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Kelly J. Cooper

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Question to the self-employed [Jan. 19th, 2007|02:27 am]
Kelly J. Cooper
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If you are self-employed, how do you organize your day? (If you WERE self-employed at some point in the past or you're in Grad School or some other program that requires self-organization, feel free to chime in as well.)

Do you try to do certain things for a certain amount of time?
Hit goals? (Word count, submissions, leads, etc.)
Do whatever bit catches your fancy?

[User Picture]From: rmd
2007-01-19 11:59 am (UTC)
i was self-employed for a while, but it was going places and doing stuff in people's homes or offices, so most of these questions don't really apply.
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[User Picture]From: kjc
2007-01-19 05:27 pm (UTC)
Did you have down-time? Or was all your time scheduled?
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[User Picture]From: rmd
2007-01-19 05:33 pm (UTC)
most of it was scheduled. like "please come to my house and install a light". the downtime was just billing and stuff, but i was motivated by the "send a letter and get money" aspect.

i did have problems with completing long term projects there (anything that was going to take a couple of day's work, i'd be tempted to stretch it out because work is boring). i'm not sure i have good suggestions for coping skills with regard to that. i generally tried to do it by "work for X hours" structuring. but, again, being out in someone else's space, i didn't have all my own shiny distractions around me.

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[User Picture]From: tagryn
2007-01-19 12:59 pm (UTC)
I should preface this by adding that I *didn't* finish my dissertation in the end, so my case may be more of a "warning how not to do it"...but...

Procrastination is the killer when you've got huge chunks of open time and something not extremely amusing (i.e. "work", writing, etc.) competing with something more fun (whatever that may be - Internet, TV, going out, etc.) One of the best pieces of advice I got was that time abhors a vaccum, and that "free" time will get gobbled up by other things before you know it.

The key is discipline; without it, working at home/for yourself just won't work out. What I did when I had something I had to do, but didn't want to do, was to tell myself "OK, I'll work on it for 20 minutes." 20 minutes doesn't seem like that long, but it is enough to actually get yourself going on it, so that by the time the 20 minutes was up, I'd (a) usually gotten *something* accomplished and (b) gotten up off my arsh and moving - objects at rest tend to stay at rest, etc. - so that I usually was able to keep working on it past the 20 minutes.

Also, keeping up good to-do lists so that you actually have something to pick out to work on for 20 minutes is a big help, almost a neccessity. It also helps to break down what look like overwhelming tasks into steps that are actually feasible.

Anyway, that was what I did.
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[User Picture]From: kjc
2007-01-19 05:29 pm (UTC)
Yes, I've used a similar 15-minute rule, myself.

I guess my problem is that I have difficulty picking the thing to work on first.

Focusing the 15-minute trick more on a to do list with smaller goals is a good idea, and ties in pretty neatly to David Allen's Getting Things Done model. (Although he doesn't call them "to do lists" he calls them "next action" lists.)

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[User Picture]From: metagnat
2007-01-19 02:09 pm (UTC)
When I was in grad school, I found that putting my scheduled & definite stuff early in the day (be it a class or part-time work or whatever) helped me get up and be up for a while. Also, as long as I got to bed at a reasonable hours, morning was usually my most productive time, because after lunch, I tended to get sleepy and want to nap.

I also tried to set aside time after I got home each afternoon/evening for work, but it was definitely difficult to get motivated. I did try to work on assignments each day, but again, sometimes the motivation wasn't there. I did some hysterical napping.

I found it was easier to stay motivated: a) around other people who were also doing similar work, b) when there was no music playing or television on c) when I got up and started right in on work instead of doing something slack-inducing first d) when I had confidence in myself.

These factors were only moderately under my control, of course...and I didn't always succeed in keeping buckled down, but I did ok...

Also, of course, these things were just me...

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[User Picture]From: kjc
2007-01-19 05:30 pm (UTC)
Yeah, forcing myself to get out of bed every day sure as hell would help.

But it's not been terribly successful so far.
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[User Picture]From: drwex
2007-01-19 03:18 pm (UTC)
I did things by position. For example, no reading in bed. Only schoolbooks on my desk. Etc. Once I had my world organized into pockets I tried to be in certain pockets at certain times. I'm terrible about both goals and distractions so I tried to minimize distractions and focus on progress rather than goals. When I was having problems I would make a list of all the things I wanted to do and see if I could find a couple of small ones to move from the "to do" to "done" column. It was easier for me to do big ones after succeeding at small ones.

Of course, none of this worked terribly well. I'm no role model. But I did get by.
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[User Picture]From: kjc
2007-01-19 05:31 pm (UTC)
How did you pick which pocket to work on?

