscle, then some people come into the world like Arnold Schwarzenegger and some don’t,” says Tim Pychyl, a professor of psychology at Carleton University. But, Pychyl says, as with weight training, even self-control weaklings can strengthen their willpower. Small steps in one area of life can help improve other areas: Practicing better posture for two weeks might make it easier for you to resist halting your invoice upkeep for a cookie break.
At home, die-hard procrastinators will find no weekly meetings to keep them from putting off projects indefinitely. But Pychyl doesn’t think they should rule out freelancing . “In fact,” he argues, “freelancing could be the absolute cure for procrastination. When you have autonomy and you do things that are meaningful to you, you’re more likely to get the job done.”
To avoid self-sabotage, procrastinating freelancers must identify their fears, says Jane Burka, co-author, with Lenora Yuen, of Procrastination: Why You Do It, What To Do About It NOW. You may be afraid a project is too difficult, but embarrassed to ask for help. Or you may leave minimal time to complete an assignment so that you can assure yourself that it would have been brilliant—if only you had had an extra day or two. Or, believe it or not, you may belashing out against authority—even when you are technically in charge. If you are quick to feel controlled, the pressure to meet deadlines can be tantamount to losing your autonomy. Says Burka: “One way to assert your independence is by procrastinating, even if the person you are rebelling against is yourself.” Keep reminding yourself that finishing your work on time will in fact keep you free—free from alarm clocks, HR workshops, and shoes .—Amy Rosenberg
How to Boss Yourself Around
You’ve hired yourself; now get the most out of your prize employee:
- Get Help. You may be a brilliant idea-person or craftsman, but if bookkeeping or client outreach just isn’t your forte, enlist experts. If money is tight, get an ambitious student to pitch in for a modest fee.
- Suck it Up. The buck stops with you now, so Tim Pychyl recommends that you “refuse to give in to feeling good” when facing a dreaded task. “Avoid instant gratification; it can help you dive in when you’re feeling stalled.”
- Time Yourself. If you’re anxious yet unproductive, pick a task that can be accomplished in just 15 minutes. To better manage your deadlines, predict how long a project will take to finish, and then scrupulously record how long it actually takes. Learn from the discrepancy.
- Translate Goals into Behaviors. Vague ends are hard to achieve, says Jane Burka. Don’t aspire to “get organized”; plan on clearing off your desk or making file folders. Don’t make “get more clients” your aim; resolve to spend one hour making cold calls instead.
The Self-Employed Sound Off
My biggest distraction is…
The Internet. It’s a black hole. I go from site to site, and link to link, and before I know it four hours have passed. —Vela, Illustrator
My family and friends who think that because I’m home I must not be working.—Mike, Programmer
My trick for staying focused is…
Thinking of myself not as a freelancer but as running my own business. I make it a habit not to socialize on weekdays. If I don’t have a busy week, I devote that time to “business development.” —Kathleen, writer and editor
Getting a good night’s sleep and staying away from caffeine and sugar. And a little rock music in the background can be motivating when working in Photoshop. —Cara Lynn, Web producer
I really miss the office when…
I think about all those idle hours spent socializing that I used to get paid for. —Aaron, Web consultant
I run out of birthday cake. —Jessi, Comedian
Tips for a stress-free home office.
Working from home sounds so laid-back and stress-free. Then you try it. Most people who work from home soon discover that real life is far from the fantasy. Many lead a lifestyle dominated by deadline pressures, erratic hours, and competing demands from multiple projects—and that’s when things are going well.Yet working from home does work for some people. Take me, for example. I’ve been happily working from home for nearly 30 years, so it’s clearly a lifestyle that suits me. The built-in stress is very real, but it’s also manageable. Below are my best stress-busting tips for those who call home the office.
The good news is that you don’t have to work 9 to 5. The bad news is that some friends and family may assume you don’t have to work at all. Set firm boundaries about not being disturbed while you’re at the office, even if the office is only feet away. In the long run, you’ll cut down on a lot of frustration and conflict.
