“No dessert until you finish your dinner.”
“You can watch a show once you finish your homework.”
“20 minutes playing on the computer is enough for tonight.”
I find myself repeating these rules, and a dozen more, to my three children day after day. As I say them I hear the echo of my own parents
saying something similar to me 30 years ago.
Why do we say these things? What purpose do they serve for children, and why do we stand by them now as adults running our own households?
The rules are just made up, you know. They’re a fiction. It’s entirely possible, for example, to eat a healthy, well-balanced meal after eating a slice of pie. It’s also possible to watch an episode of Phineas and Ferb and then do a great job on your math worksheet and still be in bed on
And yet, we insist.
We want our children to internalize the rules for living a self-controlled life. Sometimes we even yell at them about it, then throw up our hands in frustration when they resist. It’s that important to us.
I think what we’re really saying is, “It’s important to make up rules for yourself and then abide by them. Rules will help you work harder and make good decisions. Right now I’m making up rules for you, but when you’re out on your own, you should make them up for yourself and then you should follow them. They’ll make you a better person.”
The Self-Imposed Rules of Adulthood
You’re an adult now and I’ll bet you’ve got a whole set of made up rules that you follow every day to help you function better. Here are a
few of mine:
- I have to wash all the breakfast dishes and put them away
before the kids leave for school.
- The minute I get home from preschool drop off I have to
immediately go run 3 miles. No excuses and no exceptions.
- I can eat chocolate every day, but only a little bit and
only after lunch.
These rules help me to reign in things I find hard to naturally control, or that I resist focusing on. These rules are me saying to myself, “Don’t be lazy. Don’t be a slob. Get your work done.” Without them I would have a sink full of dirty dishes right now. I would have sat still all day today, and eaten a whole package of Oreos in front of the computer at 11 am.
Sometimes we go too far, of course, both with our kids and with ourselves. We need to examine our rules from time to time, make adjustments to them, throw some out and add in new ones. But the key is that we have them and we follow them and they keep us mostly in line.
Self-Imposed Rules Can Help You Run a Better Business
When you work from home, managing your own creative business, it’s easy to slack off. You’re on your own without a boss looking over your shoulder, or even a co-worker with a work ethic that’s making you look bad.
What you need is a set of rules. You’ll have to make them up, of course, and enforce them, too. But you’ll be surprised how effective a simple set of rules can be. Turn every day into a productive day by following a set of self-imposed rules for managing your business.
Here are a few of my business rules:
- I must be showered and dressed, with make-up on and hair done,
and seated at my studio desk by 10:15 am every weekday. This means I don’t stop
to talk to my neighbor for half an hour after my run and I can’t suddenly
decide to paint my nails on a Tuesday morning. Why not? Because I’ll be late to
- I have to finish the weekly bookkeeping for my business
every Friday morning before I can sew. It’s a tedious task that’s vital to the
success of my business and nobody else is going to do it for me. When I finish,
I can work on something fun.
- I publish a post on my blog every Monday, Wednesday, and
Friday. This blog is the hub of my business and it needs to be continually
active. Just like a newspaper reporter who works on deadline, I have to get my
posts up on time.
- My studio needs to be clean before I can start a new
project. Fabrics have to be sorted and put back in their bins, needles back in
the needlebook, scraps swept into the scrap bin. Among the many hats I wear, I’m
the janitor and if the room is messy I failed to do my job.
Now granted, nobody is perfect. Just like it’s okay to eat dessert first from time to time, it’s okay to skip a Friday blog post. You aren’t going to get fired, or grounded. But imposing a set of rules on yourself, and following them as closely as possible, will make you more productive and leave you with more time and energy to do what you love and make your creative business succeed.
What are your rules? What new rule could you invent to make the best use of your creative time?
Erika Davison says
I really needed this post! I need to be stricter on the rules for myself!! Thank you!!
My goodness I wish I had some rules! I need some, really I do. My problem is lack of space. I mean I have none. None for anything non crafty too, not just a work area. I used to draw and cut out on my coffee table but now my sick cat has his food and water on there (weird I know). I had no table in the house and no room for one either. I compromised and bought a fold up small table. And now the cat is on it permanently. He is not well bless him, so I don’t have the heart to move him. So back to square one. Nowhere at all to work from. I really would love to leave home every morning and go to a different home to work in. I also find everything else takes so long – the boring things in life, like food shopping and is so time consuming (no car). I also procrastinate and spend hours thinking about things instead of doing, I am completely undisciplined.
