Working for yourself is not something that most people can grasp until they jump right in. I certainly didn’t. I quit my job and decided to try my hand at working from home. While its not the typical work from home job, and I do get to travel around ( a lot) I am thankful for the flexibility to be able to have some control over my own schedule.
It wasn’t long before I realized the problem with having no set schedule. I would stay up until 3 or 4 am working on a project and be up and ready to go for 8 am meeting the next day. Lack of sleep = dependence on caffeine. Dependence on caffeine = lack of energy and having a very unhealthy diet. Unhealthy diet = lack of energy to work out. Its a cycle.
Its not just my body that suffered, but my mental state was getting worn down as well. That is extremely unproductive when you work for yourself. Networking, meetings, and being my charming self was what attracted my clients to me. I work as a Business Operations Consultant, (or a Project Manager depending on what the clients need) and I almost always work with developers since my niche is tech startups. Being mentally sharp is vital to my growth and the people who depend on me.
Here are some of the things that I’ve learned over the last 7 months of working for myself.
1. Improve your business by working out.
I love playing soccer. The high that I get from running around for 90 mins is unparalleled. And since I play in a co-ed league, it also me to work out some of my aggression.
I understand that no everyone is a huge fan of playing soccer, but I can not stress the importance of working out or playing a sport. It strengthens your body, balances your blood sugar, decreases stress, lifts your mood and clears your mind, all of which allow you to better focus on your business. There are tons of way to work out for 30 mins and still get the benefit of an hour’s workout. This comes down to making it a priority. I have started scheduling it in my calendar, and that way I don’t double book myself with meetings. Its easy to get carried away, but it also comes down to making your healthy a priority.
Tip : Find a sport that you like and go out and play. Not only will this allow you to spend time with other adults in a non-work setting, but you’ll have fun doing it.
2. Sleep is your best friend.
I tend to do a thorough audit of all my work at the end of each month to understand how many billable hours each project took. It’s amazing to see how something that takes me an hour on Monday morning took me 5 hours on Thursday night. So the times that I stayed up till 3 or 4 am was completely pointless as I could have just slept and gotten the work done in 1/4 of the time the next day.
Tip: Know when to turn your phone and laptop off. I turn my work email off Friday night at 7, and jump back in sunday afternoon(mostly because I want to start with a clear inbox on mondays)
Tip 2. Use something like Boomerang where you can schedule your emails to go out later. So when I answer emails on sunday, I make sure they go out Monday morning. This stops people from thinking that I am available all the time.
3. Coffee is not your friend.
Coffee is known as entrepreneur’s juice. There is a sense of pride that comes with knowing that you’re burning the midnight oil and are on your 7 cup of coffee. Working in coffee shops is also a flexibility that we have that most 9-5ers don’t. And boy, do we take advantage of it. I didn’t even like coffee until I started working from home. It quickly because what I lived on.
While there are some benefits to drinking coffee, it’s important to know that it inhibits your absorption of essential minerals, such as iron, magnesium and zinc, as well as B vitamins. It can also task your adrenal glands, sending your stress hormones way out of whack.
Tip. Try different types of drinks. I personally love green tea, but even decaf will help fill the void.
4. Irregular sugar intake causes you to a dip in your energy level and focus.
Have you ever been so focused at the task at hand that you’re skipped meals and had your thoughts impaired? Or, do you ever get such a high from a sugary snack or drink that you have a momentary bout of ADD? This happened to me all the time, and its a bad sign. Side note: This is how you end up putting on 15 pounds, but I digress.
When your blood sugar is too low, your brain thinks you are starving to death and literally won’t let you think about anything but food. So, if you walk into a meeting with low blood sugar you’ll not only be hungry, you won’t be able to focus on the business at hand. On the other hand when you spike your blood sugar high out of the normal range with soda, donuts, cookies or highly processed carbohydrates, your brain thinks it’s drowning in blood sugar and quickly goes to work using it up. Once it’s all taken in, you’re back in the low range. This vicious cycle of highs and lows destroys your concentration and shatters your focus.
Tip: Low-glycemic diet filled with protein, healthy carbs and good fats are your friend. Not only does it help regulate your energy levels, but it also helps you maintain or lose weight. Also, try to eat small meals every 2-3 hours.
5. Alcohol lowers your energy levels.
Networking is part of the game. Working in the startup world means that you live by the 3 ft rule. Socializing and meeting people is all part of the game. I mean how else will anyone know about your business until you tell them. This includes meeting people for drinks, dinners, networking events, social gatherings. And what do all of these events have in common? Drinks! Yes, having a few drinks in your helps calm the nerves and gives your the false sense of bravado.
But it also dehydrates you and decreases your sleep quality. Besides its full of calories that your don’t need since you’re eating well anyway.
Tip: Try and drink less than 4 drinks per week, and stay away from sugary mixers.
GREAT post! While I agree with your whole list, sleep is definitely #1 and it’s something I am still having challenges with. GREAT tip on sending out drafted emails on Monday morning – I definitely need to do this. I have a bad habit of sending out emails in the wee hours of the night and weekends.
