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Working for Yourself

How to stay on track when there's no one looking over your shoulder

In 30 years, I never had a bad boss, though I had more than a dozen bosses, including one who threw things. Only one gave annual performance reviews, and mine weren't "Keep up the good work!" But his good opinion mattered. I was lucky with bosses; I liked them all.

Jane Pauley

Andrew Eccles

Still, as I contemplated a productive and meaningful future, at the top of my list was being my own boss. And now I am! But I have a confession: This inexperienced boss made it a challenge to actually get things done.

For inspiration I had only to look across the breakfast table. My husband is a cartoonist; pressure is a constant, but he has been his own boss for 40 prolific years.

What's the secret? Having a routine, which choreographer Twyla Tharp calls "as much a part of the creative process as the lightning bolt of inspiration." In her book The Creative Habit, she argues persuasively that the key to a productive day is a morning routine that never varies.

My husband has that key. His curiosity takes him anywhere and everywhere; his workday is highly varied, but his morning routine is not. Shower and think, shave and dress, oatmeal and raisins, scan the paper, grab the keys, and go to work. Every day.

I remembered my aunt, who began every day with a crisp routine. Even in retirement, before her meditation, a modest breakfast, and a crossword puzzle, she looked smart and ready to go, whether she was going anywhere or not. It set a tone for the day of intentionality and purpose.

A few months ago I put a new routine to the test. I laid out my clothes at night, as I had when I used to "go to work" instead of to my own office. In the morning I made the dog wait 10 minutes while I put on some makeup, so when I sat down to coffee, I looked like someone who had somewhere to go. And I even found myself eager to get there! I arrived at my office with focus and energy. Better start-up does produce better follow-through.

I think my new "boss" will benefit from regular reviews (for example, she could stand to set clearer goals). But as for the job itself, I'd emphatically say it "exceeds expectations."

Award-winning journalist Jane Pauley is AARP's Your Life Calling ambassador.

 

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