Working For Yourself: Month Two (Getting Focused)

{Me at work in my office, by Emily Takes Photos}

It seems baffling to me that I’m writing about month number two of working for myself (you can catch up on month one here), because, well, it feels like I’ve been working for myself for six months. Things have been a little intense around here, to say the least. So let’s chat about that.

The Happiness Factor

The New York Times wrote an article recently about who would be statistically the happiest person in America (male, tall, Asian, lived in Hawaii, observant Jew, worked for themselves), and then they went out and found this person. While the tall, Asian, Hawaiian, observant Jew, who was self employed, thought the phone call was a practical joke, he was, in fact, quite happy. While I’ve only got the last two of those things going for me, two months in, I can say without reservation that working for yourself is a boon to happiness, but maybe not for the reasons that you’d think.

{Happiness: A lunch meeting at a Taqueria, by (and with) Emily Takes Photos}

Myth #1: There is a common misperception that working for yourself involves very little actual work, which is flat out not true. I probably work about 50 hours a week these days, which sometimes makes me so exhausted that I look like I’ve been run over by a freight train, and sometimes looks a lot like me having a blast. It all depends, but either way, it is work, and I’m doing a lot of it.

Myth #2: There seems to be a feeling that people who work for themselves are happy because they hit on some lucky fluke, since the only proper jobs are working for other people. This is nonsense too. It takes a borderline-absurd level of believing-in-something-and-acting-to-make-it-true-while-very-few-others-believe-in-it to make working for yourself a reality, which is a nice way of saying, people who work for themselves are not recipients of some lucky fluke from the universe. In fact, they may be some of the most disciplined and willful people around (which is so much nicer than saying that those aiming for self employment are delusional, yes?).

{Happiness: Hanging out on my fire escape at the end of a long work day}

Truth: So why does working for yourself make you happy? Well, years ago, there were some studies (Which I have no links to. Grad students, do you have links?) that said that one of the main lifestyle issues leading to long term health was having control over your life. If you worked long hours, or had less money, you were ok, as long as you had a fair amount of control and autonomy. And that, fundamentally, is why working for yourself has made me generally happier. I may have a lot of work to do, but it’s my choice how late I work at night, or if I take a nap or go to the gym in the middle of the day when I’m not feeling productive. (Plus, I don’t have to take care of other people’s silly requests, but that’s another story.) This basic level of self-care and choice makes a huge difference in my life. A crazy, crazy, huge difference.

The Book

But really, let’s talk about what I’ve been doing, which is, in short, writing a book on a deadline, while running an active website. When I got a book deal, I did not have the brilliant idea that it would be really fun to write 60,000 words in five months, but that’s how it worked out. Wedding books hit the shelves at the beginning of the year, because that’s engagement season, so my options were to write a book in four months or to write a book in five months. I picked five. I like to sleep at night.

{What book writing was like this month. On the left, the stack of books I was plowing through for research. On the right the amazing Saipua flowers I sent my agent after I got the first book advance check}

The first month of working for myself felt like a crazy whirl of activity. Everything was new, and I was traveling a lot (because I could, without asking permission). At the end of month one I realized that A) This had to stop B) I had to get focused and C) I had a book due really soon. So I went into hyper-over-drive-focus. Even though I have an office, I basically didn’t leave the house for two weeks. I woke up, I wrote, and I wrote some more. And it worked. I finished some key chapter drafts, and I was really happy with them. I also realized that, over the long term, I probably should leave the house slightly more often….

But most of all I realized that writing a book is a huge commitment. I’m, um, ambitious, and I like to stay busy, so I tend to take on huge amounts of work, and then downplay them to myself. Like, “Oh, I’m just writing a book… no big deal.” Or the time I told Assistant Editor Lauren that I felt like I didn’t have time to do any creative work at the moment, and she was like, “UM, YOU’RE WRITING A BOOK.” Oh. Right. That. So somewhere in the middle of this month I realized that writing a book was a lot of work, and I was going to have to let other things slide and try not to feel too guilty about them. On high comment days on APW? I don’t read every single comment. My blog reader? Has more than 1,000 unread posts right now. My personal email? Lets just say I’m behind. And while not ideal, that is the way it is at the moment. The upside? I’m writing 6,000 words a week (on top of whatever I write for APW), and that counts for something.

What I’ve Learned

In no particular order:

  • I like working from home, totally by myself (I was shocked by this).
  • I need to work out (almost) every day to stay sane.
  • Email is the devil, and should be ignored when you’re writing.
  • You’ll always feel behind, and that may never change.
  • I like working towards a business goal, and feel a little sad when I actually meet my goal. Solution: set more goals very quickly.
  • The only way to write a book is to just get up every morning and write a book.
  • Sometimes you need a nap, or to sleep in an extra hour. This is allowed.
  • Part of being a good boss-to-yourself is stopping to sometimes congratulate yourself on a job well done.
  • It’s important to remember why you’re doing this: to do meaningful work, and to have a family life. Enjoy those things. They are the reason.

