Here’s something I’ve learned in my two years of entrepreneurship: one of the hardest parts of working for yourself is getting yourself to actually work.
Here’s a helpful secret I’ve discovered: environment is everything.
New York is a battle for space, and I’ve been fighting for mine since I arrived. I started out just across the Hudson in New Jersey where I worked at a pull out desk below my twin size loft bed. In the fall, I moved to Brooklyn where I rented a room under the M train. I had a mattress on the floor, and hung my clothes from a white rack in the corner. Every fifteen minutes the train would rattle by and I’d cringe, praying I wasn’t about to lose service in the midst of a phone meeting.
Here’s what I learned in that first floor flat under the train: there’s a perception going around that entrepreneurs can work anywhere with a wifi connection and a bottomless cup of coffee. That perception is wrong.
Here’s why: you’re human. Humans are easily distracted.
See, you make your own schedule now. And, you’re technically “available” for things like phonecalls, lunches, laundry, cleaning your shower and scrubbing out that back spot in your oven you’re suddenly no longer able to ignore. These things are all part of a great big black hole I like to call the vortex – it pulls you in before you know it, and you can spend hours inside it without even knowing it’s happening.
It’s deceivingly easy to justify work affecting your personal life as “business.” After all, you’re the business owner. So getting your laundry finished, finally calling your mother back and cleaning out that crumbs in the bottom of your toaster are all part of your “work” – right?
Something – preferably a wall – has to come between you and the dishes that need to be done, calling your mother back, sending your laundry out and vacuuming under your couch. And, that something needs to be substantial.
Here’s four things I’ve discovered to be my work “non-negotiables” – the factors I know I need to come together in order to productively run a business out of my little Brooklyn flat.
In my flat we have a small room with a separate entrance that we’ve designated to be the “office.” There, I’m able to focus without distraction, leaving behind all my personal “to dos” and distractions, and entering an actual room that I use exclusively for work.
That little room has made all the difference.
Working under a train platform for four months taught me that light is a non negotiable. I simply must have sunlight in order to work. Why? Because I get depressed without it. And if I’m depressed, I’m not working well. When I searched for apartments, I knew that I needed to find a spot with a lot of light, and a big window.
Ever notice that office buildings pay to have their facilities cleaned? That’s because its distracting to work in a dirty, messy space. So, I always pick up the apartment at night to make sure I’m not going to be distracted by a mess when it’s time to work. The office itself we keep as un-cluttered as possible, so that there’s not a lot to clean before settling in to work.
I’ve discovered that I’m easily distractable. Like, embarrassingly so. If there’s too much going on around me I’ll start cleaning it, or re-arranging it or, worse yet, talking to it. It’s possible (probably) that you’re slightly less OCD than I am, but, even so – I find it particularly helpful to keep our work space as simple and uncluttered as possible. That way, I focus on my work instead of my environment.
5. No drama
Your work space needs to be as emotionally free as possible. If you are stressed by your working environment, you’re going to be less productive. So, find a peaceful place where you can focus, sleep well at night and have access to the things you need to be comfortable. And, once you find a place to settle in where you feel at peace? Let people know you’re not available for personal discussions within your work day. After you set that boundary for a certain amount of time, they will begin to understand.
I suggest you make a list of your non negotiables – the things you need in order to be at your best. If they aren’t attainable now, write them down, and begin creating a plan to work towards them. It’s important that you feel both productive and inspired.