Claim your territory.
Use your office space and equipment exclusively for work. A whole room is ideal, but a designated corner will do. If you have housemates, you’ll save yourself much stress and aggravation over misplaced papers and accidentally erased computer files. Even if you live alone, you’ll feel more capable and confident in a professional work environment.
Find a babysitter.
A home office is a great option for moms and dads who want to combine stay-at-home parenting and a career. But don’t kid yourself: If you have young children and work at your paid job for more than a few hours per week, you’ll need some help with child care. Home-based doesn’t equal superhuman.
In many work-at-home jobs, ridiculously short turnaround times are the norm. But deadlines don’t automatically have to cause deadline stress. Break down large projects into smaller, less intimidating steps, and set milestones for when each step needs to be completed. Then dive in right away to ward off worry and procrastination.
Do make to-do lists.
Begin each day by making a daily to-do list. Rank list items as A, B, C, or D, from most to least urgent. Then estimate how long it would take to complete the entire list. If it’s too long, look for items to eliminate or delegate, going from D to A. Once you’ve whittled down your list to a realistic length, start working on the items, going from A to D. If something comes up and you don’t get around to all the C’s and D’s, don’t sweat it. You can revisit them on tomorrow’s to-dos.
Dress to de-stress.
One of the biggest perks of working at home is that you can do it in your sweats. But there’s a fine line between comfy and comatose on the couch. If it’s noon and you still haven’t combed your hair, it may be time to stage an intervention for yourself. Put on your good clothes and go do something business-y, such as lunching with a work friend. The self-esteem boost is an excellent motivator.
Meet with colleagues.
Speaking of work friends, make sure you have some, because social isolation is a major source of stress for home-based workers. Online contacts are great, but you also need face-to-face interaction. Join a networking group. Or consider a coworking arrangement, in which you spend some of your work hours in a shared office space.
Take housework breaks.
If you hit a mental block, don’t just sit there growing more and more anxious. Take five, and use those few minutes to tackle a tedious household chore. Fold the laundry, unload the dishwasher, or mop the floor. The chore should require only a modicum of attention—enough to distract you from the anxiety, but not enough to derail you from the primary mental task at hand. This helps you relax and restore your mental focus. Note: If a brilliant idea comes to you mid-fluff and fold, drop what you’re doing immediately and return to your desk. The laundry will wait.
Count your blessings.
When your neighbors are trudging off to work in bad weather, congratulate yourself on your commute. When you’re having a slow day so you slip out for a matinee at the movies, remind yourself how terrific it is to set your own hours. When your friend is complaining about her horrible boss, think how lucky you are to have such an intelligent and sympathetic supervisor (you).
Go home at night.
When you work from home, it’s tempting to never really leave the office. There’s always one more thing to be done, and it’s calling your name from the next room. Ignore it. Learn to close the door and walk away at a reasonable hour. The next morning, you’ll be more relaxed, refreshed, and ready for a new day at the home office.
Linda Wasmer Andrews is a freelance health and psychology writer who has worked from home since 1982. She’s author or coauthor of 14 books, including Stress Control for Peace of Mind. Follow her on Twitter. Find her on Facebook. Visit her online.
Making It on Your Own: Are These Successful Entrepreneurs Single at Heart?
Single, savvy, and successful
Judged by its cover, Single Women Entrepreneurs is about, well, single women entrepreneurs. Really, though, it is more than that. It is an all-too-rare example of what it’s possible to learn when a writer approaches single people with respect for their strengths and achievements. You won’t catch author Erin Albert giving her interviewees that look that means, “you poor thing – how could you ever start your own business without a husband to hold your hand?”
Albert asked each of the 30 single entrepreneurs in her book about both the advantages and the disadvantages of owning a business when you are single. As you can see from the sampling below, she asked some other good questions as well.
The answers were often thoughtful and insightful. What really grabbed me, though, was what I thought I might be reading between the lines. I wondered whether some of these successful single businesswomen were actually single at heart.