I did too, but I’ve been caught in one too many email convos at 3 am.
Totally agree. My BF works from home a lot and he’s noticed that if he doesn’t exercise his mood starts to dip. Exercise seriously is so important.
I know! And lets not even start on the weight gain.
Great list — I’m not sure it’s the life for me.
Its not everyone. It gets rather lonely at times.
I completely agree with you! I need to do more exercise, it definitely keeps me more alert!
Me too! And I feel less like a slob.
Your work from home job sounds like a lot of fun. I use to be an IT project manager and for the last year that I worked for the company they let me work from home, although I did travel a lot as well and was expected to visit client sites for meetings too. It was quite draining and many times I worked more hours than I was actually paid to work.
You are right it is important to eat right and sleep well. I love sleep, but unfortunately I also love sugar. I find too much sugar makes me anxious and short fused too, so I do try to limit it.
I worship sleep, but I found that I felt guilty oversleeping.
Working out is so important. I play soccer in a friendly adult league and love it! I agree that if you play a sport then you don’t have to worry about enjoying it because you are having fun, and it does not feel like you are working out at all.
Exactly. And don’t forget the fact that you can take your aggression out.
I definitely learned some of these lessons while working for myself. It’s all too easy to want to work as much as you can and neglect things like eating healthy, getting exercise and sleeping enough. Ignoring those things is so counterproductive though. By taking care of your body you can be so much more productive. A sharp mind is more dependent on your physical health than many people realize.
True that. And its after 12am and I’m wandering around blogs.
I worked from home for around eight months and I found a great strategy is to try and keep regular office hours. I actually got up most days, got dressed, left the house for a coffee, came back and got to work, did my eight hours, and then called it quits.
Oh thats a great idea. I try to schedule my meetings early in the morning so I have to leave the house, and be alert.
I don’t work from home, but relish at any opportunity for a nap. I love em, and take naps as often as I can. Coffee being entrepreneur juice is so true. I’m very groggy in the morning before my coffee, so I need it, and generally drink 3-4 cups throughout the work day.
Naps are AMAZING!
All great points. I haven’t been getting enough sleep lately and it’s torture. I can’t do a very good job at anything in my life without sleep.
As my sister likes to say ” I fail at life without sleep”
Great tips Marissa. I work from home as well and I can definitely agree with the working out and sugar points you made. I have a much more productive day when I get up and workout in the morning. Also just because we are at home during the day there is more on an urge to raid the food cabinet. That will only cause you to have an early crash and loose productivity.
This is why I’ve gone ahead and bought a tons of veggies to munch on. Hopefully that suffices.
So I guess I shouldn’t be snacking on this delicious rocky road while I’m trying to work at my computer :
No wonder I have these big lulls in my work output…
Great list! My wife and I work from home as well and soon discovered that just because we could now stay up til 2:00 am does not mean we should and our work suffers as a result because we’re zombies. Knowing when to call it quits is key as well, otherwise all you do is work and have no time for yourself.
I learned that the hard way.
I can always tell when I’m “in season,” closing in on a marathon. My work improves, the amount of output skyrockets and my meetings go better. Maybe I should start doing marathons every week?
I hadn’t even thought of it that way. Maybe’ll I should start playing soccer more.
I’ve always needed at least 8 hours a night and I’m fanatical about attempting to protect my precious shuteye time!
I’m very glad I’ve never developed a caffeine habit (upsets my stomach) but my propensity for sugar probably cancels out that benefit…
My only two sugary vices are banana bread and cheesecake.
I love coffee and drink it every morning. I need it to get going!!
BTW – I like the sharing button at the bottom! Just used it!
Aww, thanks Robert. Does it look familiar? 🙂
Sugar and caffeine are both problems for me, but I’m working on them.
Try eating an apple instead of coffee. You’d be surprised at how awake you feel.
Great article! As a freelancer I know how important it is to create your own balance, and staying healthy is imperative to having a vibrant career.
I’ve worked for myself for two years (next week is my “anniversary”!) and I’ve learned all those firsthand – especially #4. I’ve found it harder to resist the urge to snack working at home!
#1 (sleep) is critical 🙂
That said, I hope you’re having a great Thanksgiving and enjoying some downtime.
Even though I don’t work from home, all of tips apply so closely to when I travel (which is also under my own time management). Anytime I have a drink at night, stay up late, don’t get enough sleep, and miss my workout in the morning, I feel terrible! You’re right – break the cycle!
I want to print this and bring it to work with me so that I have a reminder that I don’t need *another* cup of coffee. Or a reminder that, when bored, going for ice cream is not a solution.
Regarding the topic of sleep, I’m a huge believer in sleeping early and waking early (at 4 in the morning). Apparently studies show that every hour you sleep before midnight is equivalent to 3 hours you sleep after.
This is the fact that alcohol drop your energy level. I think you have explained nice points and one should follow this.
Working from home certainly offers a great amount of flexibility but it also requires a good deal of motivation and self-discipline. With so many distractions around – television, the bed, Facebook, kids etc. – it’s difficult to stay focused and productive at times. Those who can adjust and stick to the work/life schedule will do it more successfully than others.