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Advice for Working at Home by Richard Seltzer


Working For Yourself At Home

This is the script of a short program that was heard on the radio program "The Computer Report," which was broadcast live on WCAP in Lowell, Mass., and was syndicated on WBNW in Boston and WPLM in Plymouth, Mass

A friend recently asked -- "Not working in an office everyday, I find that I sometimes get lazy and procrastinate about the things that have to get done. I think this is a common problem. In an office, we have to meet the expectations of the boss and co-workers. That usually is enough to motivate a person. Being alone now I have to keep finding reasons to make progress and move forward with goals/plans. I have to be able motivate myself to get things done on time. Could you share your experience with me? How do you maintain your focus? How do you keep yourself motivated?"

I use "creative procrastination" and lists galore.

At any given moment there are dozens of things that you could and should be doing. Make a list of them. Keep adding to that list.

Typically, the item at the top of the list -- the task that is most important to get done -- is something you just don't want to do, at least not now. Your mind is interested in something else. So work on the "something else." It should be on your list too.

All the time, in the back of your mind, you're remembering the thing you really need to do now. That gives you guilt-generated energy to do what you want to do faster and better.

If, in the normal course of events, you aren't likely to ever get the urge to do that task that's at the top of your list, try to think of another task that you need to do eventually and that's even more of a turn off for you. Put that really abominable task on the top of your list. Convince yourself that it's important. The more you think about that one, the more the one that used to be at the top of your list and that really needs to be done now -- won't seem so bad afterall; and you can do that one to procrastinate having to do the one that's now on top.

Over time, try to discover your natural rhythm. Categorize the things you need to do on a regular basis, and get a feel for how often you get the urge to do such things. For instance, Web site updates, paying bills and keeping track of finances, cleaning the house or yard, doing creative project work. For me the cycle is about a week. If I try to pay bills and balance my check book on a day when I feel like working on a creative project, that's like pushing rocks uphill. Likewise, working on a creative project when my mind would prefer the relaxing tedium of a repetitive task, is laborious and unproductive. In other words, do the things you need to do when they feel natural to you.

Once you find the rhythm, try to schedule; but be loose about it. For instance, say your rhythm is a week and one of the chores is finances. Aim to do that on Saturday. Try to make that a habit. But if your mood isn't there that day or something else comes up, don't worry about it. Over the course of a week or two, you should cover what needs to be covered, by just following your natural inclinations. And since you're doing this stuff when you are in the right frame of mind, it goes faster and you do better.

Also, keep lists of accomplishments -- not just to-do lists. I do this for my reading -- when I finish a book, I earn the right to add it to my list.

But you can do it for other tasks as well. You may have half a dozen or a dozen kinds of things that you need to do on a regular basis. Keep a list for each of them, including a category for "miscellaneous." When you turn your attention to one thing and start working on it, continue working on it until you arrive at some logical stopping point -- a point from which it will be easy to start again and that feels like an "ending," so you can add it to your list and get a sense of accomplishment for having done it.

The lists are a way to pat yourself on the back -- it's cumulative. The longer your list of accomplishments gets, the more you'll feel good about adding to it, and even looking back at it.

Also, if you can, while working on projects, divide what you hope to accomplish in a day into pieces -- so you aim to get to this part done by 10 AM, that part by noon, etc. That way, when you work fast, you can reward yourself with breaks. One of the challenges in working alone is that you are likely not to give yourself any breaks, and not to give yourself any rewards or pats on the back either.

In addition to to-do lists and accomplishment lists, make lists of goals and plans. But keep those loose and flexible. Don't make them like New Year's resolutions -- objectives that you will never accomplish and that just make you feel guilty thinking about them.

Make the to-do and accomplishment lists first; and by looking at the patterns, put together some short-term goals and practical plans for moving in that direction.

At least one of the regular tasks you set for yourself should involve working with others. For me, it's my Thursday chat sessions and the segment I do each Sunday on this radio show. For those tasks, I feel an obligation to others, not just to myself. Try to link those social tasks to other deadlines. In my case, the chat helps stimulate me to think about new subjects, to read particular books, etc., and that then provides content for the radio segment, which becomes the basis for an article that I'll post at my site and use for iSyndicate.

Once again, you want to build regular rhythm. Engaging in one kind of activity, thinking about one kind of task can provide the raw material and put you in the mood for something else you need to do.

Keep in mind that, under normal circumstances, we all have times when we feel comfortable doing non-creative, repetitive, mindless tasks -- mowing the lawn, filing, straightening your office, etc. If there is a regular task that you have committed to do that you never have the urge to do, regardless of creative procrastination; maybe you should rearrange your life in such a way that you are no longer required to do this, or else hire someone else to do it and avoid taking on projects like that in the future. You are who you are. Don't fight it.

Be Your Own Good Boss

The following article was written for GoTo Auctions (formerly known as AuctionRover). 