Helpful Posts From Around the Blog-o-sphere

And while I’m at it, here are some links to posts I found really helpful this month:

  • Ariel finally launched Offbeat Home (And it’s better than I even expected!). Her article about why selling their house and buying a city-center condo was a smart decision, and her home tour (one bedroom apartment with a baby and two people who work from home? They love it.) were phenomenally helpful to me, in a thinking-through-my-lifestyle kind of way. We’re currently rocking out the one bedroom apartment with two freelancers, and have no plans to move any time soon. Reading these posts helped me figure out why it works for us.
  • Swiss Miss’s post about the communication crisis of having too many people trying to contact you across too many channels, too much noise, and too much guilt. I’m still figuring this out, though Ariel has recommended the Five Sentence Email solution.
  • And Kathleen‘s post about To-Do lists. Kathleen and I had a talk at Alt in my first month of freelance work, about getting overwhelmed. She recommended the no-email-in-the-morning policy, with the idea being that we’re most creative in the morning, and we should tap into that by writing. I’m working on it.

And with that, I pitch it to you guys. Any questions about this crazy whirl that is working for yourself? Perspective, from those of you who’ve been there? Go!

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  • Gosh Meg. I’m jealous. You’re so much better at this than I am. Good job!

    • meg

      I doubt that ;) Though it’s entirely possible that you need more meetings at Taqueria’s.

  • Mollie

    I love these updates! Keep em coming!

    When I am up against a (grad school) writing deadline, and just-can’t-get-words-out, I use It is basically a timer where you work for 25 minutes, take a 5 minute break, briefly record what you did, repeat.

    When I am in the groove and on a roll, this website isn’t necessary, but on those days when it is just SO hard, it helps. 25 minutes at a time is manageable… and all of a sudden, I’ve been writing for 9 hours for my Strategic and Transformational IT class.

  • Such an inspiring post! I really enjoyed your “What I Learned” list as well, mainly because I think it’s the smaller, more minute details like knowing how you work well and when that are important to being successful in what you do, regardless of whether it’s working for yourself or a regular 9-5 job. It’s great to be able to peek into your new working life because I feel like I learn something new as well. Oh, and 6,000 words a week is kick-*ss!

  • WONDERFUL post. I entirely concur with everything you’ve said here (and Hawaiian, Asian, self-employed observant jews, who knew?!?)

    I decided to design 31 wedding invitations in 31 days for the entire month of March. It’s the first thing I do, and I don’t open my email or look at anything on the web (except for the npr site so I can listen to the previous day’s Talk of the Nation) It’s been awesome. Three cheers for uninterrupted, creative work in the morning.

    Also: I’m like a Scientologist, when it comes to recommending this book (no offense to Scientologists) but ‘Take back your life with Microsoft Outlook’ really changed my life when it comes to productivity and time management…no affiliation!

    P.S. Very lovely picture of you

    • (and Hawaiian, Asian, self-employed observant jews, who knew?!?)

      Haha my thoughts exactly!

  • Richelle

    Congrats Meg, you are doing it! Thanks for the great lessons that also apply to working on a team, and thanks to you and Lauren for bringing the posts back early. :). Best points for me – step away from the email (it really can wait and hour or two) and have some control over your day, no mattervwho you work for.

  • Gosh, Meg, you are so BEAUTIFUL. (I know that’s not the point of that first picture, in which you are clearly demonstrating that you are working so hard… but still, so pretty!)

    I love this. I think I’d have a hard time making this happen for myself, because I get distracted so easily and quickly choose to do something else other than be productive when I have a free moment. I do much better when someone else hands me a schedule and I stick to it. But perhaps that’s something that grows and changes during different parts of your life, so I’m always open to the possibility that tomorrow, something else might be right that wasn’t before.

  • Great posts/insight.

    Unrelated question – is that the MacBook Air? Do you love it? I’ve been coveting it myself …

    • That’s what I have! I love it! There’s not as much storage space, but it does the job, especially with an external hard drive!

      • meg

        And I don’t store much of any size, and I back it up now, so I don’t loose the whole book, god forbid.

        • Kinzie Kangaroo

          *spit spit*

        • One really great thing to get with a Mac is the time capsule. I still keep a manual back up of my laptop on an external hard drive but knowing that I’ve always got a very recent backup on the time capsule has really saved me a few times. You can have the best, most archive safe back up system in the world, but if you’re like me and keep putting off actually using it, it doesn’t help that much.

    • meg

      That was the first significant thing I ever bought with my blog money, more than two years ago now. Given our history with Macs, I’ll be due for a new one in a year or so. But yes, I ADORE it. and I have to haul my computer everywhere (side effect of working for myself/ working a lot) so I really like that it’s light. And pretty. I like that it’s pretty.

      • KA

        Oh my god, Meg advocating the macbook air. You are such a bad influence. This past weekend, when my stupid little dell netbook (the first, last and only pc I’ll ever buy), surrendered to a months long battle with viruses with the infamous blue screen of death, I came thisclose to buying a refurbished macbook air for $850 off the apple store. Deal of the century, except of course that the $850 could (and should) be put to feeding the guests at our wedding. So the netbook was erased and reinstalled. Moral of the story? Everybody back up and buy Macs.

        And also, these monthly updates have incredible timing – every month just when I want to give up on the road to working for myself they come along to inspire me. :)

      • It’s funny – I was at a board meeting tonight for an organization I work with, and one of my fellow volunteers was sporting his shiny new MacBook Air. He RAVED about it. Considering how much the quality of PCs have diminished over the past few years (batteries die at 1.5 years; hard drives routinely crash at 3 years; Windows Vista is the devil; etc.), I’m seriously considering this computer. My last Dell laptop was great – it lasted 4 years and survived me spilling coffee ALL over the keyboard. It was sluggish performance (because it was old), not the battery or hard drive, that led me to get a new computer 2 years ago. I really regret it – should have just rehabbed the one I had.

