Howdy Do It, Week 2

Howdy Do It came from how do you do It, the question Ellie & Margot found themselves asking about their freelance lifestyles, and so Howdy Do It was born, a weekly column about the things we do to keep ourselves organized, inspired and on track.


I’m going to be honest with you on how my first month of self-employment went. And I really hope that at least some of you are right there with me. Here’s the thing… My house is a wreck. A serious, messy disaster. At some point I got frustrated with my teeny tiny dresser, and all my clothes ended up on the floor of our bedroom, where they’ve stayed for two weeks. No, strike that. We had visitors and I tossed the giant mound into the closet once, and now it’s slowly creeping out like a giant swamp thing with a mind of its own.

I don’t have an office area, so I tend to move around the house with my laptop. Lately I’ve been favoring the living room, so there are empty glasses, a plate, and the remnants of last week’s DIY project for Mint on the floor. I can’t work on our dining room table anymore, because that’s buried under the props and products from our craft show (now, over a week ago). And then there’s the kitchen table, which I can’t stand to work on anymore because it’s right next to our laundry area, which looks kind of like our bedroom floor. And the pile of dishes in the sink and on the countertops? We have one of those mini dishwashers which can’t keep up with us, because my husband and I are now eating 3+ meals at home each day, whereas when we were employed it was more like 1-2 max.


Oh! Exercise, what? I don’t remember the last time I went to the gym, although I do continue to pay my monthly membership dues for some optimistic reason.

And then there’s the really awful habit I’m forming. I hate this. I get up late, like 9:30 or something, and in my pajamas and without brushing my teeth I head to the living room/kitchen/dining room and turn on my laptop. Sometimes (ugh, I really hate to admit it) but I realize that it’s 11 or 12 before I actually tear myself away from work to take a shower and get dressed.

This can’t go on. Because if this is what self-employment looks like, I’m disgusted. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t miss my job for a second (well the salary, sure!) and I’m not going to give up so soon. However, it’s obvious that I’m forming some really bad habits and I need to nip this in the bud. I’m busier than I’ve ever been, and the stress level is high, but I really want this whole self-employment thing to work out for me so I can’t make myself miserable or rely on a million excuses.

So, this week I did some research (OK so I googled it) on forming habits. Since it’s only been a month, I don’t think I need to break any bad habits, I just need to form some good ones. At least, that’s the way I like to look at it. Research seems to vary a lot in how long it takes to form a habit. Some say 21 days, while others say somewhere between 18-254 with 66 being the average (Lally et al, 2009). Although the 21 day theory sounds great, I’m not completely buying it. Beginning an exercise routine certainly wouldn’t become habit for me after 21 days, but spending, say, 15 minutes each day cleaning the house is probably doable in that time line.


Regardless of whether it takes one month or nine to form better self-employment habits, I did come across some useful tips for getting the ball rolling. I’ve gathered my favorites (many from here), modified some, and am including my own (non-tested) ideas of how I/we might change things.

1. Be patient. I say this first, because I realize that in the paragraphs above I’ve listed 4 behaviors I’d like to change, and obviously if I try to change all of them at once I’m going to burn out. Self-employment is a complete lifestyle change, and no doubt it will take a while (like, years if ever) for me to be really satisfied with my routine. It’s life. It can’t be perfect, especially not without practice, patience, and hard work.

2. Make a list. This one only applies if you’re like me and have 4+ habits you want to start. Unless you are already awesome at forming new habits (who are you?), you’re probably not going to be able to tackle them all at once in full force. Instead of saying “I want to exercise every day,” try setting your goal for once a week. Smaller habits may be easier to start at once. Or, if you’re really patient, maybe you rank the habits on your list and conquer #2 once you’ve mastered #1.

3. Say it. For me, publicly claiming that I want to change these habits means I’m more likely to actually do it. I really don’t want to be writing this same blog post 6 months or a year from now. So blog about it, or announce your new habits to your family and friends. Better yet, ask them to help you stay on track.

4. Remind yourself. I like the note-on-mirror idea personally. If “exercise today!” or “15 minute clean-up” is one of the first things I see in the morning, it will be fresh on my mind and I’m more likely to work it into my day. The “well, I forgot, and now it’s midnight so it’s too late anyway” excuse can’t work if I see the reminders several times a day. Right? Hopefully?

