Oh the fine line between “I need to do more” and “I’m exhausted” when you’re self-employed. It’s a big thing to navigate and it truly feels as ungraceful as me in this picture. Here are my thoughts on energy management for holistic business owners.
The Battle between your Inner Boss and your Inner Employee
Firstly, when you had a job, you had to show up whether your pet died or you stayed up too late working or scrolling. You showed up because you had external expectations to meet. You had a boss and colleagues. You had a transition to work- you drove/ got the train. You had a time you needed to be there and you knew the exact latest minute you could leave your house to make it on time.
Now that you’re self-employed, none of that stuff is built in. YOU are the boss and YOU are the employee and so you have the inner drama of your inner boss and inner employee trying to negotiate. What time does work start today? What am I meant to be doing today? When is lunch? When do you need this task done by? I’m stuck. I’m tired. I’m bored. I can’t concentrate. I’m scared. I’m going through emotional waves of fear. All the things. Happening internally. #Drama!
My journey from Total Time Freedom to Craving Structure and Routine again
When I first started out in self-employment, I was so excited by the freedom of no schedule, going with my energy, working with my intuition and inspiration- some days 12 hours of deep concentration and flow barely remembering to eat and the next day feeling wrecked and staring into space and feeling guilty all day for being unproductive.
All that drama was stressful in hindsight. It was a roller-coaster and I ended up coming full circle back to remembering the good things about being employed. I remembered I could be “productive” on demand. I remembered the headspace of having half my daily decisions dictated by my timetable- Mornings: audio book on my drive, Tea break 11am, Lunch time 12.30pm. I remembered good habits I had like: Never leave school without writing my plan for the next day (or the kids will annihilate you!), Do my fortnightly lesson planning by staying extra late the Wednesday and Thursdays before the plans were due the following Monday.
I also remembered the rule I made with myself after 2 years of teaching where I decided to never bring any school work home. It was because I hated that feeling of having things hanging over me. What was happening was that I’d bring stuff home to do, then I’d avoid doing it and feel really guilty everytime I’d walk past my work bag sitting in the corner unopened. I always ended up bringing the bag back into school and doing the work there. So I made the decision to cut out the cycle of guilt and shame and just stay after school finished every evening doing work there. In my head, I decided that school was no longer finished at 3pm, it was finished at 5pm. And there was always an incentive to do as much as possible within those 2 hours after school because I got very hungry by 5pm which is a good motivator to get stuff done. What I loved about this decision to only work at work was the mental enjoyment of never thinking of school outside of school. The feeling of being “off work” was something I really valued and realised I wanted to have that in my self-employed life also.
As I reflected and noticed the elements of the routine and structure of employment, I realised that there was actually great freedom within the structure. There were fewer decisions and less inner drama. I got stuff done on days when I felt “good” or “bad”. There was a steadiness and that felt safe and calm to me. There was also (mental) time off which was, at this stage of self-employment, a distant memory!
Clarifying your Expectations and Rules that work for you
So what have I done since then to translate some of the beneficial elements of employment into self-employment? Have I gone back to a very exact timetable and structure like I had at school? No! My inner employee is too unruly for that despite the best efforts of my poor long-suffering inner manager!
What I’ve done instead is set clear rules and expectations with myself around how many hours of work a day/ week I work. E.g. I want to do approximately 6 x concentrated hours of work a day on weekdays with the feeling of “When I’m working, I’m really working” (Focusmate has really helped with that). That means that there might be some days when I do more and some when I do less- there is the flexibility to do the hours whenever I want.
I’ve also made a clear start time for myself. My morning routine was getting longer and longer, which was resulting in me working later and then going to bed later. So I start work, dressed and ready for either a client call or Focusmate session at 10am every morning.
Another thing that has been beneficial has been to build in weekly routines/ rituals. On Sundays, I reflect on the week and I plan the week ahead- food, leisure, work, habits I’m trying to improve on. On Fridays, I try to tie up loose ends to close things off in my head. I write my list for next week and have the mental idea of “leaving work”.
All of these habits mean that I have clear expectations of myself and what my “job” looks like. Once I’ve done my work to my own satisfaction, there’s no valid reason for me to feel guilty at the times when I’m not working. My head feels clearer from having decided my job description and for making clear times when I’m working and when I’m not (because our real work in the world is “being” anyway, but that’s one to write about another day!).
Managing the Habit of Overworking
Something I don’t like to share is that my tendency is for overworking. I teach and preach about balance, awareness and living holistically, but perhaps we teach what we need to learn! I’m working through this, but I’ve also set upper limits on work hours for myself too. What tends to happen is that when I’m in the zone, I just want to keep going, but I know this ends up exhausting me and leading to that pattern of being exhausted and unproductive later in the week. There truly is a limit to our cognitive capacity of what can get done in a week and it’s important to remember that even in those flow moments.
Something that’s helping is getting strong in my routine around transitioning OUT of work, my evening routine (why does everyone walk about morning routines and not evening routines?!). I often schedule something for 7pm that will transition me out e.g. Going for a walk and ringing a friend or meditating with a friend remotely. Before 7pm, I’ll make sure that my desk is cleaned, list is ready for the next day and computer is turned off (I’m still working on this though).
Mastering Self-Management is vital for your Business
I share all of this to highlight what might be an inner drama for you around working too much, getting “enough” done and taking care of yourself and allowing yourself time off. Self-management and Energy-management are BIG themes that come up in my coaching sessions with clients and it’s been restorative for me to know I’m not alone in this.
What I’ve learned is that self-management in self-employment is one of the most important skills to develop and is the means through which all the wonderful things you want to do in the world. My way of productivity is always evolving- I reflect and tweak things each week. Productivity, flow and self-care look different for everyone. If you would like support in uncovering your unique optimal way of working, I love to help clients with this. You’re welcome to get in touch to explore that together. Wishing you well on your path!
By Ciara Bruton, Holistic Business Coach.
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