From the June 2000 issue of Startups

Many of us leave our corporate jobs to get away from office politics, long hours and most of all, an unreasonable boss. Our newfound freedom, however, often leaves us working for a much tougher boss: ourselves. If you're tired of working for a jerk, these suggestions will help you enjoy working for yourself.

  • Set designated work hours and keep them. The inability to stop working well past normal office hours is common when you're your own boss. Get in the habit of working from a specific time each morning until a certain time each evening. Of course, last minute deadlines will affect your hours, but overall, if you don't set limits, you'll work too much and burn out too quickly. You wouldn't ask an employee to work those hours, so give yourself a break.
  • Keep your "to do" list reasonable. It's easy to make the mistake of scheduling several tasks to accomplish in one day when in reality, you have time for only a few. An overloaded list is daunting and an open invitation to procrastination. Rewrite your list at the end of each day or first thing each morning, and determine a realistic number of tasks to tackle that day. In your daily planner, set aside time for phone calls, marketing, correspondence and any other tasks you need to accomplish.
  • Avoid working on the weekends. If your business allows it, limit your work days to Monday through Friday. Some clients will only be able to meet with you on Saturday or Sunday, but with those exceptions, schedule all other appointments during the week.

Home office expert Lisa Kanarek is the founder of HomeOfficeLife.com and the author of Organizing Your Home Office For Success (Blakely Press) and 101 Home Office Success Secrets (Career Press).

Give Yourself A Break

  • Schedule at least one mini-vacation each year. When you worked for someone else, scheduling two weeks off was easy. When you work for yourself, finding two days to take off may seem impossible. At the beginning of each year, look at your calendar and block off one week or a four-day weekend and write the word "vacation" across those days. Even if you don't leave town, spend those days away from work relaxing.

CASE STUDY
Bad Boss Behavior: Bob Banks, owner of Banks Fine Art, a Dallas-based art appraisal and gallery business, travels for business, not pleasure. Whenever the topic of vacations came up between he and his wife, Maloree, he was adamant that he didn't have time to travel unless it was related to their business.

Turning Point: After working seven days a week, year after year, Bob realized his values needed to change. His kids were growing quickly, and he realized he would have only so many more years to spend with them before they went to college and wouldn't want to travel with him.

Good Guy Solution: Bob hired a director for his gallery, giving him more time to do what he enjoys most, appraising fine art. Each year, Bob and his family take at least one, one-week vacation and Bob has finally reconnected with his family. The surprising part for Bob was how well his business ran even when he wasn't there.

Reward Yourself For A Job Well Done

  • Establish rewards for completing difficult tasks or accomplishing major milestones. A reward doesn't have to be expensive or elaborate. A walk around the block or a small shopping spree can serve as a motivator to get the job done.

CASE STUDY
Bad Boss Behavior: Tom Nevermann, president of The Moving Doctor, a Los-Angeles-based company offering moving management and professional organizing services, learned a very valuable lesson early on in his career. He found that he would expend too much energy during a project and not prepare himself for the completion.

Turning Point: After completing a particularly large project, Nevermann slipped into a major depression and found it difficult to work for weeks.

Good Guy Solution: Now after completing a project, Nevermann rewards himself with a little time off (when he can). He even invested in a time-share in Palm Springs, California, where he can go to relax. "Working for yourself is very difficult," says Nevermann. "We sacrifice our own 'selfs' to make sure our clients' needs are satisfied, but we also need to make sure our own needs are met."

Saying No-To Both Perfection And Too Much Work

  • Don't always expect perfection. Before you retype a letter for the third time or make another change on a proposal, ask yourself why. Perfectionism is a dangerous trap. Before you know it, your standards become outrageously and unreasonably high. Instead of striving for perfection, strive for the quality your clients expect.
  • Learn when to say no. When you're building a business, you want to do everything you can to get and keep clients. It's easy for others to take advantage of your start-up status, but if you set ground rules from the start, you'll place more value on yourself and your skills. Unless a client is willing to pay for extra work or for a project that you're not interested in, but are capable of doing, say no. Otherwise, by the time you finish the project, you'll resent your client when it was you who should have just turned it down.

CASE STUDY
Bad Boss Behavior: Lori Ryckert and Pam Schneider, co-owners of Pristine Commercial Cleaning, an Overland Park, Kansas, company offering final cleaning for commercial construction, couldn't say no. In the beginning, they did anything to build their business, reputation and income, and were afraid to turn down client requests. "We were willing to do anything, be flexible and handle any job without much advance notice," says Ryckert. "We wanted to do whatever it took to get business."