They don’t use that term, of course; it is not (yet) widely known beyond this blog. It is not a way that people typically have of thinking about themselves. I think it would be a boon to people who fit that description to know that there are others who feel the same way.
Here are some excerpts from various answers that the entrepreneurs gave to Erin Albert’s questions. Do you think that some of these singles are people who really like their single lives, and who perhaps have no real desire to become unsingle? Might some of them say so directly if the concept of ‘single at heart‘ were part of our social discourse?
Erin Albert (author): Do you think business ownership has led you to remain single?
“I don’t think business ownership has affected me one way or the other, because being married is not something I’ve focused on. Whether or not I started this business, I would approach relationships the same way. Undoubtedly, I don’t have much free time right now because I am juggling my corporate job, this business, and my dancing. But even if I had more free time, I would not put more effort into meeting someone than I currently am.”
“I enjoy the independence of being a business owner, and I like not having anyone to answer to on a regular basis. Because the business does well, I am able to comfortably support myself, which has led me to remain single.”
“I know that I don’t socialize very much because I don’t have time. When I go to networking events, I’m networking from a business standpoint; I’m not looking for a date. I’m just not thinking about dating.”
Erin Albert (author): What is your personal definition of success and have you achieved it?
“If I am happy, challenged, having some fun and helping out my community, that is satisfying. Having healthy and thriving relationships with friends and family add to that as well. And if the income follows, even better. That’s success to me. Even now, I don’t have the monetary return yet, but I feel really good about where I’m at and I’m on a good path!”
Erin Albert (author): Where did the idea come from to start your business?
“My goal with SheTaxi is that you’re not coming to the site because you’re a single woman who is seeking dating advice, you’re coming there for all aspects of your life for support.”
About Erin Albert:
Erin Albert is the brains and the creative force behind “Yuspie” – Young Urban Single Professionals of Indiana.” The goal of the group is “to connect-people to people, people to causes, and people to places.” Erin is a woman of many talents. She is a writer (obviously), a business owner (probably no surprise there, either) and she is also an MBA and a Doctor of Pharmacy. Oh, she’s also an Assistant Professor and a law student.
Thanks, Erin, for your book and for your enlightened attitude toward singles and single life!
Ya know . . .
It’s really nice to be reminded that what I’m trying to pull off is supPOSED to be a bit of a struggle. From the outside, working this way seems really easy. But, when it’s 1:30am on a Saturday night/Sunday morning, and I’m still in my office working — where are those same on-lookers to tell me how easy it is then?
Figuring out the effective way to find balance between work and personal time is still top on my list of “things to figure out.” If I’m home, I feel like I should be working; regardless of the day of the week, or the hour of the day. It’s hard for people to understand that if they haven’t experienced it first-hand. (Same as everything else I suppose, yeah?)
Another awesomely difficult-at-times component for the work lifestyle I currently choose to employ, is the concept of solitude. Doing what I do requires me to be alone a lot. I have come to realize that from an outsider’s perspective, this concept (and all its peripheral tag-alongs) are really hard to gain an understanding of — nevertheless garner any compassion for.
As for this “single at heart” idea, my curiosity has definitely been peaked. To follow-through on this kind of lifestyle certainly requires a kind of personality that thrives on independence . . . but does it go to a point of bona fide needing you to be a lone wolf type of character? I dunno . . . I’m super social, but also adore my alone time. How does that play into being “single at heart” I now wonder . . .
No matter how hard or misunderstood it may be at times, I most-definitely would not change my current work circumstance. It’s wicked-difficult, and incredibly stressful — but I really love it. I am so very blessed to be doing what I do.
So, if there are any freelancers or entrepreneurs in your world, I implore you to please take a moment to recognize the crazy terrain they are trying to conquer.
Beyond that, you might be surprised at how potent a simple word of encouragement can prove to be. I’m not sayin’, I’m just sayin’ . . . ;)
Do what you love, and love what you do! :)
with passion & gratitude — jennifer