        The other option is a cheapy netbook. If I have to replace my computer every 1-2 years because it’s a POS (not, like you, if I use it to death), I’d rather not be spending a lot on it.

        My first computer was a 2nd Gen iMac (in Strawberry), which I got after my high school graduation. I loved that computer.

        (Sorry for the tangent.)

        • meg

          Our Macs tend to die after 3-4 years, but we use them TO DEATH. And they give us very few problems otherwise, so it seems fair. That and no viruses and good operating systems, and the PRETTY and the LIGHT? Yeah. Winning.

  • Now I understand why I my freelance posts that said “This is hard y’all.” would receive responses like “You’re doing it! Great job!” Because even after following your exhausted tweets and reading this post about 50-hour-work-weeks and all that hard work I’m left feeling so proud of you and just want to yell “Yay! You’re doing it! Fabulous, right!? Let’s get a drink!”

    • meg

      Lets go get a drink! Done!

  • Jo


    And great advice. Truly, truly. My best productivity tool is the new Microsoft Office for Mac: it has full-screen mode. So you can’t see your pretty desktop, you can’t see your email notifier, you can’t think about checking twitter. As long as your phone is in the other room….

  • Totally unrelated to all of that, and only because I found Rebecca Woolf through your website, I’m going to tell you that you should go catch up on her blog if you haven’t already! It’s worth pulling away from the craziness of book writing!

    • meg

      I know right? I’ve threatened to move down to LA just to hang out with her and the four littles. The two existing littles are so excellent that I can’t wait.

  • Rose in SA

    I love, love, love this series of posts!

    “one of the main lifestyle issues leading to long term health was having control over your life” – I had a bit of an a-ha moment about this control thing back when you first told us you were quitting your job. I have this sense that if I had more control over the work I took on I would be happier. I’m not sure if it’s 100% true, or just something I like to believe, but hearing you say this makes me feel better.

  • Meg, I can honestly say this is my new favorite part about APW!!! (This and Reclaiming Wife posts, naturally.) But I’m so curious to read all this and soaking up every little tidbit I possibly can, hoping it will prepare me for the day (in the very near future) – when I too am working for myself. :) And I absolutely agree with what you said about people who work for themselves working their butts off! And that you don’t work for yourself because you don’t want to work… but rather do it so you have the freedom to decide what you do and when you do it. (Ah! I can’t wait! Especially the daily workouts… I really need those, but can’t seem to fit it in at the moment. I plan to use my current commute to & from work time to go to the gym instead! Eee!)

    Also – I loved this: “Part of being a good boss-to-yourself is stopping to sometimes congratulate yourself on a job well done.” I did this last week and it was pretty fabulous. I even said, You did such a good job – you should buy a bottle of champagne and hang out with your husband. Because also – that’s important – to remember your husband in the middle of all this work-work-working, yes? :) haha

  • “It’s important to remember why you’re doing this: to do meaningful work, and to have a family life. Enjoy those things. They are the reason.”


    I keep trying to remind myself that as a chronic over-achiever, gone are my days of aiming for success in a certain area just to say that I was successful. For me, these are hollow victories. But taking a quieter desk job so that I play World of Warcraft card games with my husband on the weekends and play personal papparazzi to my puppy? Yes, please.

  • Keep up the great work! My husband is self employed and he works harder than I do (and often for less scratch) every day of the week. I’m so glad the book s coming along well and working for yourself is working.

  • Also, your post kind of reminds me of this article that Noa of Feather Love tweeted a link to yesterday. It’s kind of perfect.

  • Erin

    Two things:

    1.) Your insights about email and the internet stunting productivity: duly noted. Just so happens to be my biggest weakness, a lack of self-control that’s my biggest shame.

    2.) Damn girl, you make working for yourself look hard. And I mean that in a good way. Thanks so much for sharing honestly. These posts keep kicking me in the pants about how much discipline it takes to make good stuff happen. I have to revise my long-term life plan to add a few steps to the beginning, starting with “learn to wake up early. For real this time.”

    • meg

      I’ll tell you, years of being forced to wake up at 5am (hell), make waking up at 7am to work for yourself pretty easy.

      • Erin

        Hehe. I have 7a down. I need to start the 5a rounds. Yes, it’s time. :)

        • meg

          Ooo…. I donno about that. That literally killed my joy in life. Getting up way before dawn like that was… dark. Not worth it!

  • Zan

    Ask and ye shall receive.

    A reference for that bit of information about having control over your life can be found, with handy explanation, here (the actual citations are in the bibliography at the end of the document): (page 3)

    Based on work on chronic stress by, Bruce McEwen (Rockefeller University), Teresa Seeman (UCLA) and Robert Sapolsky (Stanford)

    They cite CEOs in their example of “access to power” in the workplace. the same goes for those who are self employed.

    • Hypothetical Sarah

      I’m glad you found the references. Because I was going to unhelpfully quote:

      So why does working for yourself make you happy? Well, years ago, there were some studies (Which I have no links to. Grad students, do you have links?) that said that one of the main lifestyle issues leading to long term health was having control over your life.

      and comment on the irony of talking about happiness, having control over your life, and grad students all in the same thought. (Not that my life as a grad student is so bad, but… stereotypes and all. I’m sure there’s an applicable PhD Comic to cite.)

