Back when I worked at the law firm, I grew to hate the daily grind of the same routine… getting up at a certain time, eating the same thing for breakfast, walking to the bus, reading the same paper every day on my commute, going to the same desk job, where I did mostly the same work each day.
So when I left the law firm I felt like I needed to just break the mold. I wanted no routine – ever! I work for myself now and I can do what I want! (And we all know how that went… no routine/rules = looooong days of work with what felt like no real productivity – just work busyness – all day, every day.)
So then I tried to make and embrace my own “ideal day” – with my days laid out before me in a strict hour to hour timeline of how things were supposed to go in order to increase productivity and encourage routine, (which I think are two things that are really tough in general for people who work for themselves from home). But after trying the ‘ideal day’ thing for a couple weeks I realized it just wasn’t for me… at all… because I was trying to force myself back into a mold that I no longer fit in.
(Here’s me not being forced back into the mold very well… haha. Okay, not really – it’s an old photo I found… but it fits in right at home in this post here, doesn’t it?! haha)
For some reason I think self-employed people feel like their days have to look like they did when they worked for someone else. We think we need to do everything on a set schedule with everything laid out before us. And maybe for some people that is true… but for me, part of why I love working for myself is the flexibility of it! Some days I can go to the gym in the afternoon when nobody is there. And some times I can run errands at 10am on a Tuesday. Or if I had a hard week and am behind on sleep – I can allow myself to sleep in and stay healthy! And part of what I love about it is that each day is a choice for me and each day looks different than the last.
That being said – having so much freedom and flexibility can be a detriment too. Because you feel like you have so much time to get things done you put them off and put them off and do the easy things first (reply to emails, post links to social media, write-up contracts, surf around on Facebook), and then next thing you know – it is 4pm and you haven’t done anything on your to-do list you really needed to do. So you work late, cramming it in, and then miss out on time you could have spent working out, with your family, or for yourself…
Needless to say – I got frustrated with trying to figure this all out. The ideal day wasn’t working, but having no rules wasn’t working either. So I made a few new rules for this year… like closing my office door by 7pm (at the latest) each day. And that alone has done WONDERS for James and I! We have actual nights together to make dinner, relax, and reconnect. And it is fabulous. But there is one thing missing…. between my work all day, straight into James time at night… I’m not scheduling in ME time.
Right when I was realizing all of this was when I headed to the Dominican Republic for What If, where I heard Natalie and Richie Norton speak. (They’re AMAZING, by the way! You need to check them out & buy Richie’s new book!!)
In Natalie’s talk on the last day she spoke about False Productivity, and how Busy-ness does not equal Production. She talked about Time Consecration, and making a solemn commitment of your time each day. Because, seriously, we only have so much of it on this earth – and do we really want to waste it?! Our time is precious, but do we spend it like it is? Where is all our time going? Do we waste our time interacting with people we have toxic relationships with, who make us feel bad about ourselves? Do we waste it being jealous/comparing ourselves to others by reading every blog under the sun? Are we aware of how much time we’re letting slide by – devoted to things that are unimportant to us?
All of these thoughts and things were hitting me like a ton of bricks as she spoke. I was WASTING SO MUCH TIME on things that did not matter to me. I was giving brain space to (negative) people who I haven’t even met in real life! I was putting on this ere of productivity, when in reality – it was just busy-ness… that resulted in anger and frustration that I wasn’t getting things done that I needed to – that I would somehow take out on James! (Oh man, it was an ugly cycle…)
Just as all this was soaking in and I was trying to figure out where to go next with this newfound awareness – Natalie mentioned how they handle things in their home. They have what they call “Rules of Engagement”, which are simple daily rules to live by that keep all the moving parts in their home running smoothly. Things like, “Work ends at 5pm,” and “Return to ready: Clean/clear space after you’ve used it so it is ready for next time you need to use it.”
I love love loved this idea!! This was a way to maintain some rules/structure, but without feeling trapped by a strict schedule.
So on the plane ride home from the Dominican I started writing up my own Daily Essentials for Happiness… (what?! I couldn’t straight up steal their title for it… so I made one up that fits what I’m going for) which I’m going to share here (of course!):
1. Get 8 hours of sleep each night.
2. Move for at least 20 minutes per day. (Can include exercise, or walks with Chloe. I’m setting the bar low here, and hoping it catches on!)
3. Stretch for at least 10 minutes per day. (This formerly flexible girl, is turning into a stiff old lady! It must end! haha)
4. Have 5 minutes of mindful meditation and quiet. (I realized in the Dominican how important this is to me to just sit quietly, and breath deeply.)
5. Check email 3x per day (morning, before lunch, and at the end of the work day) for no more than 30 minutes each time.
6. Spend 5 hours of FOCUSED work time on daily blogging & other important projects on my to-do list. (No email/social media during this time.)
7. Take an actual lunch break away from the office. (No eating at my desk.)
8. Spend no more than 30 minutes reading/commenting on blogs.
9. Spend no more than 30 minutes on social media (Facebook/Twitter) per day.
10. Shut down the computer & close the office door by 7pm to spend time present with James each night. (Any business conversations should take place during the work day.)
11. No checking social media/email on my cell phone before bed! (This is going to be really difficult, but it neeeeeds to stop.)
12. No cell phone/social media during time with James. (Except the occasional/approved Instagram post…)
(Do you seen any trends in there?? haha…)
My favorite thing about this is that these are things I need each day, but in no particular order! As long as each of these rules is followed, then I’m leading a more focused and present life… and not only taking care of my business, and my relationships, but also taking care of myself!
And I’m actually going to keep an Excel spreadsheet log to keep track of each day to hold myself accountable. (Because I’m a nerd and I love Excel spreadsheets!) Already I will say that it is not easy, but it is rewarding! Do you know how many times I wanted to stop writing this blog and go check email or social media?! Do you know how much more quickly I got this blog written because I didn’t?! It’s awesome!
**Edited to add: See the follow-up post about how this is going for me here: https://christytylerphotographyblog.com/2013/03/update-daily-essentials-for-happiness-struggles-of-self-employment.html)