So… this is a weird one. Going to own that upfront. I know these blogs can be a little out there at times, coming totally off the rails on occasion, and this is still one I’m not fully sure how to classify. Sort of business advice, sort of self-help? Fuck it, let’s just dive in.
I’ve touched on this before, but being a full-time writer is essentially being a startup business with a single employee: you. Now of course that can grow if you add others to your company, but it will never be less than the one if it’s still functioning. This puts you in a unique position that not many folks experience, at least on a professional level: you have to be your own manager.
On the surface, that sounds like the easiest thing in the world. Trouble is, it only sounds that way. I don’t intend this as a judgement, more laying out the facts, but most of the systems we currently use rely on external motivating factors. First teachers pushing us, judging with grades how we do, then eventually managers, judging us with performance reviews. Deadlines, status reports, presentation dates, almost every productive place creates a constant churn to keep employee generating value.
At home, you have exactly none of that. No external pressures beyond rent and bills, and if you’re doing this full time I sure hope you’ve got enough padding to not worry about that for a bit. The trouble is, without that pressure and all those motivating forces, some folks don’t create at a sustainable speed. Heck, I’ve known writers who grew less productive after quitting, because writing while bored at work was half their productivity. Being at home, its much harder to be bored.
All of which leads me to the curious topic for this week’s blog: self-management. Which is to say, being both the manager, and the employee. It’s a complicated relationship, especially if you all will take a minute and think about how you regarded your last boss. Unless you are crazy lucky and had a great boss (they do exist, I’ve had some) then you probably don’t view your manager too kindly. And yeah, that’s fair, their job is usually to squeeze more work out of you. But you like you, so you’ll want to do better than they did, which means you need to learn how to manage an employee.
Brief background: Before the writer days, I was a cubical dweller, when I had that much privacy at all. However, toward the end of my career I ended up in a unique job that led to me managing several departments. I also got to work under some incredibly skilled leaders, seeing firsthand the styles that would sink and bolster a department. All of that is to say that while all advice is subjective, this isn’t coming totally out of my ass.
There is so much we could cover on this topic it’s crazy. Shelves are filled with volumes of books about how to be a good manager. Rather than going into the nitty gritty of that stuff, today I just want to focus on the major managerial styles in use right now: Time vs Objective Management. Figuring these out, and which works for you, is a big step in managing yourself properly.
If you’ve only worked in an office, you have probably never experienced an objective-based job. That’s a failing of our culture, not you, because while both have some merit, time-based management is cheaper to implement and keep running, so that’s what gets most commonly used. A pity, too, since different people need different management styles.
To summarize a ton into a short snippet: time management is when a company controls how you spend your day. Strict schedules, even down to breaks in some places, productivity trackers, daily assessment reports; whatever the incarnation your business uses, you know this when you see it. Your company doesn’t trust you, so they keep an eye on every minute they can, ensuring they’re always getting their money out of you at any given moment.
Objective management is when you work more on deadlines. Anyone who does freelance work will be more familiar with this model. It often boils down to “We need to track X by next Wednesday. Create a system. Come see me if you need anything.” You see this far less often in offices, but if you can find one, hang the fuck on. The trouble with this method is that it really does require trusting your employees to use their time well. For salary, you’re trusting them not to screw around, for hourly, you’re trusting they only bill the hours used. It worked in our departments because they were small enough that I had constant personal interaction with my team. I knew they were good people who worked hard, and I trusted their skills, just as my boss had trusted mine.
Neither of these is inherently wrong, although having seen time-management taken to absurd degrees, a part of me will always feel suspicious when I see it implemented. The point is, these are very different ways to motivate someone to work, and you should take a look inside to see which one works better for you. Some people do better with managed time, blocking off thirty-minute chunks through the day where they must write. Others, like me, function best on quotas. My day is defined by hitting my target word counts, how long it takes me is largely irrelevant. The job isn’t done until that number is reached. For my work, that gets the best results; to someone else, that could be a living hell.
That’s really the main goal of today. Accept that as a business and as a creator, you might have different desires. Like any good manager/employee relationship, the happy medium should require a little give and take on both sides. You have to find a way to produce that keeps you happy, while also making sure the lights stay on. Don’t be afraid to experiment, test different quotas or timeframes, follow the tactics that show results. As a bonus, if you ever do add more staff to your company, you’ll walk into that relationship with a much better idea of how to be a good manager.