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I wish I knew how to quit you

I have a problem: I don’t know how to say No. As a result, I bury myself in obligations I can never fulfill. I’m sure this has a negative effect on a lot of my relationships, but the most important relationship it’s hurting is the one I have with myself.

When I quit my job a year ago to become an independent consultant, one of the fantasies that lie ahead was a wide open, endlessly flexible schedule. I truly believed my days would consist of parks and naps, with a little bit of work on the side.

Now I’m forced to face facts: my schedule is a nightmare and if I don’t do something to fix it soon, I’ll be burned out before I reach year two.

Tony Bacigalupo, founder and mayor of the Manhattan co-working space New Work City, has listened to me whine about this a million times. He, Greg Palmer, Mark Burstiner and I finally sat down today for a group therapy session. We all feel like time is slipping through our fingers, and the lack of structure in our lives is a big contributing factor.

But complaining doesn’t make your problems go away. We need a strategy and construct to improve our productivity and restore our sanity.

Today we are starting a new initiative called CoStructure. We aren’t quite sure what it’s going to be yet, but we have some basic principles in mind:

  • We are all accountable for each other’s success
  • Productivity doesn’t just happen; we must set aside time for it and stick to it
  • Canceling on yourself is a lot easier than canceling on someone else
  • Not all routines are bad; structure allows you to do what you need to do when you need to do it
  • Nothing is still something, and we all need to make time for nothing

This is just the beginning of our thinking, but one thing is clear: we all need a support system. Being independent doesn’t mean you have to be alone.

Stay tuned to our CoStructure blog on Posterous for further developments.

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  • iaaxpage

    Cool stuff. I believe that two of the most difficult thing for an entrepreneur to learn are management and discipline.

    Being on your own as a Consultant really is a full time job. I think that I study more, read more, work more, than earlier in my life, although I am not a consultant at this time, I have been in the past and is super cool!

    I know you will keep doing great thing and having fun.

    Iaax Page.
    Web Developer

  • maryshaw

    This is the price of independence. While I like your idea, perhaps you could also benefit from saying “no” on occasion. I'm going on my third year as an independent consultant and I totally get the struggle. If you're going to serve your customers and family well, protecting your time is the most important aspect of all. I'm a big fan of Tim Ferriss' Four Hour Work Week. It still helps me a lot in these areas when I need a refresher. Thanks for the good food for thought.

  • Martha Orloci

    Hi Whitney,

    The whole work life balance thing is a challenge that is not easy to strike. Two techniques that have worked for me are:

    Saying 'no' – a hard step to take. It's important though.

    Another useful technique for me is to schedule your 'Me” time such that you aren't always connected/online. It is truly liberating and relaxing to withdraw from the noise of life/cliens/friends even for a few hours a week as a start. Block your 'me time' into your schedule and make it at least as improtant as the top client appointments in your book. If it helps to join a club/buy theatre tickets to stick to me time then do it.

    Good luck.

  • nwhysel

    A subtle and effective alternative to saying No: Raise your rate.

    If clients (and other relationships) don't have to work that hard to keep you at their beck and call, they end up taking you for granted. Not so much if they had to pay more/work harder to get your attention. It might feel like manipulation, especially with personal relationships, but it you don't always make it easy, you get a better idea of how much you are valued. This technique helped my daughter when her friends were stomping all over her because she was always too easygoing and forgiving, and it helps me when I find I have too many demands on my time.

    Second option, make sure your contract is very specific about what you will do and what is “extra”. I often feel the urge to suggest an additional service to a client, especially if it sounds like it would be cool and fun to do. But I'm always sure to say, By the way it's additional, before everyone gets caught up in the excitement.

  • http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#/nsteven.alleyne?ref=profile Steve

    Learn to say no. It's stressful at first because many folks aren't comfortable with confrontation BUT it actually shows off your competence and confidence more than being overly agreeable. It's a great leadership trait and will yield more success in meeting or exceeding expectations with your clients and yourself. You've heard, “underpromise and over deliver” right? It's a hard lesson, like many valuable life lessons, but there's no other way to learn it than to live through it. You already recognize the problem so you're already there! :-)

  • http://twitter.com/kleepet kleepet

    Take off Friday. Work 10 hrs/day and take off every Friday, or work 9 hrs/day and take off every other.

    Do the tougher, more boring stuff when you have a lot of energy, and save the fun stuff for when you are more tired. I do this in my whole day, not just the work hours–I sleep from 9 to 5, so that when I get up, there is plenty of time for errands & organization, and when I get home, when I'm burned out, it's just about time to go to sleep. And don't come to work early thinking you'll get out early. You'll just leave at the same time after having worked an even longer day than normal.

    Between eating right, sleeping right, and exercising, pick 1 that you cannot do without, and don't do without it. Hey, it's just 1/3 of what you really need to feel rested; can you commit to just 1?

    Check yourself every hour. Are you locked in the same position over your keyboard? Did you forget to eat or answer nature's other call? Is it time to switch to another task or project and give your mind a rest on this one for a moment?

    Make sure you are breathing all the way in and all the way out ALL DAY LONG. As soon as you start breathing shallowly, your body thinks you're stressed, and all the stress chemicals come pouring out. Fool yourself into producing the calm chemicals instead.

  • http://icosidodecahedron.com/ Michael Kozakewich

    I couldn't imagine taking time to do nothing. And yet, when I'm forced to do nothing, I realize I need it.
    Going on walks seems to be a great way to get that.