Being your own boss is great.

You have final say in decision making; you get to choose your team, have the potential to earn limitless revenue, and in general, have more freedom than a typical nine-to-five job.

It’s no surprise, self-employment has become a way of life for millions of people, with more than 14.7 million self-employed individuals in the US alone.

But self-employment has its own downsides.

After all, a lot of responsibility (and risk) come with being your own boss.

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Unlike a typical corporate job, you don’t have your workweeks laid out for you — and there’s no manager breathing down your neck to make sure you meet deadlines. Instead, there's only you.

For this reason, it becomes absolutely essential that you master the art of self-discipline and accountability, to make sure you're getting work done.

So, how do you maintain productivity when you don't have a boss?

Well, there's no secret hack or technique that'll solve all your problems. After all, productivity isn't a quick fix. It takes creating a system based on your strengths (and weaknesses) and further optimizing it for entropy.

Below, I shed light on the downsides of being self-employed, according to the latest studies, and share my three-step system to improving productivity.

Problems With Self-Employment

Problem 1: No social life

Financial constraints don’t allow self-employed individuals to have huge teams. They've usually had to take over many different business roles (e.g., sales, marketing, operations, and public relations).

So it's quite normal for self-employed workers to end up working longer hours than usual. What's more, self-employed folks work with few to no teammates which can lead to isolation and loneliness.

It’s no surprise, 18% of self-employed people have problems making time for a social life, as they’re always working on their business.

After all, when you're working tirelessly on building a company, you have very little time and energy to go out and socialize.

infographic of social isolation consequences

Source

Problem 2: No guaranteed income

Many people want to start their own business because of the potential to make limitless revenue.

Yes, you can get rich by working for yourself, but there's also the probability you won't make as much or worse, suffer a loss.

According to a recent study on entrepreneurs, two-thirds of the respondents felt "moderately" or "extremely" financially insecure. It’s no surprise, 48% of small businesses tend to be less prepared for the crisis than larger companies.

This financial distress makes it difficult for the self-employed to work efficiently. It also builds stress which can reduce productivity.

Problem 3: Intense workweeks

As mentioned, self-employed individuals don’t have big teams and do most of the legwork themselves which can lead to problems like lack of focus.

What’s more, in their earnest desire to multitask, self-employed individuals lose sight of what's essential, lower their efficiency by focusing on too many tasks at once, and eventually experience burnout.

multitasking cons infographic

Source

In fact, a two-year Stanford study found that self-employed folks’ working time has increased by 15% while leisure time has decreased by 33%.

A staggering statistic strongly hinting at the intense workweeks self-employed workers have, which can lead to problems like overworking, burnout, and, of course, affect productivity.

Problem 4: Bad work-life balance

Due to the intense nature of the business, self-employed individuals have problems balancing their work and life.

The thing is, when you're running a business, there are always problems that need your attention — and this makes it hard to unplug and take a break. Moreover, this work-focused lifestyle leads to deteriorated mental health in terms of isolation, depression, and anxiety.

If you’ve read this far, you’re probably thinking: It sucks to work for yourself.

There are serious problems with self-employment, but the freedom and opportunities afforded you can make it worthwhile. And once your business gains traction, things can get a little easier.

Also, you need to understand that none of these problems are terminal. They can all be fixed provided you’re conscious about them and make it a priority to address them, which brings me to my next point:

Self-Employment Productivity Guide

As mentioned, improving productivity is not an overnight process. There's no single solution. First identify what your problems are and work towards improving (and optimizing) them.

Here’s a simple 3-step process you can implement:

  1. Scrutinize current work performance to identify where you lack.
  2. Follow relevant strategies to achieve measurable goals.
  3. Analyze progress to readjust strategies if required.

Let’s break each of these steps down below.

1. Scrutinize current work performance to identify where you lack.

You can only improve productivity when you know what to improve.

After all, there are so many areas of improvement that can be targeted (e.g., financial management, time management, and organizational management), you can’t just expect to solve all of these at once.

The best practice is to adopt the "fine-tuning" strategy to identify the processes that specifically need optimization. That'll help you answer the following questions:

  • "Is it the long working hours that need to be reduced?"
  • "Am I unable to meet deadlines because of bad organization?"
  • "Does my inefficient financial management scenario need improvement?"
  • "Is my working environment too dull for me to function?"

And the million-dollar question: "How do I extract the specific areas of improvement?"

This is where auditing work performance helps identify areas for improvement.

Below is a simple process I’ve used:

Integrate Trackers Into Your Work Week

The first step is to track key performance metrics (work time, downtime, etc … ) when going about your work day. I recommend using the following trackers:

  • Use project management software to manage and keep track of all your projects in one place.
  • Use task management tools like Todoist to organize and prioritize your daily tasks. It helps break down complex projects into achievable goals with to-do lists, subtasks, and even color coded priorities.
  • Use time trackers like Clockify to track duration.

Measure Your Progress

After integrating required trackers, accumulate your work performance date for a period of time — at least one month — and export your data into a spreadsheet for a final performance audit.

Here, you’ll measure and evaluate based on benchmarks or set smart goals (more on this in a bit).

Step 2. Follow appropriate strategies to achieve measurable goals.

