Before joining my partner in the world of entrepreneurs, I worked as a theater manager for a little over a year. It’s certainly not the corporate world – I worked on contract and could never expect a stable pay check – but it was a predictable structured work environment, a strict schedule, and a well established routine: I knew what I was doing well, what I had to learn, and what I messed up. The hardest thing I found, and continue to encounter, in this new world of self-employment is self-motivation and productivity. Without a boss giving me directions, without a detailed to-do list and set of short and long-term goals, I flounder. So, here are some things I have found that help. I welcome other advice people may have, since I still have problems getting started some days.
Have A Routine
Okay, well duh! I know, easier said than done – that’s what the rest of this entry is about, but I wanted to reiterate it here. You’re a start-up, so you don’t need to work regular hours. But I try to get some sort of routine developed. I know my peak work hours are right after I wake up for about an hour, and then from 11am – 6pm. So I am trying (note that I haven’t gotten there yet) to develop a routine where my alarm goes off at 8am. I proceed to snuggle in deeper, and snooze for 30 minutes. Then I’m up, leaping up, and skipping into the kitchen to start preparing breakfast (oatmeal or cereal) and getting coffee, usually a day-old…meh. I head to my laptop in the living room (see below) and check on the world according to the blogs, Facebook, and the New York Times (okay, my perspective is skewed) I check how myFarm is going, whether I’ve caught any mice, what article of clothing has been removed at what world leader, and where my friends spent the night, and who is talking with whom about the cost of oil, rice, and million impressions.
Knowing I’m about to spend the day sitting in a terrible chair (if you have the money, GET A GOOD CHAIR. This is ALMOST worth it’s own bullet point), I try to make it to the gym for a good 30 minutes on the elliptical. This only actually happens 3-4 times a week…but still. I’m then walking back home, seeing if the any new wars have started, breakups occurred, or emails sent, and finally heading to the office. I am sure to walk about a mile of the trip, delaying my eventual settling into The Chair…
To Do Lists
From there, I hit the To-Do list I wrote (hopefully) the day before. If I didn’t, I mentally flail around for some time, trying to get focused and figure out what I am supposed to be doing. I do need someone giving me directions, even if it is my past self. My past self loves writing To-Do Lists, making short-term goals (1 – 3 work days to complete) and long term goals (2 – 4 weeks), and generally trying to keep my present and future self motivated with notes left every which where (my past-self knows my present self gets no satisfaction stronger than that felt when drawing a big X in a box and dark line across an item on a page).
Find a Good “Office”
So now I’m in the office. I constantly try to stay on this now less strict routine. I’m going to disagree with Charlie and say you should keep most distractions at bay, but I agree you need to make it your own, and they may include quirks (like Blood Red Walls…). I found that having an office, where I kept work 80% of the time, was incredibly helpful. But I’ve begun to grow tired of it, and it has begun to strain our budget. So here are some things I take into account when finding new places:
- Lighting: At home, I work by a wall of Bay Windows, with Christmas Lights surrounding them for when it gets dark. In the office, we have overhead lights (which drain your soul, I swear), a warm-hued desk lamp, and a sun lamp. These are wonderful. Lots and lots and lots of nice, soothing, silent, light.
- Temperature: I cannot work without a small space heater and, as I said before, a window that can be opened. I find it impossible to work if I get too warm or cold. (Though personally, I like to stay a bit chilly, as it encourages me to type faster. But that’s just me…)
- Space: I must be able to spread, to conquer all available land around me with my oh-so-important things. But I also must know where all is at all times. I keep bookshelves right by my desk in my office, and right above it at home. I keep a waste basket on hand, so I don’t have to worry about not-so-important things taking over valuable space. I keep a few trinkets on hand to claim my space as my own: a statue of Nightcrawler, a tea candle, my current comic series of choice. I do not have this at the office and it hurts. :( However, I keep nothing that encourages play or distraction: DS is put away, TV is turned off, unfinished book is in the bedroom.
- Variety: I like changing up my environment about once a week. I keep two separate desks in my home for work, as well as a wonderful assortment of cafes around San Francisco that I know have wireless and space for me to spread out.
- Sound: This is personal taste. I find that if an environment is dead silent, it leads me to day dream. If it has one or two conversations going on, I immediately listen in and can’t focus. If there is music with lyrics, forget it. I work best in cafes with a nice amount of background noise but no overpowering voices (but this is out of my control) or put headphones in and listen to lyric-less music. I tend to listen to Joe Hisaishi from Studio Ghibli, Imogen Heap (who has lyrics, but they are more musical than words…), Blue Man Group, Cirque Du Soleil, or Stravinsky.
- Plants: So, I find that having some plants around me is refreshing. Not a necessity at all, but it helps me stay energized and chipper, especially if they are flowering but not smelly. And for me, who sucks at staying focused, every little bit helps.
Every night, I try to hear my mother in my head. I can’t oversleep, but I need enough. I don’t want to go to bed and lie there aimlessly, but I don’t want work to the point of exhaustion (and neither should you). I put on quiet music, keep the room very dark and the sheets clean, open a window to get a nice breeze, and never bring my computer into my room (Sleep Foundation has more on this…)
So I had a section about not keeping tabs open, but instead using separate windows…because I think it would be better then though I don’t do it. But my partners think it is better to keep tabs open and stay organized that way. I’m open for discussion on this point…