What I’ve learned about designing your own way of working

I was made redundant at the end of 2008. (Or should I say my job was made redundant, as they kept stressing to us at the time to remind us we were still worthwhile human beings.) I’d been thinking of changing job anyway, so it was a good time to assess what I was doing and maybe do something different.

So In the last 6 years I have learned a huge amount about myself and about how the world of work relates to the rest of our lives. I didn’t end up taking a permanent job, despite going down the interview route for quite a while. I’ve done full time office-based contracts, part time office-based contracts, freelance contracts, ad hoc freelance work and also offered face-to-face and online services through my own business. As well as a lot of voluntary work, blogging and test projects.

And I thought I would share a few things I’ve learned along the way. If you are in a 9 to 5 job and don’t want to be, or if you’re in the early stages of creating your own work through self-employment, you might find this of interest.

1. You are the most important ingredient in any work-life decisions you make, and you are unique.

Only you have your unique combination of circumstances and resources. So knowing yourself is critical to working out what is right for you. If you list out what you know about yourself according to the following categories, you’ve got something you can start to work with.

  • Your skills, experience and talents
  • Your passions, enthusiasms and quirks
  • Your desired lifestyle
  • Your resources and situation
  • The people you have around you

As well as the fact that this will help you take steps in the right direction for you, the reason why knowing all of this is so critical is because it can serve as a reference and a reminder to come back to when you start doubting yourself and watching what others are doing. What’s right for someone else may not be right for you. And that person you’re comparing yourself to may be at a totally different stage of their journey.

2. Action is the most important step.

Thinking, researching, learning, planning and having coaching will only get you so far. You need to take action.

Immerse yourself in the world you’d like to get into. Try something – offer a service, start a blog, talk to people and find out what they need help with.

Then evaluate it. Did you like it? Why? Why not? What else could you try?

3. Weekly planning helps keep momentum.

I started a weekly “check-in” process back in 2012 when I was doing the 30 Day Challenge. Not only does it include setting out a few important goals for the week, but it includes looking back at the previous week and assessing what went right, what went wrong, and how things could be changed in future. I still do this, every Friday without fail.

Tea at ClivedenI truly believe that without my weekly planning process, I would never have chosen to try some of the things I’ve tried, never adjusted direction when things weren’t working, never come across some of the opportunities I have found. It’s another aspect to knowing yourself and being totally honest about your own situation, and I would highly recommend doing it.

I also make sure I note down ideas, thoughts, observations and insights as they occur to me. Sometimes I just store these away for the future, but sometimes they’re useful in adjusting my weekly plans. Because you never know when the dots might suddenly connect…

4. You need the right people around you.

There’s a video by Marianne Cantwell that makes me cry every time I watch it. Go and have a look after you’ve finished with this blog post.

You need your own support network to make a transition from employment to self-employment or a portfolio career – whether that comes in the form of a coach, a mentor, an online group, a face-to-face networking group, an accountability group, or a combination of all these.

5. When you choose to design your own work-life environment, it won’t stay the same, it will evolve.

If you choose a portfolio career (where you have more than one job/contract/voluntary role/self-employed business), or you freelance, your mix of projects and jobs will inevitably change – that’s the idea, it’s not meant to stay the same. And if you start one business, the products or services you offer will change over time.

In both cases it will be because the environment around you and the available opportunities shift – and because you learn what you like and don’t like, what you’re brilliant at, who you like working with. I don’t do the same mixture of things I did 6 months ago, let alone 6 years ago!

It’s OK to try things and then change your mind, it’s OK to quit things, it’s OK to change direction, and it’s OK to revisit things that you’ve done before. As long as you know it’s right for you and where you are at that moment. And that’s what makes it so exciting to be designing your own way of working. You don’t have to do what everyone else is doing. You can base your work on what you’re best at and what you enjoy doing – and try out some new ideas as well.

What do you think?

So those are the most important insights I’ve gained in the last 6 years.
If you’re going through this transition right now, or have done recently – what have you learned?

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