      • Zan

        Oh PhD comics, your truthiness makes me laugh and despair at the same time.

        Also, yeah, Grad School is at once lots of control over your life and nonewhatsoever.

        • Another Alice

          Before I was a grad student, I didn’t get PhD comics. While I was one, I thought they were amazing. Now that I’m staff serving grad students, I find them slightly annoying (especially the current ones about reimbursements, since that’s the job I do now).

          Funny how that changes over time.

        • Oh this exactly!

    • Heather G

      Yep, I was going to say something along these lines. My dissertation is on stress and how it affects psychological well-being and health (sleep, specifically). I can say with relative certainty that perceived lack of control is one of the main sources of stress.

      There are also lab studies about completing a task with noise pollution that illustrate this point. For example, when people know that they can turn the volume down, they may not turn it down, and aren’t as bothered by it. But when they can’t turn the volume down, they feel more distressed. Something along those lines…

      • meg

        Self employment: being able to turn the volume down.

  • Emily Elizabeth

    My husband is self-employed too, and he works like crazy, and definitely needs to figure out a way to balance things out a bit more — as in, take breaks to go outside and do something physically active, since that’s something that makes him so happy.! If we didn’t have a dog to walk, I really think he wouldn’t look outside most days, he’s so focused on his work!

    I’m a grad student which sometimes feels like being self employed. I need to work on working MORE ironically, and definitely like the idea of focusing on morning work time. Good advice!

  • Zan


    “Yay Meg! You’re doing it! Yay!!!!”

    Being in Grad School is similar to working for yourself and there are two things I do to help me power through:

    1) Best program ever. It shuts off your airport connectivity for a time that you specify, up to 8 hours, and in order to get it working again you have to restart your computer. This has helped me to no end.

    2) Mollie mentioned mytomatoes and this is basically the same thing but with a different name. It is a tomato shaped timer that goes for certain intervals with breaks in between to keep you on track. I feel ridiculous using it sometimes, but it works!

    3) Don’t forget to veg out with some ice-cream now and then :)

    • The Pomodoro technique has really helped me too, especially when I am not feeling disciplined. :) I just use a regular online timer to do a 25 minute countdown.

  • Big yes to more flexibility/autonomy helping on the happiness front. I’m a payroll employee with a crazy long commute to the office, but the nature of my work, the practices of the organization, a fairly hands-off manager, and the track record I’ve built up over the years all together mean I have way more flexibility and autonomy in how and when I get my work done than most people I know, and though I’d love a shorter commute, I value that autonomy far more. (And I do get to telecommute one day a week, thanks partly to a space crunch, so that helps.)

    The other (kind of related) thing that jumped out at me was the first lesson listed: “I like working from home, totally by myself (I was shocked by this).” From reading this site over the past year or so, I have the impression that you’re fairly extroverted, yes? And that’s probably why you’re surprised you liked working totally by yourself? I land pretty strongly on the introvert side of the scale, and was surprised that my weekly telecommute day drives me kind of crazy, because I expected to looooove it.

    I mentioned this to the the career counselor who uses my office on the days I’m at home, and she wasn’t surprised at all. Her take was that as an introvert, time alone is what recharges me, while time with others drains me and on the days I’m home with no human contact, I get *too* charged and need a way to discharge. There’ve been studies that find extroverts are better suited to telecommuting than introverts because extroverts naturally seek out interaction and balance the isolation aspect; I’d imagine similar principles apply in the self-employment world. (Meanwhile, I’ve learned that I need to schedule some sort of interaction on my telecommuting days if I don’t have a phone meeting or something on the books.)

    • meg

      Interesting. Yes. I’m a super-extrovert. And I feel like when I work from home, I can plug in with people via twitter (or the comments) as need be, but also really focus and get stuff done. The tricky part about working outside the home (which is a nice treat for sure) is that when there are pople around I wanna TALK, and then I don’t get tons done. And I’m as ambitious as I am extroverted, so I like to get sh*t DONE.

      • Heather G

        Yes. yes. yes! It used to be that productivity and being around others were mutually exclusive for me. I simply could not work when I was around others.

        I’ve gotten better, but I know myself well enough to know that if the people around me aren’t part of me meeting my goal then I probably need to work alone.

        I am curious though. Do you get distracted by David when he’s home? I am totally distracted by my partner, unless I am right up against a deadline. Not because HE distracts me, but because I am looking to be distracted.

        • meg

          Well, we try to rotate. If he’s working from home, I work from the office. If he’s working from his office, I work from home.

          BUT. On days that we both are home, it’s not too bad. I work at our kitchen table, and he works at our work station in the living room, so we’re in totally different rooms. But also, I absolutely hate deadlines, which means I like to get EVERYTHING done early… so I tend to be really focused. If I’m working, I don’t want you to talk to me, I don’t want to answer the phone, I just want to WORK.

          So, I guess I’m hard to distract. But we do separate rooms. Because even him being near me when I’m in hyper focus mode annoys the sh*t out of me (poor thing).

          • Meg, I notice you are cursing more (asteriks and all) and I, for one, LOVE it.

      • I have this same problem. :)

    • Denzi

      Wow! This is an epiphany for me–I totally get overcharged on my Wednesday work-from-home day and am like “WAHHHHHH MUST SEE SOMEONE!” Which is such a weird thing to feel as an introvert.