The table was supposed to help with that because there are very real practical reasons that mean I find it so hard to get started. I mean all my fabric is stuffed into separate drawers or in the gap between the sofa and the wall. Books pile up high on the fridge until they fall off. There is no room for any storage and I am not allowed to put up shelves (I rent). I actually don’t have much stuff (except books) but the place is so crowded. Sometimes I just feel so overwhelmed that I give up before I start and don’t start anything. I have no idea what fabric I have, so it can’t inspire me, as to get it out means major disruption. I try and stay creative by picking up some drawing on my lap or doing knitting which is truly portable. Space is one reason I do embroidery, but projects don’t then get made into something. My rules would all about procrastination and making order from chaos, but I just don’t see the solutions to the problems. So it all continues! It’s about to get worse because I will have to move to a place with only one bedroom soon, when my daughter moves out. She will often be staying but won’t have a room 🙁
I love seeing people’s craft rooms and studio’s and I am open mouthed in awe. But I really love even more, when you see successful people working from a single desk with sewing machine in their bedroom. They are few, but they do exist. I hold on to that. I know this post is a whinge and even all a bit besides the point of your post. But somehow to me it all ties in!
Wendi Gratz says
I use Wunderlist for my to do lists and one of my rules is that I have to do the most irritating, boring or tedious thing on the list first. The thing I least want to do. I’ve found that by getting it out of the way first, the rest of the day feels pretty awesome.
This post makes me cringe. CRINGE. I don’t have your discipline at all! You are such an inspiration at running a home business! No surprise you are a great success. Me? I’m the master at time nonmanagement, procrastination and avoidance crafting. I really could use a more rule based and methodical approach. Yes. HOWEVER, I guess that is where the crux of the matter lies for me: Is this thing I’m doing just for fun? Or am I in it to maximize a business and make a career? I’m already home schooling which requires structure and discipline and a good part of my day. My business if more of a way to let off creative steam. So far my addlepated hither and yon approach has kept it mostly fun. LOL. I’m afraid if I make it too structured it will suck all the enjoyment and spontaneity out of my making! Something to ponder for sure. Probably somewhere in the middle is the right place for me. More disciplined than I am now, but definitely not keeping office hours. Thanks for a great post!
Beth Grim says
I’m still rebelling from the rules my parents made by not having rules of my own! (I’m 52….I think it’s time to get over it!) actually, I’m pretty good at writing a list of “rules”, not so good at following them. As usual, Abby, another useful and inspiring post. I will strive to follow your example!
One rule that I’m struggling to discard (thanks Mom and Dad!) is that work is not meant to be fun. And that work comes before everything else, even self-care. My parents were both factory workers so the idea of taking a day off because your sick meant losing your job.
I find it very hard to take it easy when I’m not feeling well, especially since I’m still immuno-compromised from chemo. That was the hardest lesson to learn on chemo, I wanted that time “off” to be “useful”. Like I had to show something for the time spent basically in bed. So I tried to study for the GREs which was impossible since my memory was shot. Then I decided to write a novel, and that was also a fool hardy endeavor. Lastly, I thought about knitting a huge shawl, which was also abandoned. Towards the end, I ‘gave up’ and told myself just to get through the winter of 2011.
I still remind myself most days that the only thing I have to do is make it to the end of the day alive. It sounds a bit morbid but it’s reassuring to know that the only thing people expect of me is to keep breathing. Everything else becomes a bonus.
melissa q. says
I need routine and discipline too! Must have it or I feel so lost and out of control. I have some of the same rules you do, which is reassuring. I run early in the morning though so my rule is to start sewing by 10am. If I have emails to write, accounting work, blogging and other computer work, I have to finish it by 10am. It gives me 1 1/2 hours at the beginning of the day to focus on doing that efficiently so I don’t end up with a whole day wasted dawdling in front of the computer. It’s part of my effort to make most of what I do about making things. It’s part of what I learned from LIlla Rogers. If I have to do more on the computer, I work at night. I’m trying to keep my studio clean but I also try to remember to leave out something that is unfinished so that I can swing right back into action when I do get into the studio. Keeps me from over thinking and procrastinating. I also try to keep a detailed calendar with detailed to-dos. I find it hard to operate without a routine, I miss that about conventional work, so this keeps me on track. It’s pretty anal but it works! Mostly. I get off-track sometimes.
