How to Separate Work and Home

(When No Ones Paying You Jack)

“Oh good. You’re not doing anything…”

It’s hard to get it. Do they believe that writing isn’t actual work? I’m not surprised it doesn’t occur to them that we have to make sacrifices to create time for writing. Including turning down actual paying jobs. (Or, rather, jobs with guaranteed fruition.)

We skip parties, T.V., cut out video games, develop discipline without a boss or coach, turn down time/mentally consuming careers, and, most importantly, we sacrifice friendships by saying, I can’t do that, I have to work.

Why is writing not considered a real job? Many suggest because it’s not hard or it’s supposed to be fun, so it’s not respected. But I’d actually say it’s a matter of flexibility. The deadlines are self-imposed, you’re not on the clock, and you can easily move things around to fit more in. People respect having a hardass boss and bureaucratic set of policies, but not when those are self-imposed. My unpopular opinion (contradicting what I’d like to say) is there’s some truth to it; the benefit of working at home is that you can change what you’re doing to help someone else, and in some cases, you should. I’d go so far to say that the benefit of working from home is being able to be there for your friends. (I’m writing this from someone’s couch waiting for her internet guy while she’s participating in “real” work.) The problem isn’t that it must be treated like an on-the-clock, 9-5 job, but that discipline and elasticity are like oil and water, and it takes a lot of extra work to get those bastards to mix.

Do you want to be a fulltime writer? Contrary to popular opinion, it’s not the finances that stand in your way the most. It’s having the personality to be the bad guy. But then the good guy—and knowing when to be which.

Split your identity. Maybe with hats.

If you become a self-published author, or sell your own merchandise, or basically get your money directly from your customers, this becomes even more important. You need to think of yourself as both boss and employee so you have a better concept of a healthy work environment.

An example of this is when freelance authors don’t pay themselves for their work.

It’s easy to say, “Oh! I could do that cheaper!” forgetting the reason is basic slave labor. You not only have to make enough money to 1) pay the initial costs 2) invest in the company’s growth but 3) live off of. A good way to do this is to act like you’re an employee; would you consume your life for free if it wasn’t your project?

But even if you aren’t an entrepreneur—planning on traditional publication—if you’re going to work from home, treating yourself as both boss and employee can help you keep your home life and work life separate while still enjoying the flexible benefits of being in charge.


Okay, yes, keep the employees on track.

So the obvious job as manager is to make sure lazy assholes do what they’re getting paid for. The thing is, in a healthy work environment, this is not their main goal. Instead, good bosses will know…

All work and no play makes employees go postal.                                              
When you have a loyal employee with a good work ethic, especially someone who cares a lot about the project, it’s very possible they’ll run themselves into the ground. Even if they don’t flip out, the quality of their work will decrease along with their ability to handle stress. It is important to always make sure that employees are making wise decisions—not just in being productive, but in self care.

-Give yourself breaks and honor them. A lunch break should be lunch only. Give your mind time to collect itself without feeling guilty. You can work through lunch once in a while, but it should not be a constant.

-Be reasonable about how much can be done in a day. Know how long things take, what problems might arise, and be sympathetic when shit hits the fan. Don’t overbook or admonish yourself when something took longer than you expected, or you had an unrealistic timeframe.

-On that note, try not to schedule yourself for too much overtime. Make sure you have days off. Even if writing is something you do on that scheduled day off because it’s fun, it’s important to have time to breathe, hang out with friends, and do nothing without feeling shame. As a small business owner, yeah, it’s likely you’ll work overtime, but if you have to do it constantly, it’s best to look for some changes, whether that be upgrading tools, hiring out, or cutting back somewhere.

-When you’re self-employed, it can be difficult to know if it’s okay to “call in sick.” Sometimes literally if a cold is bad enough to stay in bed? Or is it acceptable to make a vet appointment during usual work hours? Can you take that personal call? Go on vacation? Be a sympathetic boss. Simply look at things like expected output, deadlines, and whether or not you actually needed to get something done today. Think about patterns of behavior, and what will happen if you push back the deadline.

If you are more of a slacker, why-don’t-I-ever-finish-anything, type, you may need to become more of a hardass on yourself. It’s still important that you, as your boss, recognize you are a human with a life; just think about what you would expect from someone who you’ve hired and hold yourself to those standards.

For instance, if you get shit done, then putting a ban on personal calls during “workhours” is silly. But if you tend to not be very productive, you might establish strict policies for yourself, like you might in a work place.

It’s helpful to write out some expectations for yourself and your “company.”

-What MUST be done daily?

Schedule a routine so these things get done first.


Plan which day you will do it on. Make sure to give yourself enough time.


Do it on the same date that’s easy to remember.

-Once, at some point?

Find a slow day to devote to it in advance. Don’t schedule anything else.