  • Meg,

    A couple of tips I have learned from working at home for the past 5 years:

    1. Set up specified times to check emails. I check mine first thing, after lunch, at the end of the day (5:00) and at the real end of the day (10:00). The rest of the time is spent actually accomplishing goals.

    2. Deciding what sounds should fill the office. Sometimes I need complete quiet to actually think, music is nice, podcasts, and occasionally I watch tv while completing something mindless. This actually makes me feel more accomplished since I’m catching up on other things I enjoy while getting work done.

    3. Leave the house if you need to. I too really enjoy being at home all day by myself, but sometimes I push myself away from the desk and run out of the house (on a work related errand of course.)

    4. Realize that an hour of focused work without interruption is equal to two hours of work at “regular jobs” with phones ringing, people requesting stupid stuff of you and the like. Once I realized this, I stopped being so hard on myself about how many hours I was working. I have adopted a “get your list done” type of attitude. It does not matter how many hours you work as long as the list gets done.

    And lastly, thanks for letting me know it’s okay to sleep an extra hour, I’ve been feeling very guilty about that and if you have further tips on how to stop the guilt of doing other things, I’d like to hear it, I’m still working on that one.

    • meg

      #4 Is really helpful. Sometimes I do hours of super focused work, that I never would have done at an office, and then feel guilty for wanting to quit around 4 (and having enough work done to quit… and no more energy to work).

      • Class of 1980

        Think of it as avoiding burnout.

  • Kathryn

    Way to go Meg! I do have couple resources: has awesome articles on entrepreneurship for anyone interested in starting their own business or trying to grow their business from a start-up to a medium sized business, which turns out is especially hard for some entrepreneurs given that the leadership strengths they relied on to start a business are very different than the leadership and management characteristics they need to grow a business.

    Meg – your “What I’ve learned” reminded me of a book called 101 Habits of Highly Successful Novelists. It is not only helpful if you’re trying to write a book (non-fiction included), but it’s really snarky and entertaining as well with some great contributing authors. It may be beyond where you’re at, but it would be a good fit for those who are trying to get started.

  • I love these posts Meg, they remind me why I ultimately want to work for myself.

  • clampers

    6,000 words a week…damn, girl. Nice job.

  • I write this at 10:15 AM, so I’ve failed today, but I try to avoid the Internet before noon. I use the mornings for errands, cleaning, exercise, so the ten hours or so I sit in front of my computer later in the day feel less soul-deadening. But really the key is finding how to be most productive for your own needs, and it sounds like you’ve got that under control!!

  • Class of 1980

    Just a couple of comments.

    I have been wondering for a long time how anyone that twitters, texts, and e-mails ever gets anything done. I just e-mail and often hate the tyranny of that. (Meg, sometimes I send you stuff of interest to read, but I don’t want an answer, so no guilt from me. ;) )

    The most interesting subject for me is about how working for yourself gives you control. I absolutely agree that control over your life and interesting work are necessary to real happiness.

    I work with a partner and to tell you the truth, lately I’ve been chafing to be truly on my own. I have a lot of control, but I want complete control. It’s part of my nature.

    You also mentioned figuring out what lifestyle you want to live. Since we can live anywhere in the country with an internet business, this question occupies a great deal of my thoughts. I really want to settle down in one place for life now, but I want to get it right. I am at a stage where I’m constantly asking myself questions about what mix of urban and country life suits me and what town/state would match.

    The choices are both wonderful and slightly terrifying.

  • YESSSS!!!! Ok, I’m a little excited because I COMPLETELY agree with every word you write… like EVER.

    I too work from home I’m an actress/certified Holistic Health coach/blogger/Creative Lifestyle coach/fiancee trying to plan a super low budget wedding.

    THANK you and your team for writing posts that make me want to reach out and hug you…… but in a totally non-creepy way!

  • Elizabeth

    This is amazingly helpful and inspirational. Thanks so much for taking the time to share. Also, you’re pretty :)

  • okay, i’m going to go ahead and be totally superficial and say that i’m loving your sweater in that picture. you should probably be one of those bloggers who lists at the end of the post where they got all the awesome things they’re wearing. :)

    • meg

      Ann Taylor Loft, 50% off.

      • Kippercard

        I’m all proud that I have the same sweater in the same color! I’m a dork.

  • AMEN, sister!!!

    I am trying to get there myself, and you keep me going and remind me it’s not a (selfish) pipe dream.

    Thank you!!!

  • “You’ll always feel behind, and that may never change.”

    I wish this wasn’t the case. My to-do list seems to always stay long, and I don’t like always feeling like I am behind. This year I am working hard to finally finish up some big projects that have been hanging over me for well over a year that I just need to finish already. After that, I think I will feel more of a sense of freedom and openness to starting some new artistic projects. But now is a hunker-down-and-focus-on-finishing season of life. The aforementioned 25 minutes at a time approach is helping me move through when my energy and enthusiasm are lacking…

  • Congrats on month 2! I can’t wait to read some of the posts you linked out to, and it is always nice to know what other “work from home”-ers are feeling about the pluses and minuses. I find that while I am always busy and working, I also don’t feel like I am busy and working, because I enjoy it, and that is living. But then I forget about dinner or never get out of my PJs, and that is a different kind of problem.

