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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