Monday, 29 March 2010

The one about being your own boss

The advantages are obvious: a pay rise whenever the bank balance allows it and a new fancy made up job title whenever you feel like it. I've been running my own company with my business partner for more than 6 years now, and I like the way that my work fits in with my life, rather than the other way around. I don't rely on too much outside childcare for Samuel and it is great to be able to go into school in the middle of the day to see Anna as a singing penguin (for example).

The disadvantages are also probably obvious: an uncertain income, no-one to pay for your sick days except yourself, and no-one else to blame for incomplete/rubbish work.

The worst part for me is the conflict going on in my head: the conscientious boss versus the lazy worker, constantly slogging it out. The bossy-boss part of me thinks I should sit down and get started on writing for that new project immediately and I should invoice a customer for that completed job, and I should make some calls to existing and potential customers.

The lazy employee thinks she should make a(nother) cup of coffee, check Facebook, read a few blogs, re-check her e-mail, research flights to Manchester, and maybe just Google that guy that someone mentioned from that film that she can't quite remember. All important stuff, I'm sure you'll agree.

Quite frankly, it's an exhausting war of inner dialogue.

And I haven't even mentioned the will power you need to work at home when you are surrounded by the dirty breakfast dishes, the non-unloaded dishwasher, the unwashed laundry, and the non-picked-up toys. Funnily enough, I do find it fairly easy to ignore these tasks (see Cleaning up) but usually this is in favour of the lazy employee rather than the bossy-boss.

This is what I have found helps to keep both the lazy worker and the boss in check:
- a deadline - even if the customer hasn't imposed one (unlikely) giving myself a deadline for doing something really helps.
- a to do list - sometimes my list includes seeing a singing penguin performance but it helps to give structure to an otherwise no-one-is-watching-what-I-am-doing day. Plus, nothing beats being able to tick things off the list as you do them.
- a break - a proper, walk-away-from-the-screen kind of a break...for me it usually includes eating something, fetching Sammy from nursery, and listening to the radio.
- to not check my e-mails all day/evening long - especially when I am not "officially" in the office, otherwise I can easily get sucked back in to work mode and never feel that I have free time.
- a dedicated space for working. Luckily, now I have a proper home office with a door, just for me. Yes, it gets full of the children's projects too and right now it has the following stuff in it that (believe me) have nothing to do with my job: a doll's pushchair, about 64 LEGO bricks, 3 big magnets, a cowboy hat, various bits of material and sewing, a half-finished knitted monkey, 1 juggling ball, and a multi-coloured wig. Despite this, it is really luxurious for me to be able to leave my laptop and papers on the desk and come back to the work later. I have had many years of my "office" being perched on the edge of the dining table and this is not ideal - especially when you have a toddler who wants nothing more than to get his sticky hands all over your latest 84 page piece.
- Skype and meeting people. If you work at home on your own, it can get rather isolating. Sure, it's great that you can work in your pyjamas and you don't need to wash your hair - but this can get quite horrible after a while (literally) and I find that I miss the whole having to look respectable for company aspect of working in a real office. So, it is quite good to have to meet your customers occasionally and, failing that, it's very good to have a regular Skype meeting with your business partner or some other network - to make sure you can still interact with adults during your working day.

Finally, you have to remember to give yourself a regular performance appraisal. I usually find something along the lines of “juggling working from home, plus children, plus house-wifey stuff, plus all the other things one wants to do is tough and you’re doing a brilliant job, keep up the good work!” is all that is needed. Then I step over the piles of toys, avoid eye-contact with the laundry basket, make myself some coffee and have a quick sneaky peek at Facebook before checking my to-do list.


  1. Great post! I work similarly to you and, whilst I appreciate the flexibility of it all, I often feel like I'm never 'off duty' either as a mother or a worker bee. And I frequently feel like I'm making a mess of both due to an inability to properly focus on one or another.

    your tips are great! I feel a LOT better when I go to London and spend a day in my client's office. like I'm a 'real 'worker. Plus the stress of getting up , dressing up, going to the office,comng home is SO much less than getting up, getting kids up, wrestling them in to clothes, forcing them to eat breakfast, wrestling them in to car, to nursery, come home, ignore mess, attempt to work, tackle mess, put washing on etc etc.

    You know how it goes...! x

  2. Oh I LOVE to-do lists and I've learnt that the most satisfying way to do them is to write on a load of stuff you've already done, just for the pleasure of ticking them off! Makes me feel a whole lot more productive!
    Tina x