As you become increasingly successful at online auction selling, you'll find this activity takes up more and more of your time and gradually becomes less of a hobby and more of a job. Then you'll wake up one morning and realize that not only are you your own boss, but also you're probably the worst boss you've ever had. At that point, you can either quit and go to work for someone else, or learn how to be a better boss to yourself.

To-do lists are necessary. But as they grow, they can become like an ever-increasing load of bricks in your backpack. No matter how hard you work, no matter how much you get done, the burden of all the things that you should be doing and haven't done gets heavier and heavier, until you just want to drop the weight altogether and forget about it.

If someone else is your boss and knows how to manage well, that boss will help you set priorities: you don't need to do everything today; do this one important thing and do it well, and you'll be a hero. The boss will pat you on the back now and then and let you know that your work is appreciated. The boss will insist that you take breaks and that you not work on weekends or holidays except in emergencies, and will insist that you take a vacation.

But when you work for yourself, unless you learn how to be a good boss to yourself, the whole burden of everything that needs to be done may weigh on you 24-hours a day, 7-days a week, year-round.

First, prioritize those to-do lists, and try to set reasonable expectations for yourself. Each day there should be one task that if you can finish that day, you'll feel you've done something significant. Anything else you might do is a bonus.

Next, begin to keep lists of accomplishments. You may have half a dozen or a dozen kinds of things that you need to do on a regular basis. Keep a list for each of them, including a category for "miscellaneous." When you turn your attention to one thing and start working on it, continue working on it until you arrive at some logical stopping point -- a point from which it will be easy to start again and that feels like an "ending," so you can add it to your list and get a sense of accomplishment for having done it.

The lists are a way to pat yourself on the back -- it's cumulative. The longer your list of accomplishments gets, the more you'll feel good about adding to it, and even looking back at it.

Also, if you can, while working on projects, divide what you hope to accomplish in a day into pieces -- so you aim to get to this part done by 10 AM, that part by noon, etc. That way, when you work fast, you can reward yourself with breaks. One of the challenges in working alone is that you are likely not to give yourself any breaks, and not to give yourself any rewards or pats on the back either.

In addition to to-do lists and accomplishment lists, make lists of goals and plans. But keep those loose and flexible. Don't make them like New Year's resolutions -- objectives that you will never accomplish and that just make you feel guilty thinking about them.

Make the to-do and accomplishment lists first; and by looking at the patterns, put together some short-term goals and practical plans for moving in that direction.

The Power of Creative Procrastination


The following article was written for GoTo Auctions (formerly known as AuctionRover). The rights have reverted to the author.

A reader recently asked -- "Not working in an office everyday, I find that I sometimes get lazy and procrastinate about the things that have to get done. In an office, we have to meet the expectations of the boss and co-workers. That usually is enough to motivate a person. Being alone now I have to keep finding reasons to make progress and move forward with goals/plans. I have to be able motivate myself to get things done on time. Could you share your experience with me? How do you maintain your focus? How do you keep yourself motivated?"

I use "creative procrastination" and lists galore.

At any given moment there are dozens of things that you could and should be doing. Make a list of them. Keep adding to that list.

Typically, the item at the top of the list -- the task that is most important to get done -- is something you just don't want to do, at least not now. Your mind is interested in something else. So work on the "something else." It should be on your list too.

All the time, in the back of your mind, you're remembering the thing you really need to do now. That gives you guilt-generated energy to do what you want to do faster and better.

If, in the normal course of events, you aren't likely to ever get the urge to do that task that's at the top of your list, try to think of another task that you need to do eventually and that's even more of a turn off for you. Put that really abominable task on the top of your list. Convince yourself that it's important. The more you think about that one, the more the one that used to be at the top of your list and that really needs to be done now -- won't seem so bad after all; and you can do that one to procrastinate having to do the one that's now on top.

Over time, try to discover your natural rhythm. Categorize the things you need to do on a regular basis, and get a feel for how often you get the urge to do such things. For instance, Web site updates, paying bills and keeping track of finances, cleaning the house or yard, doing creative project work. For me the cycle is about a week. If I try to pay bills and balance my check book on a day when I feel like working on a creative project, that's like pushing rocks uphill. Likewise, working on a creative project when my mind would prefer the relaxing tedium of a repetitive task, is laborious and unproductive. In other words, do the things you need to do when they feel natural to you.

Once you find the rhythm, try to schedule; but be loose about it. For instance, say your rhythm is a week and one of the chores is finances. Aim to do that on Saturday. Try to make that a habit. But if your mood isn't there that day or something else comes up, don't worry about it. Over the course of a week or two, you should cover what needs to be covered, by just following your natural inclinations. And since you're doing this stuff when you are in the right frame of mind, it goes faster and you do better.

Keep in mind that, under normal circumstances, we all have times when we feel comfortable doing non-creative, repetitive, mindless tasks -- mowing the lawn, filing, straightening your office, etc. If there is a regular task that you have committed to do that you never have the urge to do, regardless of creative procrastination; maybe you should rearrange your life in such a way that you are no longer required to do this, or else hire someone else to do it and avoid taking on projects like that in the future. You are who you are. Don't fight it.



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