    • meg

      Ha! I always get dressed, though sometimes I work in my gym clothes for a little bit before or after the gym. I’m baffled when people say they don’t get dressed or brush their teeth, or work literally nonstop. I think I’m just a person who really likes structure? So my work hours are 8ish to 6ish (never more, but sometimes less). And while I might do something here or there at night, I don’t work at night. And I always get dressed.

      Which is mostly saying I’m confused by how I don’t line up with the culture of everyone else who works for themselves. A puzzle!

      • Class of 1980

        I can (and do) work in PJ’s. Often don’t get showered and dressed until afternoon. I’m not a morning person.

        BUT, I have noticed that on the rare days when I get dressed earlier, I’m more enthusiastic about working that day and get stuff done earlier.

        Obviously what you are doing works for you. The plus side of getting dressed is that you’re ready for anything at any time. So, I’m pretty sure that your way is better. ;)

        • meg

          Also, my way comes with cute shoes. Which sometimes I just keep *near* me. In case of emergencies. You know.

      • Denzi

        I can’t concentrate until I get dressed. It’s like a mental “okay, your day is starting!” thing. So if I don’t get dressed until noon, no work is getting done until 12:30…

        I do, however, skip showering when I work from home. Because I hate showers (T. makes fun of me for this all the time), and so if I have to shower AND get dressed AND work from home? Game over.

      • AWB

        I don’t think it’s just you- luckily my bedroom and bathroom are upstairs so my habit is so get up, shower and eat before I sit down at the computer (sometimes I am lax with food but I still have had a shower and am dressed)

        I can’t work in Pjs because I can’t get into the right mindset. As it is I’m in lounge pants most days and definitely notice a difference in jeans.

        It’s funny the mind tricks that you can use to force yourself to feel differently when working at home.

  • Denzi

    Meg, you are making my crazy work-for-myself dreams (that are all of a sudden starting to happen for 10-15 hours a week) seem doable. And you have such good advice too. (You also make me want to start a blog. Do do doooooo…)

    The first thing Mark made me do as part of my internship was read “Rework” by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson and it has been super-useful to me. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. (I too feel like a scientologist here, but oh well…)

  • Andrea Marie

    love love love these posts. Not only does this satisfy my curiosity about what it means to “work for yourself,” (and, okay, if I’m honest, curiosity about what your life is like personally ;) but it is also REALLY inspiring. I was trying to figure out what exactly is so inspiring about it for me–as a law student, and I think it’s just the reality that finding meaningful work is possible. Thanks for being that example!

    • meg

      Well, you know, this is good. In this economy, my recently graduated lawyer husband has ended up working for himself. I mean, hopefully that will stop at some point soon, but it’s been great that he’s had the skills to make that happen in the interim. It’s better than NOT working for yourself ;)

      • There is a really interesting difference that exists between when you have chosen to work for yourself and when you are working for yourself out of necessity and hope it will end soon. I, unfortunately, am in the latter. I have found that I love it in some respects but also that it is really hard to start out when you haven’t planned for it. I now know what it really takes to do this successfully when the time comes in a few years that I move into the group of CHOOSING to work for myself.

        One thing I would mention is that in creative disciplines, while it can be easier and more acceptable to work for yourself in some respects it’s a lot harder. I’m a designer and while I bill out at way more per hour than I would make at an office, I would have to work almost double to make the same salary. Billing, emails, quotes and proposals all take up more of my time than designing. It’s a huge tradeoff that you have to weigh whether choosing your projects and having creative control outweighs the fact that you’re going to be doing what you actually want to do a lot less of the day.

        Also, you have to put money into it. You can’t expect to be able to do everything by hand. Words can’t describe the relief of paying for invoicing and time management software as well as the right equipment and space to work in.

  • Becca

    Woo hoo! Go Meg :) You inspire us!!

  • LBD

    I put in my notice at my job last Friday. I have no idea what I’m doing next, maybe going back to school, who knows. I work in an industry that was severely impacted by the housing crisis, and it’s become an absolutely horrible place to work. I was the only minion in a company of part-owners, so I had no say in my fate, and there was no room for advancement with things so top-heavy. Absolutely no control or autonomy, and a lot of being controlled. No one else in the industry is hiring. But things got so bad, I was so depressed and anxious all the time, I had to quit to stay sane. Luckily my boy has a good job, so we’ll get by, but I’m having to think a lot more critically about wedding budget things!

    And I must say your “Truth” paragraph is SO EXACTLY what it was all about. What it came down to is that I felt I had lost all control over the fate of my career, and since we spend a lot of hours of our lives doing and thinking about whatever it is we do for a career, I was feeling like I was losing all control over my life as well. I know, I know, our career is not our life, or at least that’s what we’re supposed to think, turns out in reality that’s really really hard to do when things are going so badly. So while leaving my job has been really hard so far, especially since I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do next, I feel like I can finally breathe again, because now at least I have the ability to pursue any option I put my mind to. I have control again. And it feels so damn good.

  • Sarah

    Hi Meg,
    This is my first APW comment ever:

    I don’t work for myself, but I read the 4-hour Work week by Timothy Ferriss last year and it totally revolutionized my productivity. He goes a bit bonkers with it (do we really need digital assistants from India? Not me), but the point he makes is that distractions cost us so much more time than we realize, and the simple discipline of making daily to-do lists (and then stoping when that work is done) and limiting email time to twice a day has been A-mazing.

    Just thought I’d share! And, even though I’ve been married for nearly 7 years, I found and love reading your site. You and your assistant editors are totally rockin the internetz.

