It’s been 3 years since I was in the classroom teaching, and yet, I still find myself learning the best ways to function as my own boss. Whether that’s how to manage time, file taxes, or stay motivated, I’m always trying to learn and improve. Which is why I’m so excited to kick-off this ‘Lessons Learned from the Self-Employed‘ series!
We hear from a lot of you who either work for yourselves or hope to in the future, so we hope you find this series insightful. Even if you aren’t self-employed, there will be general career tips in these posts, too. Austin and I will be sharing our thoughts on the topics, and we’ll also be bringing in notes from some inspiring self-employed friends.
For the first post, we’re tackling two things I’ve definitely struggled with (and honestly, I still do at times), but feel pretty confident about now: Time Management and Working from Home. Let’s get into it!
Time blocking: Being your own boss can sometimes come with an “I can do that later” approach, but as I’ve learned, that’s clearly not smart. To keep myself on track, I love to time block. I actually started using these timer cubes while teaching, and find they’re just as helpful outside the classroom. Setting a timer on your phone would work as well, but the main goal is to work undistracted for a fixed amount of time. I find my sweet spot to be 30-60 minute increments, depending on the task. And yes, this means turning your phone on airplane mode, clicking out of unnecessary tabs, and really focusing. My biggest time sinks are emails and social media. I set my timer for 30 minutes and when it’s up, I finish and move on to something else. I give myself 2-3 increments per day to devout to emails or other tasks that require a check-in throughout the day.
Apps: Some apps can suck your time (looking at you, Instagram), but some are built to save it. As a content creator, Planoly is amazing for curating your Instagram feed all at once. You can input your grid, captions, hashtags, and even the time you want to post. Asana and Trello are project management services, and I find they help with managing time as well. Instead of not knowing what you should be working on or where in the process a project is, these apps lay it out for you. You can even add in attachments so that all aspects of a project are in one place. Great for small teams, too.
Make a list: Instead of working off a huge to-do list (which I used to do), I’ve gotten in the habit of a more intentional approach. Each morning – or sometimes the night before – I make a list of the 3-5 most important things that need to get done. I still have a long-running list elsewhere, and I just pull from that big list to find what’s a priority. This way I’m not lost or overwhelmed with endless tasks.
Do the hardest thing first: Our bodies naturally have more energy and brain capacity earlier in the day (if you’re sleeping well), so that’s when I like to knock out the hardest tasks. Or ones I’m not necessarily looking forward to. Whether that’s negotiating contracts or writing brand proposals, I try to get the tough stuff done when I have the most energy. Find the pockets where you thrive, and work on difficult tasks then.
Batch tasks: Most jobs come with a handful of similar tasks. For me, that’s social media, collaborations, writing, shooting, editing, and so on. Instead of jumping from task to task, I batch things based on what type of work they fall under. If I have a few conference calls, I schedule them back to back so I’m in that mode. Or, we’ll shoot a few things in one day while I have full hair and makeup done. This eliminates wasted time, and it’s helpful on your brain to focus on one area at a time.
WORKING FROM HOME TIPS
Create a designated workspace: This tip comes from Tina Craig, founder and creator of Bag Snob, “Whether it’s a home office or your own corner in a room somewhere in the house, find a designated workspace. This is your sacred area, no kids or spouses are allowed to interrupt you when you hang up the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign. It takes a tremendous amount of discipline to work from home, but setting boundaries will allow you to be more productive. Your time is valuable, whether you work from home or a fancy office, and it should be respected!”
Utilize a schedule: When I was teaching, I was obviously on a very strict timeline – and thrived off that. So when I became my own boss, let’s just say it was a rude awakening. A flexible schedule sounds awesome, but it was actually quite hard for me to find structure and be productive. Just like you would in a corporate job, schedule out your day. I like to use Google Cal to schedule all tasks (even something small like ‘post on Facebook’). This way, I know exactly what my day looks like, and that I probably don’t have time for hours of Netflix mid-day. If you’re a visual person, color-coordinating by task is helpful too since you can batch tasks.
Don’t try to do it all: I used to think because I worked from home, I could work out, stay on top of laundry and chores, and go to the store during non-busy hours. Big mistake! The truth is, when I did those things, they just caused distractions to my workflow. Treat your workday like you’re in an office, even if it’s your home. Breaks are fine, of course, but save the errands and other responsibilities for before or after office hours.
Change it up: Even if you have a beautiful workspace, sitting in the same place every day can hinder creativity. Plus, those of us who WFH know what it’s like to not see other people for days at a time, right? Switch up the scenery a couple times a week by working from a cute coffee shop or cafe, even for a few hours. I find this can give me such a boost of inspiration, and let’s be real, a reason to change out of yoga pants.
What do you guys find helpful? Do you also share any of these struggles? We hope that you enjoyed the start to this series! Please let me know what you think and if there are any other tips to add!