Your First Week as an Indeoendent: What to Expect

Your First Week as an Indeoendent: What to Expect

Chip Brookshaw writes for – a Ms.Money partner.

You’re making the leap. A couple of clients are lined up. Your money-market account is flush with a rainy-day cushion. There’s no going back to your office job. They’ve thrown you a farewell party complete with a layer cake in the shape of a golf green — where they think you’ll really be spending your time.

It’s Sunday night before your first week as an independent professional, and you’re wondering what to expect. At least there won’t be a rushed shower or blood-pressure-raising commute in the morning. Set the alarm clock an hour later than normal, and smile serenely as you plump the pillows.

Monday: Two hours before the alarm, wake up out of breath, heart pounding in a panic: you’ve trashed your career and financial future. Soon to follow in the death spiral: your relationships and sanity.

Congratulations, you’re an independent professional.

Forgo the kitchen coffeepot, and proceed to the nearest café. Don’t worry about a hat or cap — bedhead is fashionable. Order a triple latte, and ask if they’re hiring.

Around noon, notice a tickle in your throat. And is that a rash on your arm? Sorry, no getting sick on your own time. Plus, you’re not even sure if your new health insurance has been approved. Of course, there’s always COBRA, if you don’t mind coverage that costs more than your mortgage and a bureaucracy reminiscent of the Soviet era.

Tuesday: Take a seat at the makeshift computer table in the laundry room. Two sawhorses and an old door, just like those hip dot-coms — this is your personal start-up, after all. Notice how pens and pencils keep rolling off the edge. Spend the morning jamming sections of the newspaper under the sawhorse legs, but save the crossword puzzle.

Smell the head-high pile of dirty laundry in the corner of your “home office.” Spend the afternoon washing, drying, and folding. Skip lunch, resisting the leftover farewell cake in the refrigerator.

Wednesday: Finally get down to work, and then realize you don’t have the single most important tool for a smoothly functioning home office, something you simply took for granted in the corporate world. A staple-puller.

The “quick trip” to the office supply superstore takes three hours. The place is like an opium den for independents. Come home with a staple-puller, plus assorted binders, folders, labels, accordion files, and a pallet of laser-printer paper (it was “Hot Buy” of the week).

Thursday: Your first job is a gig thrown your way by a former colleague who couldn’t even get her intern to do it. You jam for an hour or two. The laundry room sounds like a big-city newsroom-keyboard clattering, mouse click-click-clicking. You only break the flow to drag your golf bag to a hall closet. It was too tempting, right in your line of sight.

If today’s momentum carries over, there’s a chance of finishing the project tomorrow as planned. The client’s deadline is Monday morning, but you were hoping to present it Friday. “Under promise, over deliver” is one job skill that transfers from the corporate world.

Friday: At 8 a.m., you get a call from your other client. The project you were to begin next week has been pushed up, and they need an outline by late afternoon — a task you were planning to allot three full days. This is called a “rush” job.

he situation will also illustrate one of the strange and mysterious rules of working in the digital era, a law as inescapable as a force of nature: Both you and your computer can multitask, but never at the same time.

While you’re reinstalling the operating system, you eat half the leftover cake.

Saturday: This is the day you set aside to send out resumes, call promising leads, put your portfolio on the Web, handle bookkeeping, network over lunch with a fellow independent, and schedule DSL installation.

Maybe next week.

Sunday: In terms of productivity, weekends are second only to days when you’re coming down with the flu. As your Monday morning deadline looms, everyone else is at the lake or golf course. You’re not jealous. You prefer to say there are “less distractions.”

What the hell. Drag the clubs out of the closet, and hit the links. You can always pull an all-nighter to finish the job. There’s plenty of cake left.

As Sunday night gives way to Monday morning, you put the final polish on the project and compose the invoice. For the first time this week, you feel content, maybe even a little thrilled. Not at the bottom line — it’s far from what you pulled in a week at your corporate job — but at the transaction itself.

Work for pay. The simplicity of the equation contains immense possibilities, and it’s this freedom and independence you sought when you made the leap in the first place. You set the alarm for Monday morning, and hope the coming week brings as much excitement as the one that just ended.

Rules to eWork By

Monday Uncertainty, even fear, is normal. Use it as motivation if necessary, but don’t let it take control. Preparation is key to keeping negative emotions in check.

Tuesday Create a space dedicated for your work, even if it’s just a partitioned room. Stock it as you would your desk at work, right down to decorating it with photos. Having an office-only space is psychologically beneficial, as well as favorable for tax purposes.

Wednesday Distractions abound when you’re working at home. No one is disciplined enough to resist them all. Learn to recognize which are reasonable and which are procrastination or avoidance.

Thursday Start small, but take every job that’s offered (or have an excellent reason for turning one down). Your first projects and clients are the thin end of the wedge of your future as an independent professional.

Friday Snafus and glitches can be especially frustrating because you don’t have an IT department or human resources rep to call on, or a colleague to help share the workload. And because you have multiple “bosses,” sometimes you will have less, not more, control working on your own.

Saturday Set aside time for the administrative aspects of working independently — bookkeeping, taxes, filing, and so on — especially if you dread doing them. Being organized can also help temper your emotional uncertainties.

Sunday Celebrate the independence and flexibility working on your own provides. Schedule your time, but plan it in a way that works for you. And break the schedule now and then. You can fall into a rut or routine just as easily at home as at the office.