  • Class of 1980

    All these book recommendations! I definitely have to read them.

  • Meg, I love this post! And I think that it’s a really great idea to kind of chronicle “the adventures of working for yourself” I just opened my own dessert catering company and sometimes I have to remind myself that it isn’t a one time project… it’s an everyday activity to get my name out there and get the clients!! I applaud you, girl!

  • Great post Meg!
    Here are some things I’ve learned about working from home as a marketing consultant for the past year:

    1. I have to seek out career development opportunities. On-the-job training used to be incidental, like when a coworker would ask me to do something that I didn’t know how to do, and they would show me, and my skill set would grow. Working from home alone, this is not available anymore. Training is something that I have to budget time (and money) for, whether it’s asking a friend to teach me, taking a class, or spending time researching online. It’s an effort, but to me a career is the path to becoming an expert in your field, and continuing learning is a huge part of that.

    2. I have to make an effort to network. Again, it used to be incidental in an office environment. Now I say yes to almost every invitation I get to meet new people, even if it’s just bowling with my old roommate’s college buddies. Having a big network is hugely helpful to building a business. I’ve had people I barely know recommend me to someone they know for a contract, and I’ve met suppliers and contractors that I’ve hired to help me. Plus it helps ward off the crazies that can come with being home alone all day (like completely losing my inner monologue).

    3. Like Meg, I exercise every day. I take tons of walks and I swim, dance and run. I highly recommend taking group classes to be around people. I used to keep fit by biking to work, and it took a while to find a new routine that I liked as much as that. But like Meg, it keeps me sane and it’s been worth making an effort.

    4. When you work from home and no longer have the helpful IT department that could work miracles restoring lost files, is your friend. I back up everything!

    Oh – and I love my job. I work way, way more than I did before, but it’s so satisfying and I feel like I’m making a real contribution to my community. What’s better than that?

  • I’m at the point of my grad studies where I should be working on my dissertation. I should’ve had a measure written a month ago. It wasn’t until two weeks ago that I figured out how to do it. And this week was going to be my big week to do it (Spring Break). Definitely need to get the discipline going. I NEED to graduate and get out of this before I go completely bat crazy. You are an inspiration.

    • Heather G

      Oh girl. I’m right there with you. You know what finally got me going? This revelation: It’s never going to get easier than it is right now. And, no kidding, to-do lists every time I sit down to work, even though I know exactly what I need to do.

      And this other revelation: making progress is so much better than the alternative (i.e., feeling guilty, unproductive, excuses, etc).

      Oh, and I’ve just decided to redecorate my work space. :)

      Let’s do this thang!

  • I still think it’s BEYOND awesome that you are doing this! I love reading your monthly posts about how it’s going being self-employed. You are empowering so many women; myself being one of them!

  • Carreg

    I am taking note of the thing about control over life. I think you’re right about that. I like my postgrad studies for the same reason. Plus one day maybe it will properly sink in: sitting in front of a computer is not necessarily work. Work is work, sitting in front of a computer is probably procrastination unless the word count is steadily increasing.

    I’m looking forward to reading your book even though I’ll be married by the time it comes out. Keep it up!

  • So, when I read your last post, I was like “cool, I really like Meg, I really like the things she has to say about life, and this will be an interesting topic for her interesting thoughts”.

    Then, two days later, I started a PhD in constitutional law.

    And now? Just under a month in to my doctorate? All I can say is: can you please write another book, and another one, and so on for the next three years, just so that you can keep me metaphorically company across the intertubes?!!

    Because all of a sudden I can see how doing this damn thing is just like starting a business that trades only in Stuff About Constitutional Law That Elizabeth Knows and Can Write About. And it is HARD, no? And I figure that any solidarity that we can find, with others engaging in this damn business of (a) turning up; and (b) being hell smart and shit – well, it wouldn’t hurt.

    Three things to add, in light of all of the above.

    (1) Re treating it like a job – for me, it’s about being “workman-like”. This is now my job, for which the good people of Australia are paying me a pittance *ahem* a “wage” in the form of a scholarship.

    I get up, I get dressed, I sit at my desk (that desk is a bit of a moveable feast at the moment, which my OCD-esque self HATES, but still – wherever it is, it’s got my 11inch Air on it). I do work every day.


    (2) Re guilt – this ALSO means that – like any other job – sometimes I am productive, sometimes I am a shit hot legal eagle who tells those damn constitutional principles what for.

    Sometimes though I am vague and dreamy, sometimes I do nothing all day but the “pee triangle” (Fill jug of water at cooler; return to desk to drink water and stare at screen; go to bathroom to pee. Rinse and repeat.)

    That. Is. O. K. Because those dreamy days? Well, if I were in an office, they would happen too. And the fact that I am the only one who knows or cares what I do every day doesn’t change the (in)significance of not being totally on the ball on one particular afternoon.


    (3) Re ambition – I’m doing this for myself, on my terms, and to produce something that I (and only I) have created. Yay! And boo. That’s the hardest thing, and the best thing, all rolled up into one. It means I give myself shit when I don’t do enough – but it also means I don’t bother to congratulate myself when I do well.

    Wait, what?

    Sometimes you’ve just got to pull right back, remember that it’s a marathon not a sprint, that you are doing this because you love it and because you can: and that “because you can” is not just a financial decision, or a lifestyle one – it’s because you are really really good at this and someone wants to hear all your smart thoughts! How good is that! And then it gets easier to remember that you are actually being fairly awesome a fairly large percentage of the time.