-Make a list of things you’d like to do and try to find time for one each day.

Respect your schedule like it was made by someone who could fire you.

Keep in mind who you are. A good manager knows who they’re dealing with.

Do you have set work hours? Do you have a list of jobs and you’re done when you’re done? This depends on your attention span, how you’re motivated, and what other aspects of life you have to fit in.

Do you have set tasks during certain work hours? This depends on your organization skills and how to keep things under control and stimulating.

Are you allowed to text during work hours? Be on Facebook? Answer a call from your mother?

Can you schedule personal appointments during work hours?

What are the rules on breaks? Bathroom, coffee, smoking, playing with your dog, etc.

Is it acceptable to work on household tasks during work hours? Doing laundry while writing?

Make sure these are judicious. Do not make demands on yourself you can’t possibly fill. More importantly, understand your strengths and weaknesses. A good boss knows that everyone is different and sets up the situation to be the most productive. If you feel happy with your productivity while chatting on messenger and taking several breaks to do dishes, go for it. If you can’t pull away from Facebook, treat yourself like a lazy employee who will get fired if they don’t knock it off.

-Know when to hire out work.

The worst mistake a company can make is understaffing. And like any business, the likelihood of you doing so is because you don’t have the money. Yet, when you do have an extra pair of hands stress levels and productivity increase drastically; you simply have more time to do it right, even when your person isn’t half as experienced as you.

Times to hire people:

1) When you’re inexperienced in an important aspect for your work, such as graphic design. Of course, you may hire a graphic designer, or you may hire a teacher to train you faster. Self-teaching is also a great option, but you must be critical on yourself, and it takes much longer than if you have someone who has already gone through it helping you.

2) When you have too many necessary responsibilities to do within a healthy timeframe. If you are working 15 hour days and no days off, you need to start delegating your work. This may be as simple as say, having a company make your bookmarks instead of printing and cutting them yourself. It might be hiring an editor, a graphic designer, or a marketing company. It might be getting your husband or mother to come in and just do a little here and there.

3) The money saved isn’t always worth the time spent. (And homemade isn’t always cheaper.)

Before wasting your life dealing with a frustrating color printer, do your research. Sometimes companies can do it way cheaper than you think. In some cases, working for minimum wage and using that money to hire out actually is more profitable than doing it yourself.

Remember your time is worth something. Yes, slave labor is cheaper than actual labor, but cheap isn’t always savvy. If you’re really strapped on cash, there are many options to get more hands for a creative person: trade services, ask family and friends, find new talent trying to get their foot in the door, even just buying better tools can save you money in the long term.


-It’s not about what you can get away with.

Unfortunately, sometimes we learn that “good work ethic” is “don’t piss the boss off.” Meaning that we know not to text while on the clock is because someone will get mad at us. Once you start working for yourself, however, you’re suddenly exposed to an entirely new dynamic.

A lot of businesses work on this weird sort of passive-aggressiveness. The company sets up tight boundaries that are much stricter than they need to be so when you get those boundary pushers on your team, they won’t actually be pushing them too far. Meanwhile, the employee does things in secret, only behaving enough to not get caught.

In a healthy environment, however, everyone is more communicative and upfront, honest about what is actually necessary. So it’s partially the boss’s job to make sure the employee works when he’s supposed to and not when he isn’t, but really a good employee is very self-aware and loyal to the project. Meaning that the employee does recognize when it’s okay to take a break and when it’s important that they get shit done.

The employee’s job is to take responsibility for the work. Especially for someone self-employed, the quality and progress on the project falls predominantly on the employee’s shoulders. It is YOUR name on the line. The boss acts as a support system, sort of a double check to make sure that good decisions are being made, but a good employee doesn’t need very much supervision.

-Decide on your own standards and needs, and stand up for them.

While some people struggle motivating themselves without a boss, others struggle to take care of themselves. Yes, it is important that, while working, you focus on making the project the best it can be, make good decisions, and don’t waste time, but it is also important to have a balanced life, recognize what’s going on with you internally, and be fair to your needs. Just like you would do if you had an actual boss, if something about the workplace isn’t effective, the employee needs to communicate that. He’s the one most impacted, he’s the one who will see the problem first. We might be tempted to shame ourselves for being lazy or not investing enough into our business, to treat ourselves as a skeptical, pissy manager who doesn’t understand why you can’t work today when your kids are sick, yet that’s the benefit of being self-employed—when you can figure out your needs, you have a good boss who will be willing to work with you.

If you want to be self-employed, sometimes the first step is to examine why workplaces function the way they do.

You might end up deciding that your instincts are dead on, and you’re happiest without a company motto, a checklist, and a hat breathing down your ass every time Facebook calls, but I find that utilizing common managerial methods can do wonders for your decision making and being firm about your boundaries.

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