Once you’ve identified the areas needing improvement, adopt relevant strategies. However, for these strategies to be effective, you’ll require direction and focus, especially as it's quite difficult to measure the growth of a business.

For this reason, it's important to set measurable goals to drive action.

For instance, if you want to reduce your work time. You can't just implement a strategy and expect to improve.

Yes, you may see an improvement, but by how much? How do you measure how successful you were?

Don't break your head. You can't improve unless you set the right goals and objectives:

  • The amount of time you want to reduce

  • The strategy you’ll be using to achieve your goal

  • Or the exact date by which you plan on achieving your goal

One way of setting trackable goals is by using the S.M.A.R.T framework. Not only does it help to set measurable goals, but it also helps to break down a work performance goal into a clearly defined plan of action as compared to an inexact statement.

SMART Goal infographic

Source

Here’s what a S.M.A.R.T framework looks like:

S.M.A.R.T

  • Specific: What exact task to accomplish and which specific strategies to use?
  • Measurable: What data to track for the goal?
  • Achievable: Do you have the skills and resources to achieve the goal?
  • Relevant: How does the goal help you achieve your overall professional goals?
  • Time-based: What’s the deadline by which the goal has to be achieved?

For example, if I wanted to improve my content writing time, I can't just set a goal to improve it and expect it to happen magically. I need to have an (actionable) plan.

This is where I’d apply the S.M.A.R.T framework and turn this vague goal into a smart one:

Specific: Use a structured Pomodoro technique to bring down the time spent on writing one blog article to three from five hours.

  • Measurable: Afterward, compare new writing time against the current one by using a time tracker tool.
  • Achievable: I have enough experience to enhance my writing speed since writing has been my strong forte for many months now.
  • Relevant: Currently, my goal is to reduce work time and spare myself for personal interests like dance, hiking adventures, and ukulele.
  • Time-based: I’ll be completing my goal until [insert date].

Ultimately, the S.M.A.R.T goal version of my previously vague one would look something like:

"Bring down writing time to three hours per blog article by implementing a structured Pomodoro technique by [insert date]."

In a nutshell, all you need to do is to set measurable goals for the gaps you've identified as "areas of improvement," and adopt relevant strategies that work best for you.

Now that you have a set of (smart) goals, you're now ready to adopt relevant strategies. So here are a few key strategies to inspire:

  1. Keep a check on trackers: Due to the intense nature of the business, it's quite common to overlook tracking. Remember, you can't improve if you don't know what to improve, so keep daily logs (think: Google Drive folder) for future reference.

  2. Adopt mind mapping: Use mind mapping software to help with decision making and solve other creative ruts. This helps you tackle projects efficiently by graphically displaying relationships and planning hierarchies.

  3. Make personal well-being a priority: Apart from business, prioritize health at your workplace. After all, your productivity is directly linked to your health. For example, block out hours for exercise or meditation. I recommend checking out this guide to maintain health at your work for more information.

  4. Adopt relevant time management techniques: Most business owners work beyond regular hours and, in most cases, it’s because they fail to get the most out of their time. This is why it’s important to adopt time management techniques to get better control over your time.

  5. Segment your work weeks: Business owners have complex workweeks and this can be overwhelming. For this reason, it's a good idea to de-clutter your workweeks with daily objectives and milestones.

  6. Avoid multitasking and adopt unitasking: As business owners manage different tasks, it’s easy to end up overwhelmed by working on different tasks. For this reason, it’s important to adopt monotasking and avoid bad habits like multitasking.

On a similar note, I recommend using a distraction blocking app called Strict Workflow. This app blocks out social media and other distractions for periods of 25 minutes (think: Pomodoro) to promote distraction-free work.

3. Analyze progress to readjust strategies if required.

You’ve set goals and adopted relevant strategies, but don’t stop there. Keep a check on your progress and optimize when required.

With self-employment productivity, you never know what works and what doesn’t. In fact, you might implement a strategy only to find it’s not the right fit for you.

The point is, you need to audit your performance after implementing a development strategy, or you won't know if it actually worked — and this is where a personal performance review comes into play.

While there’s no set framework, one thing is for certain: it doesn’t have to be formal at all. Nevertheless, there are a few best practices to consider:

  1. Block out periods to conduct performance reviews. For example, once a month.

  2. When displaying tracked data, clean it out to only the most relevant performance metrics (time taken, downtime, etc …).

  3. Finally, using your S.M.A.R.T goals to evaluate progress and adopt relevant strategies accordingly.

If the results show considerable improvement, your strategies are on point. All you need to do is set higher goals. And don’t be discouraged, if things don't work. Treat the information as a basis to fine-tune your strategy and focus on the identification of other gaps you might have missed.

Don’t Forget to Take a Break

At the end of the day, we’re all human beings, and yes, this even includes the superhuman entrepreneurs.

You don’t have to peak your productivity every single day. If you reach your limit, stop and take some time off to rejuvenate.

Taking a break is not a weakness. It's a great strategy to rejuvenate your energy for another day. So, designate a day off from work at least once a week to prevent burnouts. This will make focusing on things more accessible and will boost your productivity further.

And remember, regularly keep track of your work performance, because you can’t improve something, if you don’t know what to improve.

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Originally published Feb 19, 2020 7:30:00 AM, updated February 19 2020

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Entrepreneurship