5. Schedule it. One article I read said that you should schedule your new habit every day on your calendar for the full 21 days. If you mess up one day/week, start over. Schedule the next 21 days. (OK, so that sounds a little punitive and burn-out prone. But noted).

6. Track it. Last week I talked about time logs, and how one perk of a time log is that at the end of the day you know exactly what you got done. Instead of beating yourself up for not getting enough done, you can look at what you did do and plan for the next day. Keeping track of when you do that new good habit successfully will be like a pat on the back. (Maybe you didn’t do your new habit all 7 days of the week, but maybe you did it for 3 days which is better than 0 so bravo)!


7. Reward yourself. When I was a kid, my mom used to buy my brother and me a doughnut or ice cream cone if we attended (and behaved) at our weekly music lessons. Let me tell you from experience, bribery works. And the more immediate the reward the better.

I hope this post on forming new habits will be helpful to you. As always, if you give this a shot, I’d love to hear how it goes. Or, if you’ve got some useful tips of your own, please share them in the comment section!

{Photo credits: mysi anne, astrid, drogbee, and I put deadly nightshade in your cup of tea}


Laura is one of the most encouraging “get organized” hot spots out there. don’t be fooled by the elementary look of the website – there are a lot of tools smooshed in with all that color. marla cilley, “the flylady”, makes forming habits fun, and the root of her whole system is FLYing or Finally Loving Yourself.

check it out, i’m 21 years old and have been FLYing on and off for 6 years (yeah) after my own mom (she’s what marla would call “born organized”) showed me the website because she was sick of the state of my bedroom. best thing she ever did for my organizational life. good luck forming your habits, ellie!


First off, thank you. It is a constant battle in my house over how clean it should be, how our daughter should be taken care of, and how late I sleep. Thank you for articulating the normalcy of my life! I think I do damn well fir bring a self-employed mom.

That said, I too could use some new habits!! That’s so much for the motivation!!


totally hit the nail on the head! I had to make a routine for myself. Still somedays are hard, sometimes I do work right when I get up until the afternoon and then shower. Sometimes my house is a mess and I have random workspaces too! But I know I will get there and this is so helpful! Im loving these posts!


Ellie and Margot, thanks for these posts! As I transition from office to work-at-home, your posts let me know that I’m not the only one out there struggling with these things.

Meg G

Ellie & Margot-
I’m so excited for your Howdy Do It series… fellow self-employed, work-from-home designer, I feel a deep connection to your postings! What comfort it is to know I’m not alone in the struggle to stay on task and stay organized. Keep up the good work and thanks for the time you put into encouraging others to keep going!


I absolutely hear you with the whole ‘get out of bed, immediately turn on computer, flash forward three hours’ routine!

I’ve been self-employed for about two years now and I go through phases of great and not-so great routines.

One thing I try not to do is beat myself up about sometimes sleeping in a little later. That’s one little perk of working at home, right? Just enjoy it, and then get down to business.

I also always get dressed first thing, even if that means putting on ‘workout’ clothes (yoga pants, etc) — I exercise at home, too, so I find that being ‘ready’ at any moment to tackle the workout (ie. not having to change outfits, which I’m aware only takes like one minute, but still…) really helps with motivation.

I imagine there are tons of ladies (and gentlemen) just like ourselves out there who are trying to independently
stay on task, so #3 makes total sense. As with any ongoing endeavour, I find it helpful to ‘buddy up’ with someone and hold each other accountable. Even if this means something as simple as sending each other an email at the end of the workday listing the things you’ve accomplished, or stating your intention to do a particular task and then letting them know that you’ve followed through on it.

Thanks again for the great post!


Thanks for the feedback everyone, and awesome tips SK! LOVE hearing from other people about how they deal with all this stuff.


Thanks for this post – I just started working independently myself a month ago. It was in conjunction with a move (hello, Lincoln Square!). It’s amazingly helpful to read that someone else is having the same struggles and they don’t make me abnormal or particularly unfit for this whole self-discipline thing.

I’m officially putting your blog in my RSS reader!

Desi McKinnon

I have worked from home for years, so I understand the pajamas thing. I’ve also done the stay in your workout gear until you workout and it works.

I work at a studio now and I’m still trying to stay on top of my house work at all times. It’s crazy how easy it gets messy.

I found this checklist over at Real Simple has really helped.

Good luck. This is the first time I’ve had the time to look these all over. I’ve been saving them in my reader forever.


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