Behavioral Psychology

Working For Yourself

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When you work for someone else the important contingencies of reinforcement are all laid out for you. You know how many hours a week you’re supposed to be at your job and about how many widgets you need to produce in that block of time. Go too far below those thresholds and you’ll probably get fired, go above them and you might get a promotion.

When you work for yourself, especially at first, those important contingencies of reinforcement are nowhere to be found. What you’re being reinforced by instead is the prospect of success and hopefully by the love of what you’re doing. But the controlling environment isn’t setting the number of hours to work or the amount of work that needs to get done. The threat of losing your job in the classic sense of the word doesn’t exist because you’re your own boss. So you’ve got to decide for yourself what your work week looks like.

From our psychological point of view productivity should always take precedence over sheer amount of work hours. There’s no gold star for burning the midnight oil. Nobody knows or cares how much time you actually put in when you work for yourself, all that matters is the tangible product that comes out of that time. We’re obviously well aware of the multitude of people who fail due to not working hard enough but the other side of the coin is the multitude of people who fail due to working too hard, we could say working stupid. They set an unsustainable pace for themselves and end up burning out.

If you’re working for yourself and you’re extremely motivated to succeed then chances are you fall into the second camp. You’re operating under the assumption that any time where you’re not working on your project is wasted time. Since there aren’t any contingencies in place to tell you when your work day starts or ends, or even when you’re supposed to take a break, you’re just going to keep right on working until you drop, even though your productivity during many of those hours might be almost nonexistent due to lack of physical or psychic energy.

What we suggest you do is take an honest appraisal of your own personality, to look back over the course of your life and endeavors to decide whether you’re prone to work too little or too much, and then set your contingencies of reinforcement to account for that tendency. Make yourself a work schedule and try to stick to. Work hard and smart when it’s time to work, and for the love of the gods take some time off every week where you completely get away from your project to simply enjoy life and be with the people you care about.

For example, we’ve made a rule for ourselves that no content can be produced on the weekends and we’ve pretty much stuck to it. Sometimes it’s tough, an idea hits you and all you want to do is sit down and rip it out. But there’s simply no way we could have kept up our pace of production over the last couple of years without these weekend breaks because when Monday came around we wouldn’t be chomping at the bit to get going, we wouldn’t have had a couple days to let ideas marinate and grow, we wouldn’t feel relaxed and energized. You’ve got to find and set a schedule that work for you, one that takes your personality and habits into account. What you should have front and center is the question “How can I get the most productivity out of myself and work the least amount of hours?” Find where those two lines meet and you’ll have a good starting point for setting yourself some sustainable contingencies of reinforcement.