Working on your own can get lonely at times. I’ve tried co-working. I’ve tried working in cafes. I’ve tried apps like coffitivity.
But what’s finally done the trick is getting a kitten. It’s been many years since I had a pet and I’d forgotten just how much companionship they provide.
I’m no longer alone as there is always a little shadow following me into the office, curling up on my lap purring, sitting on the router atop my desk to get a better view out the window, or rustling through the pages of my diary (and sometimes, annoyingly, knocking it all onto the floor.)
Lily is our adorable lilac Burmese. She’s just over a year old now and still very much a kitten (besides, I’ve heard that this breed tends to stay playful all their life).
She’s still establishing her role in Right Hand Design, switching regularly between at least 3 hats: CCO – Chief Cuddly Officer, CDO – Chief Distraction Officer, and CNO – Chief Napping Officer.
As I’ve studied her habits (and as I’ve helped to cement the better ones), I’ve realised how some of those habits could well be applied to business, especially when working for yourself from home.
1. Take short breaks and play hard.
When Lily wakes all she wants is to play. She will tear around like a madman for short bursts, wear herself out, and happily get back to the important work of napping.
I used to adhere to the idea that a short brisk walk across the road to the park was good for clearing the cobwebs and re-energising myself between work stints. Now I play hard with Lily. Her favourite game is hide-and-seek, which requires – from me – a fair bit of running up and down stairs, ducking in behind doors, jumping out to say ‘boo’, and laughing hard.
Then it’s time to sit down and work again, while she goes back to sleep.
2. Sleep is a necessity. So is sunshine.
To play so hard, plenty of sleep is necessary. Lily is a master at it. She especially likes to sleep in the sun, her favourite spot being a ‘hammock’ that sticks to the window with big suction cups.
For myself, I know my work suffers if I don’t get enough sleep (maybe not 18 hours a day like Lily, but a good solid 8 is best). And I also need sunshine to keep my spirits up. It’s one of the things I like about working from home – I give myself a mid-morning break so I can get outdoors at the sunniest time of day.
3. It’s ok to make mistakes.
Curiosity and cats, they go together right? Lily has made plenty of mistakes in her first 6 months with us (thankfully I don’t believe she’s used up any of those 9 lives… yet). So far she’s learned:
- not to fall in the washing machine (fortunately I was there to fish her out)
- not to jump in the toilet (she got herself out of there quick-smart, and thankfully it was only a day after I’d cleaned the loo)
- not to stick her head under the dishwasher drawer (she climbed under completely and I almost closed the drawer with her behind it)
- not to leap into the bath when it’s full of water (yes, she learnt to swim! And was able to leap out by herself. I was there quickly with a towel to dry her off but she still spent 2 hours licking herself completely dry.)
Watching her learn how to control how much she slides on the polished floorboards was amazing. The more she’s tried and experimented, the more she’s learned and the quicker she’s grown up.
In the same way, we need to try new things and discover if they do or don’t work to be able to learn and grow in business.
4. You need company.
Lily loves hanging with me. She isn’t one of those aloof cats who only seeks you out when she wants to be fed. She always likes to know where I am, and hates being excluded from anything.
As I mentioned at the start, she and I are great companions for each other. If you don’t want or can’t have a pet, I suggest you do try co-working or coffee-shopping at least once a week, for your sanity. With Lily around to ‘chat’ to, I don’t have to talk to myself anymore (what’s that old saying about the ‘first sign of madness’…?)
5. Make do with what you have.
We’ve bought toys for Lily, of course. Some she takes to, others she ignores completely (catnip toys just don’t seem to have any effect on her.) But she will always play with a new box. Paper bags and cardboard boxes of all sizes are firm favourites and have held her attention far longer than any toy. Our house looks like we’re constantly in the process of moving, there are so many boxes hanging around.
In business, there are tools and apps and fancy stationery for everything you can think of. Yet sometimes the simplest methods are the ones I revert to – eg. writing notes on a deskpad rather than storing ideas in a fancy app.
6. Stop chasing bright, shiny things.
One of the toys we bought for Lily was a shiny red torch with a laser pointer. She loved chasing that little red dot, even though it wasn’t anything real or tangible.
But then the batteries died (and they’re not a common, garden-variety battery that you can pick up at the local supermarket). So the red dot has died and the shiny red torch now lies useless and forgotten.
Carrying on from the last point, the latest gadget, marketing ploy, app or social media channel often isn’t necessary. Be careful you don’t waste time and money on the latest bright shiny thing without understanding the long-term cost (renewal fees, paid upgrades, or the time and effort that it requires to maintain). Like the red dot, some of these things are destined to die.
7. Know your limits.
Yes, Lily loves to play. But she has her limits. If play gets too rough, she lets us know that enough is enough. Sometimes she’ll lash out a little to make sure we get the message. And sometimes she just turns her back and walks away.
Similarly in business, especially when you’re working solo, there are times when you need to set boundaries and even times when it’s best to walk away. Always saying yes is a sure path to overwork and overwhelm.
That’s it for now, although I’m sure I still have more to learn in business. We never stop learning. Lily still has 9 lives’ worth of learning ahead of her.