It has been exactly a month since I’ve been out on my own, running Black Chalk Co full-time and launching Penultimate Magazine. It has been fun, weird, amazing, hard, easy – everything.
There are some great parts like – pants off every day, not just Friday. Never missing your favourite episode of anything. Ice cream for lunch while in your PJs. Working from the couch. Naps at midday. But – there’s tonnes of hard stuff to navigate through, too. Getting over the “…am I wagging life?” is the first one, but here are some other things I’ve learnt during the first month of being my own boss:
Decisions are hard, exhausting and never-ending – and guess what? You have to make all of them
I remember reading once that people get decision fatigue, and there are only so many we can make in a day. The article suggested making the most of your ‘morning brain’ by making some decisions the night before, i.e. what to wear, preparing your lunch. This means in the morning you don’t have to waste your brain power on little decisions, and could save them for the big ones.
I had never experienced decision fatigue until I started working for myself full-time. When we’re employed by someone else, our day is pretty much decided for us by others. What comes across your desk, or what you’re asked to do – is what you do. When you are your boss… you must decide absolutely everything. What should I work on today? is the most important and most difficult one, but there are millions of micro-decisions that follow.
I experienced decision fatigue during the finalisation of Penultimate Magazine issue one. The layout and logistical decisions were torture and I was absolutely exhausted by about 2pm each day, just from thinking. It seemed weird as heck. I paid attention to my body, though. The luxury of working for yourself means you can stop and start, have a nap, tune out or do whatever, whenever you like. I try to switch off and either nap it out, focus on doing something fun or brainless (thanks MTV) until I feel ready to make informed decisions again.
Time is a finite resource and you’ll never have as much as you think
I’m extremely surprised by how little time I’ve felt I’ve had since going solo. I honestly thought on day one, “This is amazing, I have 10-12 extra hours per day! What the heck am I going to do with it?” I really thought I’d have to work hard on marketing and advertising to bring work in, but it just came bursting through the internet-door. The problem with that is, I was completely blindsided by it. I thought I’d have heaps of time to set up new processes and procedures to really prepare myself for when I went out to work with new clients, but I’m still chasing my tail in that regard. I was worried about building up the workload, but the saying “when one door closes, another one opens” is completely true.
That gets me to – time is finite. Another thing I really and honestly believed was,
“I can just pop out and <insert menial task that people without day jobs get to do>!”
When I worked full-time, I would have these sick fantasies of just dropping into the Post Office at 11am, or just running into Coles to do my shopping at 2pm with 0 queues. I thought the world would be a different place during 9am – 5pm.
Nope. It’s still busy, has way more children, and everything takes longer than you think. A quick trip to the Post Office will easily take 45 minutes. Picking up supplies from 3 stores all within 5-10kms of each other will take over half a day. I have no idea how I managed to run this business for 18 months around full-time work and part-time Uni. I feel like I have less time than ever, but that’s taught me…
The importance of understanding how and when you work best
I’ve always been an all or nothing person, which means I’m very good at procrastinating (read: doing nothing), until the pressure is so immense that I must work at 100mph to get everything done. I thrive in fast-paced, high-pressure environments. I also work better at night, whether after sunset, or just before sunrise. Times when the world is quiet and my emails slow down. Everything is calmer and I can think clearly.
The hardest learning curve I faced with time management was accepting the way I work best, which means breaking out of 9am – 5pm. I kept feeling guilty at the beginning when I wasn’t being overly productive during those hours, but then I had to remind myself – those are just pre-determined hours by the corporate world. I AM working at 4am or 11pm. I AM answering DMs on Instagram all day, every day – and that counts. Breaking out of those habits has been hard, but also a relief. You don’t have to work 9 hour-straight days with 1 hour lunch breaks. If you’re buzzing at 3am – do something. If you’re exhausted at 2pm – have a sleep.
Instead of feeling shit about not ‘doing work’ during 9am – 5pm, I’ve changed that time to be for boring errands. Whether it’s simply cleaning up my home office, going to the Post Office, or running around collecting supplies, I do those things when I’m not feeling ready to concentrate. I then use my early AM and late PM times to get real work done.
While it’s a good thing to know how you work, there needs to be balance. My weakness is procrastinating until the last minute, and distractions are all too easy to find when you work from home. I can’t help it though – ‘just enough work to get me through the day’ is one of the most boring things I could think of. I want excitement! Fear! Pressure! This brings me to…
The importance of looking after yourself
Whilst doing absolutely nothing is very easy to do when you work for yourself, doing too much ALL the time is just as easy. Having a global online business where your phone never stops buzzing can be debilitating. While it’s important to remember you don’t have to subscribe to the 9am – 5pm, it’s also important to remember you’re a person!