    Which is good, and makes it MUCH easier to leave the office at 3pm to go to beach when you got something done that might have taken until 6pm on a different day.

    But anyway. I send you good writing vibes from across the globe. May your ideas flow freely, your phrases be witty, your “em” and “en” dash choices consistent and your heading hierarchies aesthetically pleasing – and now I’ve got to go think about the difference between a functional or formalistic approach to the separation of judicial power!

    • Oh, and for anyone about to start a project/professional-change of this nature?

      Don’t sign up for your first ever triathlon*, to occur only five weeks after starting.

      If you do, don’t sign up for a full, proper one, even though you’ve never even done a short one.

      Just don’t. No, really, don’t. It’s stupid.

      I’m all about the exercise as part of a structured, productive, (self-)motivated work day – it is really really useful – but of all the stupid things I’ve ever done, this has got to be up there. Starting something like this is a big enough change and a big enough source of angst and pressure, without adding to the load.

      Now, if only I could find a way to make a fold in the time-space continuum, thereby enabling me to listen to my own advice before it was too late …

      * By which I also mean anything difficult, sweaty and frightening.

    • meg

      Pee-triangle. Ha.

  • Congrats Meg! It sounds like you’re doing really well. I found that when I was working on my thesis in grad school, I approached it in a very similar way – I needed structure in order to get things done. I didn’t have the luxury of an office (grumble stupid underfunded environmental studies faculty grumble universities only fund engineers grumble) but I set up shop in the library every day and worked a relatively structured day, although I did enjoy taking a gym break whenever I pleased.

    I’ll echo what’s above about 1 hour of focused solo work being worth 2 office hours – when I started my office job, I was blown away by how long it takes to get things done with the constant interruptions.

    I’m really excited to continue reading about your transition to working solo! It gives me some good ideas about eventually (like, super long-term eventually; I just started in my field and need to build up some skills and credibility with an organization first!) shifting to independent consulting, and I’m going to make Eric read them too, because there’s a good chance that he’ll be working for himself within a few years too.

  • peanut

    Huh, they way you describe your work sounds pretty similar to doing a PhD (but without advances). It’s a 90% love/10% hate relationship…during the 10% I just “want someone to tell me what to do so I don’t have to figure it out!” But I’ve done that before, it felt like my brain and soul were racing each other to see who could shrivel up and die first…. and now I am happy 90% of the time. Great post.

  • LifeSheWrote

    Love this post – sent it to a relatively newly self-employed friend and hope she’ll commence to procrastinate/enrich her life with APW daily like I do!

    And Grad Student to the rescue! For one example in the Soc literature: see John Mirowsky and Catherine E. Ross’s “Social Patterns of Distress” in the Annual Review of Sociology in 1986 (12:23-45) for a detailed explanation of how control over one’s life can greatly reduce psychological distress. (It’s on Ye Olde Google Scholar or: I know there are others, but that’s the one I happen to be reading today.

  • Meg,

    I am so happy that you decided to include these posts. I was married in November but keep coming back for all of the wonderful perspective on marriage and life.

    I have now been running my own business for 2.5 years and I agree with so much of your list I am amazed! I still always feel a little behind (usually about two weeks behind) but somehow it keeps working out anyway. My business grew much faster than I anticipated and it has been a whirlwind. I think the trade-off for more flexibility and control is that everything is twenty times more personal.

    Every up is very up but the small downs that used to be easy to shake off are now much harder to cope with. It breaks my heart turning away business when I am too busy, and it breaks my heart not giving everyone 100% perfect customer service all the time. When I used to work for someone else, I looked at these things much more practically. If I had to turn away business because we had a full load, that was just that. No guilt at all.

    So I agree that the gym is a necessity (I also hike insanely long distances on the weekends now since nature seems to help, too) and so is taking time to acknowledge your small triumphs. I’d like to add to your list how important it is to have a support group who is willing to celebrate your small triumphs with you. In a company, you have your coworkers to do this. In your own business, you have to build this group for yourself. My husband has been my biggest supporter from the start and I couldn’t have stayed in the game without him.

  • I think it was just after alt summit that you said something in the blog along the lines of ‘I realised that if I wanted something I had to go out and make it happen’ and I have been reminding myself of that every day and now here I am, getting off my arse and going out and getting it.

    Yesterday I went to the bank to open my very first proper business account, the bank manager didn’t laugh at me, he told me my business plan made sense, wished me luck, got me to sign some papers and sent me on my way with a firm handshake – Anyone would think it was a grown up sat in front of him and not little old scaredy cat me in my best lipstick trying really hard to LOOK like a grown up!

    You are a constant inspiration, and, without meaning to heap on any more pressure – when can I get my hands on your book? I want it now, winking at me from my bookshelf reminding me that it CAN be done.

    Oh, and it’s Friday, so stop working and go get a beer, you deserve it.

  • I’m going to print out myth #1 and myth #2 and carry them around to hand out to those people who sigh wistfully when I tell them that I’m self-employed and say ‘you’re so LUCKY, I would love to do that’ then stare into the distance visibly fantasising about such an easy life. Fuckers.

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  • Congratulations on working for yourself! I think everything you said about being happier is so true. I work full-time and freelance part-time so it is a struggle, but the time spent working for myself is my happiest time and I while I’m working to transition, I couldn’t be happier.

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