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3 Essentials You Need to Be Your Own Boss

I used to be frustrated about life. Like most millennials, for a long time I was a renter, not a homeowner. This had everything to do with my career and what I perceived as a lack of achievement. I hadn’t stepped out to pursue my passion yet and wasn’t making enough money to buy a home.

In 2016, 65 percent of millennials were renting homes. When baby boomers were in their 20s and 30s, over 40 percent of them owned homes. Low wages and high student loan debt are part of why millennials can’t afford to buy homes. Still, when I compared my generation to my parents’, I found the frustration mounting. 

Then, after saving up for a while, I decided to step out and become a freelance writer. But first I needed a vacation from nonstop work to clear my head and help my writing.

I came back from vacation to find my house covered in ants. I hadn’t kept the house clean enough, and they’d found an access point. I was planning on diving right into work. But my workspace was uninhabitable.

Friends were kind enough to let me use a spare bedroom in a house where I was constantly distracted. People were going in and out of the house, watching TV, making noise. My organization skills were nowhere to be found. I had no workflow.

And then it struck me: This is what it’s like to be young without a system when you’re trying to be your own boss.

I learned that to succeed, you have to have the conditions necessary for success. You have to have a good workspace, organization, and a system of accountability to make sure you get work done. Take care of these things first.

#1. Get a Good Workspace

When you hop in your car, you get in to go somewhere. You’re not there to hang out or sleep. The same goes for your workspace. Where you work should be associated with just that—work.

The library at NeueHouse collaborative workspace in Madison Square

I’m not talking about a sterile environment that imitates a cubicle. Bland environments equal bland work. A friend of mine, whose productivity I envy, painted her home office blue and green because these colors spark productivity and efficiency. Yellow is great for creatives. Red for the job that requires physical activity.

That said, your living space is a living space, and unless there’s a separate room you can designate as an office, it’s best to work elsewhere. Work in a place where you won’t have to pay to get rid of the ants should they invade. Work in a workspace.

Shared workspaces and co-ops are popping up all over the place and for good reason:

  • They can act as incubators where you’ll meet other entrepreneurs, even mentors and potential clients
  • They facilitate group work
  • They’re free from distractions
  • They’re filled with people on a similar wavelength as yours, which creates positive momentum

A good workspace is essential and shared workspaces are great, but they don’t mean anything if you’re not organized.

#2. Get Organized


Organization is the network of roads, highways, and freeways connecting towns, cities, and states. Without organization, it’ll take you a long time to get anywhere. By the time you arrive, someone else will already be occupying your space.

To start, dig in and focus on your goal. Organization is a tool you use to maintain focus. It’s also, according to Arizona State University, a way to end the cycle of procrastination. ASU recommends making “a list of your time hierarchy.” Identify which priorities are rigid and which are flexible, and move forward from there by tackling rigid priorities first.

That’s not the only way to get organized. If I were to tell you there’s one organization method better than all the others, I’d be lying. Here’s a list of methods to choose from (or combine):

  • Pomodoro Technique: Set a timer for 25 minutes and sit down to work uninterrupted, then take a five minute break—you’ve completed one pomodoro; repeat until you’ve completed four pomodoros, then take a longer break of 15 to 30 minutes.
  • Getting Things Done Method: Which tasks can you finish quickly and easily? Do them first. Then, break down bigger tasks into a series of smaller tasks and use the same system of easier-to-harder until you complete all tasks.
  • Don’t Break the Chain: Simply choose the one thing you prefer doing most, get a calendar, do your thing each day, put a big red check mark on each day you do it, and do your best not to break the chain of doing
  • Action Method: Although this is a software by Behance, I prefer the idea as a takeaway; after any brainstorming session or research session, create a list of to-dos regardless of their category, then check items off your list throughout the day

Get creative. Combine methods, dream up your own method, find a way to get organized and make it your own. But how will you stick to it without staying accountable?

#3. Get Accountability


One time, I was in the same spot as a fellow writer friend of mine. We both had a lot—I mean a ton—of work to catch up on after weeks on the road. I felt overwhelmed. So he said, “Hey, just send me a text that says ‘hell yeah’ after you finish anything.”

At first I found myself getting distracted, clicking on anything but the right things, starting things but not finishing them. Then 20 minutes passed and he sent me a text that said “hell yeah?”. It snapped me into focus. I finished one thing I was working on and sent him my first “hell yeah.” After that the hell yeahs just kept coming.

You’ve spent most of your life going to school and working for someone else. Whether it’s parents, teachers, or managers, you’re used to someone keeping you accountable. I recommend finding a friend or mentor to keep you accountable while you do the same for them. Make it mutually beneficial.

If you can’t find someone, set up a system of rewards for yourself. There are a ton of tools for freelancers that can help. Use tools and train yourself. When you finish a task, make good things the result.

Take the Leap

I’m proud to say that after I became my own boss and continued working hard with my writing, I was able to use my newfound skills to work towards buying a house. It’s not that I make a ton more on my own than I did working for someone else. It’s that I realized resolve, organization, and accountability can help with building good credit and saving enough money to get a home mortgage.

To “take the leap” is to have resolve; it’s about not looking back when you jump out over a chasm. Combine full-throttle resolve with a workspace where you can get things done, an organization system, as well as a system of accountability, and you will achieve your goals.

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Daniel Matthews is a freelance writer from Boise, Idaho specializing in social media and tech. You can find him on Twitter @danielmatthews0 and Facebook.

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