I started my own business two years ago, attracted by the benefits of self-employment: control of my schedule and the ability to continue as a writer, instead of being "promoted" to editing. But somewhere along the way, my business started to own me instead of the other way around. New assignments and clients came flowing in, and I found myself interrupting vacations with work and stuck at my desk from the moment I dropped the kids at school to the second they walked in the door from after-care.
So I made a New Year's resolution to take advantage of the benefits of working for yourself. The disadvantages are all too evident and largely inescapable: difficulty turning off work when your office is at home, uncertainty around future revenue and uneven workloads during the year. I forced myself to get out of the home office for errands, school events and networking lunches during the day -- after all, this is the flexibility I was seeking!
And this past week, I traveled to my stepdaughter's home in central New York to spend an entire week with her while her mother was out of town. That's the ultimate perk of working for yourself: being able to unilaterally decide to move your base of operations to another state for a week without asking anyone's permission.
Technology, of course, was my ally in this. I forwarded my Google Voice number, which I use for all my business calls, to my stepdaughter's home phone line so that I wouldn't miss a call. My favorite data storage applications, Evernote and DropBox, were just as easy to access from New York as from home. The only other thing I needed to run my business was my laptop. (The smartphone came in handy too.)
The week went beautifully, aside from missing my little girls and my husband. It was a joy to have a glimpse inside our teenager's day-to-day life and schedule. Not to mention the rare opportunity to connect with her one-on-one over rides around town and shared breakfasts and dinners. In fact, I ended up having far more time to work because she was occupied in the afternoons and evenings with her job, homework and cello practice.
Fortunately, no client had an emergency that required my presence in town. All week, I only missed one phone message because a P.R. person returned a call to my stepdaughter's number (I had placed a call from that line), even though I gave her the Google Voice number. Didn't she notice that the voice mail greeting she reached had a totally unfamiliar name and voice? Luckily, no damage was done -- just a delay in connecting until Monday.
Altogether, the week was a success when it came to meeting my New Year's resolution, and connecting with our oldest girl. The real test of my will, of course, will come this summer when I attempt to take two separate week-long vacations, without doing a single stich of work. Last year I spent three days of our beach vacation editing and rewriting an article that had been submitted weeks earlier -- I am determined not to repeat that experience.
When you're working for yourself, taking advantage of the freedom your situation offers rests on your confidence that clients will continue to seek your services even if you sometimes have to draw boundaries around work. It's a scary step to take, but if you don't respect those lines, you can end up just as much of a slave to work as if you were employed. I'd love to hear from other self-employed professionals about how you set limits on work!
Photo (c) 2010 Katherine Lewis