When you work for yourself you often work by yourself. At first this is liberating – no boss, no distractions, just you, doing what you always dreamed of. Then reality sets in and you realize there is no boss, no one to hold you accountable to your tasks. It’s just you. Staying on task when you’re self-employed is challenging.
We have good intentions, working regular hours, and meeting deadlines. We stay up to date with our financials, we have organized client files and so on. We have good work habits; we are choosing to work efficiently and effectively.
Then one day we decide to watch a movie rather than work. It feels a bit illicit, running off to the movie theatre, or snuggling under a warm blanket watching Netflix. In fact, it feels good to be irresponsible for an afternoon.
What was the consequence of your afternoon off? Nothing. No one got mad at you, you didn’t miss a deadline, your accounting and paperwork was still organized. There was nothing negative associated with this indulgence, and you enjoyed the time off.
No one chooses bad habits intentionally. They creep up on us. That afternoon you spent watching movies didn’t have a negative outcome, so you do it again. And again. And again. It’s like making great food choices – one day you skip your workout and eat nothing but ice cream. The next day you get up, hop on the scale and see you weigh the same. You are able to run like normal too. There have been no negative consequences.
So you do it again. And again. And again.
Before you know it, your clothes are tight and you aren’t working out anymore. You feel completely out of control and don’t know how to get back on track. The bad habits have taken hold and you are now faced with the hard work of changing everything.
Bad habits are hard to break because they bring us pleasure – despite the negative results. Whether it’s in business or in life, you are getting something out of it. Maybe, after years of the 9 to 5 grind, you like sitting on your couch and watching movies all day. So you do that – all day long.
Good habits are hard to maintain because we are mindful of them. When we don’t eat well, exercise regularly or meet deadlines, we feel bad about ourselves. We feel like failures. We give up.
When bad habits bring us pleasure and good habits seem like work, it can be hard to stay on track. Despite our temptation to give up, a few simple things can help you have your cake (good) and eat it too (bad). Here are four ways to be habitually productive, and also enjoy self employment:
- Do one thing. Each morning get up and take care of one thing you dread. It might be making a tough phone call or finishing a project that has dragged on forever. It might be as simple as meeting a deadline or managing your to do list. Whatever it is that you dread the most, do it first and get it out of the way, otherwise it will distract you the rest of the day. (This is the business version of putting your gym clothes on so you’ll exercise. If you don’t get it done in the morning, you’ll be sitting in spandex all day waiting to work out, while you do other things).
- Give yourself permission to cheat. Schedule “cheat” days into your business life. Take time each week to play hooky from your job. Self-employed people rarely take a break from their businesses, and that leads to burn out and bad habits. Go shopping, go to a movie, have lunch with a friend, head to the mountains, go to the lake…do something to get out of the house and out of your routine. The benefit of this is two-fold: you get a break from the monotony of your work and you get a creativity boost. You will come back to the office feeling refreshed and full of new ideas.
- Forgive yourself. You will mess up. You just will. And with no one else to point a finger at, you get all the blame. Forgive yourself for making mistakes. They happen. Apologize to your client, take responsibility for what happened, then make it right. It’s all you can do, so there is no point in wallowing. The sooner you fix it, the sooner you can move past it.
- Disconnect. Turn off email and social media for a few hours each day. It is too easy to be distracted by the latest email inquiry or scrolling through Instagram. Start slowly – disconnect for two hours, and see how much you actually accomplish. Your productivity will increase and you will work efficiently through your to do list.
Staying on task when you’re self-employed requires mindfulness. Recognize changes in your behavior and attitude. Then stop them before they become toxic. The best parts of self-employment are also the things that can lead to stress and failure. Be aware of what you are doing each day, be honest about what you can do better, and forgive yourself when you make mistakes or aren’t as productive as you hoped.
This is a guest post by, Jenn Bebb , photographer, author, mom, wife, CEO of the What If Conference!
Check out her books: Photo Fusion and most recently published, Beyond Auto Mode.