Leaving a 9 to 5 office job to explore new opportunities, start your own business, or even just recover from burnout carries the allure of freedom, but that freedom can also be daunting and scary. How will you structure your days to take advantage of this time so the days don’t slip away with nothing to show for them?
This can be especially worrying for productivity junkies and task list addicts like me. I am also an “Obliger” in Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies framework, meaning I easily meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet inner expectations. All of this to say that I love being productive and accomplishing tasks, but I struggle to do so without outer accountability.
However, I also worked from home for the last year and a half, recently quit my job for a stint of funemployment, and am now getting back into freelancing. So I’ve spent a lot of time thinking, reading, and listening to podcasts about how to be productive from home with minimal structure and accountability.
Here’s what’s worked for me.
Whether you’re maximizing the “fun” of funemployment or hustling hardcore to grow your business, you need specific goals to structure your days. If you’re more in the first category, your goals might include reading a book, planning a trip, or trying that new restaurant. The point is that you’re doing the things you have decided to do, instead of getting sucked into a 5-hour Netflix binge (unless that’s one of your goals, in which case, watch away!).
My favorite way to do this is with the whiteboard hanging in my home office, which I’ve divided into 3 columns – Today, This Week, and This Month. At the beginning of the month, I created a list of all the things I wanted to do in the next 30 days, everything from update my resume to find a Halloween costume, and then each week I move items over into the This Week column, and each day I move some of those items to the Today column.
Using this system, I have managed to get a library card, finally make the doctor’s appointment I’d put off for 3 months, go on a camping trip, and create the editorial calendar for a blog I’m starting with a friend, among other things, in the last 18 days.
This one gets said all the time and is pretty much a no-brainer, yet it’s one that so many of us struggle with! We all know that people get more done, whether fun tasks or work tasks, with structure. So why are we reluctant to set schedules for ourselves or why do we struggle to stick to them?
One reason is that we have preconceived notions about what these schedules should look like, and we try to follow that model. Wake up at 5, meditate, workout, etc. And yes, that can be a very healthy and effective regimen, and about a million articles and podcasts will tell you that all the most successful people wake up at the crack of dawn, but it’s not for everyone.
I am personally not an early riser, and yet when I designed my daily schedule, my first draft had a wake-up time of 5:45 (in the morning!) so I could be working out by 6. Predictably, as my alarm went off in the pitch black each morning, I either snoozed repeatedly or just turned it off altogether. This meant I was starting off every day feeling like I had failed, and that my day was already off to a poor start. As I lamented this to a friend this week, she asked, “If you’re not an early riser, why don’t you just plan to get up at 7?”
Hmm, why don’t I just get up at 7? After all, there’s nothing magical about a 6 am workout that can’t be accomplished just one hour later. I just thought I was “supposed” to work out at 6, now I work out at 7:15 and feel great about it.
I also know that I enjoy my downtime more when I feel like I’ve accomplished something already, and conversely, I need “chill” time to break up my bursts of productive time in order to stay fresh. So I schedule a block of time in the morning for productive tasks like writing a blog post, sending emails I’ve been putting off, or cleaning the kitchen, and then I schedule “chill” time in the midafternoon for reading a book, going on a walk, etc, before my next block of productivity. Some people prefer to do all of the productive stuff first, others are most productive in the afternoons so they start their days with chill time, just do what works for you and don’t feel that there’s a formula you have to follow.
Wearing real clothes, i.e. not pajamas, signals to your brain that you’re in “go” mode, boosts your confidence, and also means that you’re ready for fun adventures at any time. Think about it, have you ever been invited out, but the thought of having to get dressed was just too much, so you ended up staying in?
Whether you’re gearing up for a leisurely stroll around Target, or you plan to tackle a major project, you’re more likely to get started and to feel better about doing it, if you’re wearing real clothes.
Now, real clothes could mean anything from jeans and a nice shirt to yoga pants and a workout top. As long as you’re not embarrassed to be seen in public, it counts!
Now that you have real clothes on, leave your house! It’s honestly kind of magical what leaving your house and going outside can do for your brain and your mood, yet it’s another no-brainer tactic that we forget to use.
Feeling blah and unmotivated? Go on a walk! Putting off a task you’ve been dreading? Change up your scenery and go to a coffee shop! Stuck in a loop of rewatching all one billion episodes of Grey’s Anatomy? Hop in your car and drive around for a bit. Even better, drive to a park, a walking trail, an outdoor mall, anywhere with sky and fresh air, and be outside.
For bonus points, leave your house and interact with fellow humans! Because let’s face it, funemployment and self-employment involve a lot of spending time by yourself while everyone else is at the office. So leave your house, and talk to a real person.
You’ll feel better, you’ll be re-energized, and you’ll enjoy whatever you do afterward more, whether it’s snuggling up with your dog, or launching your website.
What tips and strategies have you found most helpful for making the most of funemployment and self-employment?