How did you track your progress?
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[User Picture]From: drwex
2007-01-19 06:44 pm (UTC)
Pocket order was based on a mix of what do I want to do, what can I stand to do, what needs doing, and what am I getting rewarded for doing (paid, advisor wants it, I get pats on the back).

Progress tracking was one of my weakest areas. At best I managed lists. More often I resorted to piles. I would often pile up related work in one of these spaces and just start at the top and go until I couldn't go anymore. Progress was measured by reducing the heights of piles. Awful, I know, but it made me feel better to have a place for each new thing that came in. This went into this pile, that went onto that pile, and I could sort it to the top, middle or bottom of the pile as a rough metric for how important it was.

I guess one of the good things from that ws my realizing that only one thing could be on the top of the pile at a time. So when people handed me new stuff I could look at the top of the relevant pile and say "OK, do you want me to stop working on X in order to do this?" Agile programming use a roughly similar tactic with its feature cards.
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From: n5red
2007-01-19 04:46 pm (UTC)
There are some very good tips in "Time Management for System Administrators" by Tom Limoncelli. Highly recommended.
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[User Picture]From: kjc
2007-01-19 05:27 pm (UTC)
Yep, I picked it up last month. I'm partway through it. I really should finish it.
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[User Picture]From: rmd
2007-01-19 05:34 pm (UTC)
can i borrow it when you're done?
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[User Picture]From: whitebird
2007-01-20 03:45 am (UTC)
It's certainly a good book, I've read it. I've also read the David Allen one, and it's good and useful too. In theory. I suspect it'd be more useful in actual practice...
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[User Picture]From: billmarrs
2007-01-19 05:40 pm (UTC)
> Do you try to do certain things for a certain amount of time?

no, not really.

> Hit goals? (Word count, submissions, leads, etc.)

no, not exactly.

> Do whatever bit catches your fancy?

pretty much... Really, stuff like this is just putting a wrapper around what you're doing. The important thing is to do the work. So, mostly what I do is just sit down and do the work. I like the work, for the most part, so this is not hard. Sometimes, I can be resistant to doing it, so I may have to press myself to get started. Once I do, things go better. Some days, it feels like I get very little done. Other days, I seem to pull-off amazing things before lunch. I think there may be subconscious thinking that goes on during the slow days, where my brain is looking for the right approach. Then, once I find it (the next day), the work goes very fast and amazing things seem to happen.

There's stuff I do every day that is basically reactive. It's maintenance stuff and responding to customers/clients. I don't tend to give myself credit for that sort of work. It's not really hard, doesn't require a great deal of thinking. But, it can take hours or not, depending on what has happened. So, I do this first, in the morning. Then, I try to do the creative thinky work later in the day. Some days, it doesn't really happen. I'm unsure how "OK" that is. I can rationalize it as being OK in the long run, but it's not a happy feeling. Generally, if I just push myself through it and get working, I do better. Though, I really do need to have a decent plan before I start for that to be successful. So, sometimes, I just site down and plan things out first.

I don't get paid directly for the creative work I do, so I'm sure this affects my work style.

One of the things I do is keep a notebook where I write down things to do. I write stuff then do stuff and cross it out. Eventually, the page gets messy. So, turn to the next blank page and make a nice new page, rewriting any remaining uncompleted items. Sometimes, an item hangs around for a few pages and I realize that I'm just not going to do it, so I cross it off.

I'm also trying to get myself to do some personal things every day, like exercise and whatnot. Just this week, I've been using a little checklist web application to prompt myself. In the long run, I'm hoping to turn this into good habits that I do without thinking (bitching) about. I want exercise to be like brushing my teeth.

I've been trying to push to make some more positive changes in my life. So, I've done some thinking about it. One of the things I've noticed is that for some habit-based things, where I've been more disciplined in my approach, I've had more success. So, I'm now actively trying to be more disciplined with the hope of doing better. This hasn't always worked out so well in the past. I rebel against myself. But, I'm trying to be compassionate with myself while applying constant gentle pressure. We'll see...
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[User Picture]From: tcampbell1000
2007-01-21 06:41 pm (UTC)
Around tasks. There is one task in each day that takes top priority-- if you're lucky enough to get that done easily, sometimes there's a second-priority task. Today's a bit special, because I'm using the second-priority task (a site design for Teenbit) to leaven the soul-crushing boredom of the first-priority task (finance homework).

I also find blogging helps, actually. If you make it an assignment to tell other people what's happening in your day, you put yourself under a little bit of pressure to make something happen in your day.
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