Being in a regular job is awesome. You get paid regularly even when you have a bad week and don’t get much done, and if you’re lucky a line manager supports you, gives you stuff to do, thanks you when you’ve done it well, and regularly sits with you to look at how you’ve been performing, what needs work, where you’re heading next and how they can help you get there.
Or maybe not.
Performance reviews and meaningful catch-ups with the boss aren’t even guaranteed in permanent employment (I’ve had to pester managers for them in the past). In most employment, however, these things should be regular fixtures. If they aren’t, if you don’t get the opportunities to develop, if you don’t feel supported, maybe you disengage. Maybe you leave.
Why should it be any different when you work for yourself? The fact that you’re self-employed may mean that you can work at home, spend more time with the cat or declare yourself master of your own destiny but you’re still an employee — your own employee. If you’re not regularly looking at your performance, doing the course-corrections and identifying development opportunities, you risk disengaging or losing direction. If this happens, as a self-employed person, you have no safety net. Maybe you fail.
I have worked for myself on and off for several years. I absolutely do not have it all figured out. Riding an emotional rollercoaster seems to be part of my job on a regular basis. I have days where I feel like a failure – they’re often the same days when I don’t feel like I have a plan. So I started planning my weeks. It mostly works.
But what about beyond next week, later this year? What about the course-corrections? What about my development?
Of course, it’s on me.
There’s a lot of talk in January about intention setting, resolutions, themes for the year. It’s admirable and it’s fine, and I’ve done it, but a year between these exercises is too long, particularly when anxiety and doubt mean a week can feel like a really. Long. Time.
And anyway — by saving all the work to the new year, it feels like placing more pressure on myself than is reasonable. Why do that? By this time in January you start to hear more about how resolutions and self-improvement have fallen by the wayside — who wants to wait another year to fix stuff?
Once a quarter, I have set aside a minimum half a day for a catch-up with me. I get out of my normal workspace. Walk. Find a tree to sit on. The exercise is similar to an end-of-year review:
What has been working? When have I been happy in work? When was I effective and what was happening to allow that? What hasn’t worked? When was I frustrated and why? What do I need? Do I need to learn something? Do I need to talk to someone? What work is coming? Is it enough? Is it the right work?
This doesn’t have to take all day. This doesn’t have to be deadly serious. But I do refer to the notes I made the last time. And I do remember that when necessary, I need to talk to someone else. Maybe it’s a structured thing like coaching, or maybe it’s just a sanity check with a friend.
Part of this is about the fact that as much as I enjoy working independently, I need structure, and only I (and HMRC) can enforce that.
My next catch-up with me is on 29 March. Agenda agreed by 23 March, please.