Stacey (FreshStitches) says
I love this post! I’m exactly the same way, but WAY worse about the dishes 😉
Hmm… what are my rules?
* Write a blog post 5 times a week
* Always check email before starting work
* Don’t check email more than 4 times a day
* Be off of work by 6 at the latest
* EVERYTHING on the to-do list needs to be done by the end of day Friday
I’m sure I have tons more, but aren’t thinking of them. I’m pretty sure they’re the secret to working at home!
Debbie Feely says
This is good. I need to address this thought. Exercise, SIGH. Business, especially the bit about record keeping. Thanks for the thoughts.
Thanks for this post, Abby. I agree that setting and following rules is instrumental in running a productive and satisfying business. I think it’s interesting that you wrote about this topic, since recent psychological research has also shown that following rules can result in higher levels of happiness, since it takes some of the pressure off of us to be constantly making decisions (e.g. should I go for a run today, should I put my book keeping off until tomorrow, etc.). That said, perhaps I should set some more rules for myself 🙂
I need the rule about not starting one project until the first is finished. My project ADHD is ridiculous. When my handmade business is my full time employment I will need rules for myself or too many other things can distract me.
Kim Werker says
I love this, Abby! While writing Mighty Ugly, I thought (and wrote) a lot about how rules/constraints can be very liberating creatively, but I didn’t give much though to the day-to-day. Here are some of the rules I follow: http://www.kimwerker.com/2013/10/31/the-rules-i-follow/
I recently wrote a really structured plan for a big project I’m just starting on. It looked totally doable and reasonable, and then the day job intervened in a big way and I lost 3 weeks (still am losing in fact). I wanted to cry, and I still haven’t been able to face tackling the replanning needed, although that’s partly because I still don’t know when I can start, ie the day job will return to normal level of mild insanity rather than out and out chaos! The only good thing is that I will get time back in lieu for all the time I lost, and I’m really hoping I can take it in a couple of week long chunks where I can recover…
Caroline B says
Oh Sara, how I identify with you! We live in a tiny house too and my stuff is all over the place, jammed in any available space. I wish I had a studio – I paint from a desk in the corner of the living room and have to pack it all away every day when I am finished. However, it is worth having a big sort out and getting your materials in some sort of order – I have all kinds of boxes and bags that are clearly defined – fabric, good yarn, cheap yarn, etc., and even though half of them are also stuffed between the sofa and the wall(and under the stairs, under my bed, in the kitchen…), I do know where I can lay my hands on what I need. Keep your current project in a bag where you can grab it when you have a minute. Sometimes you also have to forget the day to day chores – the dirt will still be there tomorrow, you can eat a meal from leftovers – and just get on with creating. Life’s too short for housework! I suffer from the same problem, when faced with the prospect of getting everything out to find some inspiration, inspiration turns to procrastination and then nothing. One of the best rules I have that was passed on to me by an artist friend is to make sure you create something every day – no matter how small or how quick it takes. It soon becomes a habit, then after a while you really get into it and a day without creating feels like a day wasted.
I wish you happy crafting!
Abby Glassenberg says
You’re welcome, Erika!
Abby Glassenberg says
Maybe start with one rule? That way it won’t be so overwhelming. Just pick one thing to work on this week.
Abby Glassenberg says
I love that, Wendi! Get the icky stuff out of the way first.
I use a yellow lined notepad for my to-do list. I couldn’t run my business without it!
Abby Glassenberg says
Home schooling kids is already a full-time job. Even if what you do now isn’t structured like a serious business, that doesn’t mean it will never be. My kids are all in school, out of my house, during some portion of every day.
Abby Glassenberg says
To tell you the truth I had very few rules as a kid either. I think that’s what made me lead a more structured life as an adult.
Abby Glassenberg says
I totally get off track, too. And today I didn’t sew at all. I was working at the computer all day. It happens.
Abby Glassenberg says
I hadn’t heard about that research, Casey, but I think it must be true. Too many decisions is stressful! It’s calming to know, basically, how things will run.
I recently read an article on the power of saying “I do/I don’t/I am” rather than “I can’t/I have to,” so that your rules become a part of your persona rather than something you have to force yourself to do or change about yourself. The author linked to a small study that had pretty great results!