Rewire Your Brain for Remote Work

Making the switch from going to work for someone else to being self-employed and working remotely can be tough. It’s not just a matter of driving home from the office on a Friday afternoon and walking into your home office on Monday, ready to do essentially the same work in a new space. If you want to set yourself up for successful self-employment, you need to rewire your brain and create a new perspective on what, when, and how you work.

Whether you take the leap into self-employment voluntarily or because circumstances demand it, there are probably a few things you’re looking forward to. For most people, having the flexibility to make their own hours and choose their own work are the most appealing parts of self-employment. On the other hand, almost everyone has some uncertainties about self-employment that can be hard to shake, like concern about making enough money or doing things that scare them, whether that’s public speaking, marketing themselves, or something else entirely.

The good news when you’re transitioning into self-employment is that you are not unique; economic forces and changes in work priorities have led millions of other people to make the switch, and it’s a safe bet that most of them had hopes and fears very similar to yours. Each one of their careers looks a little different, but every one of them was faced with the necessity of making the same cognitive shift in order to see their place in the world in a new way.

Whatever your chosen field, it will take a lot of research and planning to be successful working on your own. Putting in the effort to build productive mindsets and habits now can set you up for success in the long run.

Find Something To Hold You Accountable

When you worked for an employer, you probably had a boss–or several bosses–who set deadlines, assigned work, and assessed quality. If you didn’t meet their expectations, you received feedback on how to improve or potentially faced negative consequences to your income or career track.

When you’re self-employed, it’s essential to find a new means of holding yourself accountable in order to ensure your work is timely and your results are outstanding. Some people are naturally proficient at meeting deadlines and exceeding their own expectations, but most people need to find new ways to keep themselves on track, at least in the early days of self-employment.

If you’re looking for ways to hold yourself accountable working remotely, take stock of what motivates you and look for tools that work accordingly. If you need a human to keep you in line, consider networking or using social media to find an accountability partner. If you respond better to rewards, set up incentives, like time off or a nice meal, for meeting deadlines. If you struggle with focus, try setting an alarm on your phone for a short period of work, like 15 minutes, and gradually extending it as your ability to focus improves.

Set A Routine and Stick To a Schedule

Even if you’re one of those people who likes a lot of variation in their work, there are benefits to having a routine. Routines allow your brain to work a little less, saving your problem-solving skills and willpower for those decisions that really require attention. So find a way to build routines into your work where you can, whether it’s establishing a specific order in which you respond to email or choosing a different focus for each day of the week. When you know what you’re going to do first before you even sit down at your desk, you are investing in your ability to make smarter choices later in the day.

Along those lines, consider creating and sticking to a schedule. Your schedule can look like it did in your previous job, with the same times to start and end your day and a predetermined lunch hour. Now that you are in charge of your own schedule, you can also create it to better reflect the workday you always wished you had, allowing for more time with your family or  a daily trip to the gym. Either way, you’re creating predictability that helps you better plan your work, keep yourself focused, and save your brain power for the challenges to come.

Using routines and schedules to create predictability in your day also allows you to build in time to think about things other than work. Even the most passionate person can get burned out if they spend too much time on work and too little time on their life. When you’re self-employed, especially in the early days as you’re struggling to build an income stream, it’s very easy for your work to bleed into all areas of your life. Suddenly you find yourself answering client emails during your daughter’s soccer game or fitting in a couple more hours of work when you really should be asleep. Building a schedule, establishing a routine, and training yourself to keep work during work hours whenever possible will help you create a strong work-life balance and keep yourself motivated.

Remember That Fear Is Not Fatal

When you’re self-employed, there’s no one you can ask to do the things you would rather avoid, but that doesn’t mean those things don’t still have to get done. There’s a good chance that you chose your previous jobs, at least in part, because they offered an opportunity to do the things you were good at and minimize the things you dreaded. Now, suddenly, you’re responsible for everything, which means there’s simply no way for you to avoid the things you fear.

When you are looking at the things you have to do each day or week, pay attention to the tasks you’re putting off. The chances are good that those are the things you fear doing the most, not the least important or time-sensitive tasks that need attention. Whether it’s cold calling, billing, or writing new content, you put them on your to-do list for a reason, and there’s no one else to do them but you.

Take some time to experiment with your work environment and schedule to figure out what makes you most successful at tackling the tasks you’d prefer to avoid. Maybe it works best for you to do them first thing in the morning. Maybe you’re most successful when you batch all those unpleasantries and take a couple hours at a coffee shop to do them at once. Maybe you find them easiest to do if you break them up into small bites and work on them a few times a day, every day. Only you can decide how you work best on the things you don’t enjoy, and you can only make that decision when you take time to explore your options.

Most importantly, when you’re facing the things you fear most about self-employment, remember that your fear is only a feeling. It is telling you something important about your preferences and your strengths, but it’s not telling you whether you’ll be successful. You may turn out to be great at that scary thing, and you may even enjoy it. So figure out what you need in order to get it done, and then see what happens when you give it a shot.