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Part 2

This is Part Two in Matt Hewitson’s five-part series, “How To Quit Your Job and Go It Alone.” To read Part One, click here.  

Go to Part 1 

I left employment because I wanted things on my own terms. I wanted to be there for my wife and family. I didn’t want to be the dad or husband that gets home everyday after their family is already asleep. I also don’t believe in the notion of a “work life balance”. For me, thats too simple as it implies that they are actually two equal halves.

Your two lives - work and family - are never equal and certainly never equal at the same time, and they are always competing for your attention and focus. It’s important that you integrate work into your family, and not your family into your work. In you going out on your own, your family needs to be on-board as they are making a sacrifice for you to work this way. When in employment, the line between home and work is perhaps clearer.

You are either at work or you’re not. When you work for yourself, the reality is that if you are not “at work” then you are not earning money - theres no holiday pay, no sick leave, nothing. When you are used to a salary, this is actually a concept that is difficult to appreciate, and I don’t believe you will totally appreciate the reality of it until you do it. Finding a way to earn money and work, while also placing family first, is hard, but achievable. An easy way to start is to make sure that you block out time in your calendar to go to your children's school assemblies or sports carnivals. You must quickly learn to prioritise, and move things down your list.  You might have to give things up, or simply reduce the amount of time you spend doing certain activities. Personally, I would love to train for 100km trail races, but I am not prepared to sacrifice 10 hours of family time a week to train. However, I am a morning person, and I am also a runner. So my preferred time to run is in the morning - its cooler, and it gets it out of the way.

I know that if I leave it for later in the day, I will prioritise work over exercise because I think purely about the money I am giving up to do it. Alternatively, I will run to the office and I will kill two birds with one stone. The best thing about being your own boss though, is you can work your own hours. You don’t have to be in the office by a certain time, every day of the week. What this means is that you don’t have to be chained to your desk until 6pm, nor do you have to tear into the office to be on time at 8am.

I believe you are better positioned to integrate work into your life, and can consciously limit how much work you are imposed with. At the end of the day, it’s hard not to be preoccupied by the constant juggle of family and work, and people often ask me how I stay motivated and disciplined to go to work and not just hang out with my family all day. My response is simple: “Because we need to eat”.   If you are interested, this is what my typical day looks like:

0400   Wake up and go for a run

0500   Breakfast, plan for the day

0530   Start doing some work

0700   My kids usually wake up about now, so I go inside to make breakfasts and them get organised for the day

0800   Get ready to leave for the day

0830   Arrive at office, or a client office

0830-1530  My typical working hours

1530   Start getting ready to head home, make notes for the next day, or later that evening

1600   Arrive home, spend time with the family and make sure I leave my phone at the door or in my bag

2000   Kids are in bed, complete any work that is urgent

2200   Sleep

My tips for integrating your work life with your family and personal life:

  • Time, as always, is your most perishable asset. Carefully plan your time, and whom you spend it with. “Park” things that can wait.
  • When you arrive home at the end of the day, turn off your phone or leave it another room. Only keep it with you if it’s an emergency. I find that if I have it with me, I look at it too much.
  • Make time for your family, and have at least 1 meal with them each day. For me a great day is being able to have both breakfast and dinner with them. Its rare for me to be around for both these days, but just make it an event on weekends instead.
  • Get your exercise done early, you will put it off otherwise.
  • Plan outings and things to do with your family for the minute you walk through the door. Whether this be taking your children to the park, or just doing a specific activity with them, it is important to spend quality time with them.

Where are you going to work?

The idea of working from home is great. And it is, its awesome. However, you have to have a separate space that is away from other areas, and designate it as your workspace. I know people that work from their kitchen table, their bedroom, and even their backyard. This is fine, but you’re going to be met with distraction, sooner rather than later. Its pretty easy to be distracted at home, whether it be kids, barking pets or even thinking “I will just put on that load of washing” or “I am just going to get the dinner started”. Before you know it, you’ll have spent an hour doing something unimportant, an hour which could have been dedicated to work.

When I first quit, I signed a lease on a small office in West Perth, basically straight away. As my daughter was not even a year old, she would have been a noisy and not to mention fun distraction (and still is), so it was impossible not to be totally consumed with what she was doing. Also, our house at the time was small and old, with original 80-year-old floorboards, so if you dropped a pin at one end of the house, it sounded like a smash at the other end. Moving into an office straight away helped on several levels for me. Obviously, it got me out of the house, but I was also situated right in the middle of where my old clients were. For the first few months after leaving my company, I had a restriction of whom I could talk to for a period of time in my employment contract, which meant that I couldn’t email or call them. It didn’t prohibit me from bumping into them on the street however, meaning we could bump into each other.

Now, a few years on, I am very lucky that I have a little studio office external to my house, which is at the bottom of my garden. I walk out the back door each morning, open the studio door and walk into my office. For me, that separation really helps from a psychological perspective. Most days now though, I am based from my clients’ offices, so the time that I do spend in the home office is early in the morning, and after my children have gone to bed. My tips on workspaces:

  • In leasing an office, try and get as short a lease as possible, or even look at a serviced office or sharing with someone. Be wary however, as serviced offices can be expensive. Always read the fine print.
  • I find the foyers in office buildings and cafes to be a comfortable workspace, albeit extremely short-term work spaces. They usually have comfortable chairs, air conditioning, WiFi and a quiet environment to make calls.
  • Don’t sit in front of the TV with a laptop on your lap. You won’t be productive, and you are kidding yourself if you think you can watch TV and work effectively at the same time.
  • Your home office is “work” and a place of business, so ensure that you and your family treat it as such.

Setting up your new space

It is exciting setting up your office, and as an organised person, I probably went a bit over the top. I have since worked out that you don’t really need an iPad, and certainly not an iPad mini as well. And you definitely don’t need these extras when you already have a Mac Air that connects to the internet through your personal hotspot on your iPhone, as well as a MacMini and three monitors. The important thing to focus on when setting up is buying only what you really need right now.

Don’t go and get something because you think you might need it, or that you might need it eventually. Buying too much places a lot of pressure on your cash flow, especially if you haven’t got any cash flow to begin with. You are a startup, so you need to think like one. Hold onto your cash for as long as possible. Expensive equipment is what big firms have, but it doesn’t necessarily add any value. You need to be lean, light and agile. The most important things these days are to have a laptop and a mobile phone.  

Everything should be able to fit into a backpack. For instance, I did want a small laptop so I opted for the 11 inch MacBook Air, because it was small and light enough for me to lug around during the day. It was also going to be small enough to sit on my lap, whether I was sitting on a bus, at a café table, or on an aeroplane. (For years I had been forced to carry the standard issue laptop which on one occasion was too heavy for my carry-on luggage on a flight between mine sites in the Northern Territory).

My tips for setting up your new workspace:

  • Don’t bring clients to your office. If you do, or plan to, you will end up spending too much money on furniture and expensive ‘stuff’ that does not serve much function other than to make an impression.
  • If it is a part of your business to bring clients to your office for meetings, consider getting a serviced office.
  • Start small, but buy quality. You most likely will be your IT Manager as well, so you want something reliable, something that is going to turn on when its supposed to. You don’t want to spend your life on the phone to technical support when you could be billing. There is nothing more frustrating and infuriating than technology malfunctions.
  • Don’t spend too much time worrying about what you need, just get out there and start making money. Buying “stuff” can happen later.
  • Don’t reward yourself with buying expensive equipment after landing a deal. Squirrel away that money, and unless you can truly say that it will add value to your business, wait a few weeks before purchasing. Over that time, you will most likely have forgotten about it, or come up with another solution.
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