Recently, I made the leap into complete self-employment.
This is something I have been working toward, and for, for the better part of the past 3 years. I have fretted and struggled and worked many, many hours to make it happen.
And, like so many things, when it’s finally here – it isn’t quite as I expected.
Almost immediately, I felt myself slipping into a semi-depressive state. Shiftless, unsure of what to do with myself, bored, anxious – these are very familiar symptoms. I know this place, I’ve been here before.
I recognized that, without the structure provided by a regular job, the amount of time in the day can absolutely smother you. My wife has commented before how she gets nothing done on the days when she has the most time. Extend that idea outward, to encompass the entire day, and you see the problem.
No schedule, no structure, no plan.
So I made a plan. This is something I’ve done before – it’s a process I went through when I first transitioned from full-time employed to part-time. Knowing how each day is structured, even if that structure is absolutely loose and forgiving, is critical if you want to get anything done. It’s certainly been that way for me.
I thought I’d write my process down here.
Step 1: Personal Priorities.
I admit, this sounds extremely cheesy. However, knowing – and stating, out loud or on paper – your priorities helps you to prioritize your time and actions. It’s far, far too easy to get sucked into the whirlpool of urgent actions, losing track of the long-term in the process.
My priorities, for example, start with my family, and then my personal development, and then making money. That is the order of importance they should play, ideally in my life, and that helps immensely when deciding how to break up the day.
Now, of course, I need to make enough money to survive – but I know I have enough hours in the day to do that, if I’m smart about it. But I also realize that I need to leave time each day to pursue other projects, ideas, or skills; and if something work-related starts to impinge on that, without providing a massive amount of value, it needs to get pared back.
Your priorities, or mission statement, or whatever you want to call it, is like an algorithm for making life decisions: do I meet with the client, or go visit my wife’s family? Do I work on music, or hang out with friends, or go work out? There are an infinite number of ways to spend time, but you only get to spend it once. Having a systematic way of deciding how you go through life is a huge help.
Step 2: Ideal Schedule.
Just that – sketching out your daily ideal schedule. What’s the best way to spend a day, if everything went according to plan? Of course, this schedule should be based off your personal priorities, and should reflect your long-term goals, not your short-term needs.
Mine is below:
7am – Wake up with Thao. Coffee / Read news, articles.
8-9am – Get dressed. Go to work. No email!
– 90 uninterrupted minutes focusing on important client work, set the night before. Then,
– New client outreach.
– Short break. Then,
– Urgent emails, urgent work, etc.
12-2pm – Lunch. Relax. OR
Go to gym. Break fast with protein shake. Shower. Sauna.
2-3pm – Continue work. Loose ends. Assorted email.
3-4pm – Personal projects. Learning. Long-term Marketing. Music.
Rest of day is free for whatever you choose.
Fridays are dedicated entirely to personal projects – business, music, etc.
Saturdays and Sundays are off.
I must leave the house every day.
“Get dressed” and “leave the house every day” may seem odd to some, but over time I’ve found that both of these things are very strongly correlated with my mood. If I don’t change out of my PJs and force myself to go out to do something, anything, I will without fail feel like a horrible, horrible asshole.
I like this schedule for a few reasons: it prioritizes certain actions and things I care about. It slots things like email – always distracting – into specific times, which prevents me from wasting time on it. It leaves several slots open to whatever needs to get done in the moment, allowing me to take care of things that pop up.
However, it also deliberately limits the amount of time I have to work on “work.” This means that I want to meet my income goals and live the lifestyle I want, I need to focus on high leverage activities – things that make me the most with the least amount of time put in.
This is a very specific mindset, and it’s already affected how I run my business, handing off my client hosting to another company (it never made that much money, but required a lot of time spent). This decision technically cost me money, but since my priority is time, not money, it’s the right decision. Now it’s up to me to use that time in a more profitable way.
Step 3: Review.
Surprisingly, it is hard to follow a schedule, even your own. The tendency will always be to slip off track, or to let temporary emergencies derail your longer-term efforts. To prevent this, I need a simple, lightweight system to continually review and modify my schedule.
My own process is four-fold:
- At the beginning of very work day, I open up an Evernote note with my personal priorities and daily schedule. I read it to myself, out loud, nodding along and reinforcing my intention to follow the plan.
- I set timers on my phone to the amount of time allotted for each portion of the day, including intervals for breaks. This removes the effort required to monitor my own time, and lets me focus on the task at hand (I use the exercise timer Seconds, for the iPhone, but even an egg timer would do).
- I use IDoneThis.com to keep track of what I did each day. Every evening, IDoneThis sends me an email – I simply respond with some things I did during the day. IDoneThis also periodically reminds you of things you did in the past, helping you to focus both on what you did during the day, but also how far you’ve come.
- Every night, before bed, I make a short list of things I need to do tomorrow, particularly the one big, important thing to spend my first 90-minute block on. This lets me prioritize my next day’s actions when my head is clear, and I’m not distracted by any “emergencies” or immediate problems. For me, the night before is the time I’m best able to think long-term, before I get caught up in the next day’s work.
All of these things are extremely fast to do and are very non-invasive. I don’t have to think about them, they just happen. Together, they provide both motivation to stick to the plan and a way of tracking how effective I’ve been.
And that’s it. We’ll see how this plays out over the next few months. So far, I’m happier, more productive, and in general feeling pretty good.