You don’t have to work all day every day and people shouldn’t expect this of you. Slowly but surely, I’m trying to pull back from answering emails and messages on weekends. You WILL burn out if you don’t give yourself time off. I think it comes down to yourself and the expectations you give others. If you start replying to emails and messages at all hours of every day, of course they will expect this moving forward.
Don’t forget to do things you love or that you find fun or relaxing. I’ve found it really difficult to stop thinking about my business, it’s become my entire life now. I try to set myself little fun things to look forward to each week where I tune out from work – usually revolving around food or TV (I’m a simple unit.)
When you start working for yourself, you start immediately cutting back on these ‘fun’ things, but try and remember to…
Tighten your belt, but not too tight that you suffocate
I don’t think you can actually suffocate from a tight belt, but roll with it. When I was growing up, my family affectionately nicknamed me Tight Arse Terry. I was definitely not generous when it came to money. After working my way up the corporate ladder, I was earning a good wage. On top of that, I had my own business bringing in a second income. As a single, childless lass, this meant a fair amount of disposable income.
I’m not particularly proud of the relationship I had with money, I’d literally throw it away with 0 cares. That probably sounds like fun, but it doesn’t make you a good person – I was so wasteful. The clothes I’ve bought, the travel I’ve done (TBH: no regrets about travel), the take-away and restaurant meals, the events. It was a comfortable life, but again, made me very wasteful.
Oh, how self-employment can change that! Despite having several months of wages saved up, I immediately freaked out about money. I became The Ultimate Tight Arse Terry. My first two weeks I ate toast for almost every meal and bought none of my creature comforts. I’d turn off lights and actually pay attention to the tariff rates (when you get charged more for electricity) – I’m laughing as I write this.
All this did was make me anxious and take away my focus from building the business. I realised I’d gone too far, and I just needed to trust the process. I’m a more relaxed version of T.A.T now, but I’d like to think self-employment has made me more mindful with money. I NEVER got the concept of mindfulness, I thought it was all a crock of crap. I’m finally making mindful decisions though – and it feels good! Do I really need this thing, or do I just want it? Is this going to add value to my life or my business? What is driving me to want to buy this, and does it help me achieve my goals?
It’s good to keep a close eye on your finances, and it’s natural to cut back at first – but don’t make yourself miserable in the process.
Strap in. The roller coaster of emotions is a wild ride
When I was working full-time, I don’t think I had the time to think things like “I suck!”, or “I can’t do this!” – I just did it with the limited amount of time I had. There were no financial concerns, I had my day job for that. Everything to do with my business was for fun, and I could say no to anything that I didn’t feel like doing.
When you start working for yourself, everything depends on you. This was true before, but now the pressures are bigger and realer. Am I going to keep making enough money to pay bills? Is this business sustainable? Things I never had to worry about before.
It’s crazy how quickly your mood can change – this is something I’ve struggled with. I’m a pretty laid back and level-headed person, but it’s amazing how fast you can go from:
“I can’t wait to do that in the morning!” “I can’t believe I’ve been given this opportunity!” “This is going to be amazing!”
“Am I going to be able to do this on time?” “Am I going to be able to do this justice?” “Am I going to be able to do this AT ALL?” “Oh man, I don’t think I can.” “This is way harder than I thought.” “I’ve never even DONE THIS before.” “…I suck.” “Why am I even trying?” “I’ve made a terrible mistake.” “Nothing matters.”
Sounds extreme – but that is sincerely what the thought-process of a self-employed person can look like. Then – 2 minutes later you’re watching a webinar, and all of a sudden, you’re pumped about life again. You’re lying in bed with your mind racing a million miles an hour with excitement. You finally fall asleep, only to wake up at 3am and feel so sick with worry that you can’t get to sleep again.
Welcome to your new life!
After riding the roller coaster for a few weeks, I’ve realised the importance of positive thinking and keeping the pendulum swinging. I can be very cynical and prefer to be a realist than a dreamer – which is fine – but I think you need to have an optimistic mindset when it comes to your own business, so that your thoughts and doubts don’t cripple your potential. I’ve never been able to get into (what I classify as wanky) stuff like meditation, but I know now that when I start feeling scared and full of doubt, I need to get out of that ASAP. I read a business book, turn on a webinar, or chat to another self-employed friend to snap me back into a positive mood. And all of a sudden, things don’t seem so bad.
Month one has been a crazy, fun and eye-opening time – and I can’t wait to see what the next month has in store for me!
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