by Liz Proctor When you were an 8 year old, if someone had asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up, what would you have told them? How close are you to having that thing in your life and business now? OK, so being an astronaut, professional Lego builder or the World’s…
Sometimes it’s the simplest things which have the most profound impact. Yesterday I made a chart of all the projects in my head, work or otherwise, and listed the things I knew needed to be done on each. Result: a clear head, and a sense of relief that I didn’t have to keep thinking about them all, because they were written down, all together, in an orderly fashion. I could even start to prioritise and plan.
It’s part of the drive for an integrated life, which I wrote about yesterday. Bringing everything together, acknowledging that it’s all part of the same life, can be really helpful. It doesn’t mean that everything gets mushed together in a big mess and you have to do laundry and tax returns and business planning and all the other stuff all at the same time. It’s not about juggling, and certainly not about multi-tasking. (Now that’s another thing I don’t believe in, like work/life balance.)
Bringing all the parts of your life together like this makes is much easier to see which are the most pressing things, which are the biggest things, and which are the things that you simply don’t have time or mental space to do just at the moment. (Yes, it shows jut how realistic or otherwise your plans really are!) And whether you work at home, or outside of the home, it enables you to be very clear about boundaries between tasks. Because if it’s all written down in the same place, it won’t be forgotten, so you can afford to focus on just one thing at a time, knowing that the others will be taken care of in their turn.
Of course, it’s one thing to write all the things down, and quite another to actually get them done. Procrastination comes to us all. But, in the spirit of true procrastination, I’ll post about that – tomorrow!
I will only offer a brief answer to this question, for reasons that will become abundantly clear.
When the document you’ve spent all morning writing suddenly, for no discernable reason, turns from reasonable English prose to gibberish and strange characters, some of which may be Chinese, how do you react? If I was working in an office with others, I’m sure I’d be fuming and enlisting help and sympathy from everyone around me. I could probably build an hour-long conversation and moan-fest around it, and someone would offer me tea and biscuits.
But when the only living being around is a rabbit, and he’s out in an uninviting rain-soaked and windswept garden, what do you do?
- Sigh loudly (although even that’s unsatisfying when there’s nobody to hear you).
- Fiddle around ineptly for a few minutes trying to fix it, without success.
- Give up and eat lunch. (Not the healthy one you were planning but leftover spaghetti followed by toast because it’s quick and easy and annoyance has made you hungry.)
- Return bottom to chair and begin the whole document again, saving every thirty seconds just in case. Because there aren’t any other options.
Would it have been cathartic to share the irritation with other people, or does working alone make you more stoic, more likely to shrug and get on with things? And which is better?
I shall mull this over while repeating a whole morning’s work.
- Spending the days in a place where you truly belong.
- A walk during the day: exercise, fresh air, and a chance to actually meet some of the neighbours rather than driving past them in the dark mornings and evenings and never speaking.
- No dress code, no need to wear uncomfortable shoes all day. (But always get dressed. The postman will thank you.)
- When a job’s done, it’s done. No need to “look busy” until 5pm.
- A hot jacket potato instead of a cold sandwich for lunch.
- The comfort of being at home.
- Being able to visit a shop during the working day instead of on Saturday with everyone else.
- Building connections: with a place, with the people around you, with yourself.
It’s about having roots, belonging, being able to be a whole person. Who I am at work is who I am at home, because I don’t have to carve myself into different-shaped pieces. I can shape my home and my life to fit me and my family.
Running a business from home is not an easy option. There is no support team. Everything you do, you do alone. When the amount of work you have is overwhelming, you do it alone and long into the night. When the amount of work you have is lower, you worry that you’ll never work again – and the only person who can change the amount of work you have is you. When things go wrong, there is nobody to ask for advice except your long-suffering spouse, who you’d rather treat as a friend and lover than a colleague. (And when you move house, you can’t escape to the office but have to somehow carry on working with no desk amongst the endless phone calls and myriad boxes of belongings.)*
Putting family first, and always being there for school runs and school plays and home-from-school-sick-days and holidays, does not mean that your work is unimportant or non-existent. It means you have chosen, and are living according to, your priorities in life. Other people will not understand this and will assume you live a life of ease and luxury.
Working part time, or working around your family, does not mean that you will never earn very much. It means that you are likely to be much more productive in the time that you work, and able to earn proportionally more than you might have in a full time job. This means you will work hard, but it will be worth it. Anybody who does not live in the same house as you will not see this.
Having a partner with a job of his (her) own does not mean that (s)he will pay all the bills. You will be a partnership in the same way as two employed people are a partnership, each making a valuable contribution. You will be forever worried that your contribution might dry up, and will work ever harder to ensure that it doesn’t. Other people will not understand this either.
Living and working at home needs a lot of different skills and personality traits. Chief among them are:
Determination and bloody-minded persistence. This is possibly what other people refer to as ‘motivation’ when they ask how you manage to stay motivated. (They ask this at the same time as they are assuming that you spend all day lying around eating chocolate and watching daytime TV.)
Resilience. To bounce back from all the times a job doesn’t work out, or takes twice as long as you’d planned, or someone assumes that because they saw you out in the daytime you are a person of leisure.
Self-reliance. Because you’ll spend an awful lot of time in your own company so you might as well get on with yourself and trust your own instincts.
If you have those three traits, you’ll find that living and working at home can be great:
– You get to make all the decisions and follow your gut without having to explain yourself to anyone.
– You never have to sit at your desk till 5pm ‘looking busy’ until someone else determines that the day is over.
– You get to structure your own day, around the things, and people, that are important to you.
– You can take all the credit, because you did all the work.
– You get to make a living while still having a life.
Living and working at home isn’t easy. But it is worth it. What makes it hard for you? What makes it worth it? And what traits do you think you need to make it work?
*Ask me how I know! The new house and garden are lovely, thank you. The boxes are still in evidence and may be for some time.
What small things keep you working on an ordinary Wednesday? Or any other day of the week? Here are some of mine:
All the tea in China.
I could probably manage to drink all the tea in India and Sri Lanka too. Sometimes I wonder if I really like the taste or if it’s just an excuse to get up every now and again.
Sometimes the best way to get going is to do all the fiddly little things that I’ve been putting off. Once you start feeling productive (even if all you’ve really managed to do is put off the inevitable Big Job by doing lots of less important ones) it’s somehow easier to carry on into the Big Job.
One of our family sayings is, “Bored now.” There’s a time for really getting stuck into a project to the exclusion of all others (that would be when you hear the impending whistle of a deadline about to whoosh past, à la Douglas Adams), and there’s a time for changing tack and doing something else. That would be when you find yourself muttering, “bored now…”
Saving the new book.
I bought a new book but I’ve been saving it to read at the end of the day as a reward for a job well done. How virtuous am I? Actually, not very. I lied. The only reason I haven’t started reading it yet is because the delivery man only just delivered it. Excuse me, I must be going now.
You only have to do one thing at a time. In fact, you can only do one thing at a time. (That thing you call multi-tasking? It’s just switching between several things very fast and not properly concentrating on any of them. Ask me how I know.)
So there’s a big thing you need to do? A job you can’t imagine how you’re going to finish (or even start)? Something you said ‘yes’ to before you worked out how you were going to do it? Good, welcome to the freelance world. Say yes first, work out the details later.
In fact, the best way to work out the details is to do the thinking as you go along. Begin. Open the file, take out your pen, pick up the phone – there must be one thing you can do. Write one word. Read one document. Then do the next thing.
Sometimes simply beginning is the hardest part. And the only way to get over that is to do it. Quick, before you come up with another excuse to put it off!