Turning Point: On one of their first jobs, a new outlet mall, they worked 22 hours straight . After emerging from the enormous mall at 4 a.m., they were delirious, exhausted and frustrated. They had been paid well, but they knew that if they kept up this pace, their health, sanity and family were going to suffer.

Good Guy Solution: After three years in a thriving business, they've finally decided to give themselves a break. They can afford to be picky because they have built a solid reputation. Now if a client calls the day before they need the cleaning service, asking Ryckert and Schneider to work from 5 a.m. until midnight, they're able to say no and still get the job. Plus they've added two more employees.

Passing The Buck

  • Know when someone else is better suited to do the job. As entrepreneurs, we know we can do everything better than everyone else.or can we? You can easily fall into the old adage "jack of all trades, master of none" when you try to do everything yourself. If you're not particularly creative, outsource a graphic artist to create your marketing materials; he or she will probably have better ideas than yours and will be able to implement them faster and more efficiently. If bookkeeping isn't your strength, spend the extra money to hire an accountant, keeping your books straight and the IRS happy.

CASE STUDY
Bad Boss Behavior: "I've never felt comfortable talking about or collecting money from clients," says Lee Silber, San Diego-based author of
Career Management For The Creative Person (Three Rivers Press, $15). He doesn't know why, but he still doesn't like to deal with that aspect of his business.

Turning Point: He finally got tired of asking for too little money and then being negotiated down to next to nothing.

Good Guy Solution: Now that he's an author and consultant, he has agents who deal with making bids, negotiating deals and collecting fees. He finds that even with their commissions, he still comes out ahead. "Now I make more money [because the agents are able to negotiate much higher fees than I would] and I'm able to concentrate on what I do best," says Silber.

When you take the time to step back and look objectively at your self-management style, you'll be able to make a few simple changes. Who knows? You may even enjoy working for the person who pays your salary...you.

Quiz: Are You A Jerk?

Answer these five questions to determine if you're a jerk. Don't worry, it's not too late to change.

1. Your spouse surprises you with a trip to celebrate the end of a large, profitable project. You:

a. Pack a swimsuit and sunscreen and leave as soon as possible.
b. Pack your bags.with files, your laptop and cell phone for a little work away from the office.
c. Turn down the trip because you don't have the time to go away...ever.

2. Your alma mater is sponsoring an internship program and is eager to place interns directly related to your field. You:

a. Thank your college but decline because you don't want to spend the time training someone who could ultimately save you time.
b. Participate in the intern program.

3. Your favorite hobby is:

a. One you've enjoyed for years, completely unrelated to your work.
b. Working.
c. Watching television.

4. It's December, your kids are home from school and your business has naturally slowed down. You:

a. Continue working straight through Christmas Eve.
b. Cut back your hours for a few weeks, while still being available to your clients in case they need you.
c. Let your clients know you're spending an uninterrupted week with your family. Anything short of a full-scale client disaster can wait until December 27.

5. Your computer is painfully slow, you're in desperate need of new equipment and you've had a good year. You:

a. Refuse to invest in new equipment, not realizing the time you would save.
b. Consider buying new equipment, make a well-meaning effort to go online and research equipment, but instead use the time to e-mail client prospects.
c. Research computer options and buy what you need.

Quiz Answers

1. a=10 points, b=5 points, c=0 points
2. a=0 points, b=10 points
3. a=10 points, b=0 points, c=5 points
4. a=0 points, b=5 points, c=10 points
5. a=0 points, b=5 points, c=10 points

Scoring:

If you scored 50 points, you're not a jerk after all. Give yourself an employee bonus, whether it's an extended weekend or just a new houseplant.

If you scored between 30 and 40 points, you're walking the fine line of jerkiness. Give yourself at least two hours per week to pursue a new or old hobby. Give your family twice that amount of time to pursue nothing at all, like basking in the summer sun, playing a board game, or having a long, conversation-filled, sit-down dinner with extended relatives.

If you scored 30 points or less, you need to give yourself a break and stop being a jerk. Your family, friends and especially you (eventually) will appreciate it. Evaluate your working style: Are you actually less efficient because you don't seek help when it takes a little effort in the beginning? Whether it's training an intern, learning a new software program or teaching your kids how to do their own laundry, take a look at the bigger picture and calculate how much time and effort will be saved in the long run. And contemplate these changes during a long weekend-probably the first vacation you've taken since you've been in business.