In starting my game development studio with two partners, I’ve learned a lot of things. Today I wanted to talk about what I’ve learned while being my own boss (or at least being 1/3 my own boss).
Self-Motivate and Have Discipline
Last year I wrote about How to Not Explode When Working From Home, which was just one of the pieces of motivation and discipline needed when running your own show.
The first key to staying motivated is to set short-term and long-term goals, and to always keep them in mind (or better yet, written down somewhere). It’s extremely daunting to think about creating a whole project without seeing the steps along the way, and writing the steps (and organizing them well) means that the amount of motivation needed is only what’s needed to get to the next step.
The next important thing is staying disciplined. If seeing the short-term and long-term goals leads to motivation, the discipline to follow through with the steps consistently and without excuses is what actually moves the project along. I can’t say I have the secret to staying disciplined, but each person has their workflow that keeps them in line. Find your routine and the thing that keeps you working consistently and focused. For some people, working from home is too distracting. For others, skipping the gym in the morning means they won’t be focused. Especially when you’re not directly reporting to someone, it can be easy to let deadlines slip, to put work off till “later”, and to lose sight of goals both short-term and long-term.
Separate Work From Rest-Of-Life
I was able to do this fairly early on after starting our company; in less than a year or so, I managed to separate work from the rest of my life in a way that I feel has been successful and satisfactory (but maybe I should ask the people around me if that’s the case…). I see a lot of people, even people who aren’t their own bosses, bringing their work along with them everywhere. I was in the car with a friend on the way to an event on a Saturday night and they were on the phone talking about a business deal. No one should ever be expected to be doing business deals at 9pm on a Saturday night, and if you’re your own boss, you actually have a choice.
You can choose when you’re “on” and when you’re “off”, and no one is expecting you to answer them at that time, unless you get in that habit from the start. If, when starting your company, you get super excited about every opportunity (which you should) and answer emails at midnight on a weekend, so be it. But realize that if this becomes the norm, this will become expected of you by your business partners, employees, suppliers, etc.
To make sure that you maintain your relationships with friends and loved ones, you absolutely need to make sure that you’re making time for people that are important for you and that might mean giving yourself a hard limit of when you’re “on”. For me, I decided not to answer work emails after 7pm. I’ll check them sometimes, and if they’re extremely important, I can make exceptions, but for the most part if someone is waiting on an answer for something, they can wait until the next morning. It’s more important that I spend time with people who matter and don’t become one of those 80h/week startup people.
Set the Example
Realize that the people around you and eventually the people working for you are following your example in terms of how hard you’re working, how disciplined you are, your accountability, and how much you care about your work. This seems to happen more later in life (or as owners have had their companies for a long time), but the divide between employee and owner increases when the owners don’t show that they’re doing important work.
I was working at a lighting firm doing engineering before getting into the games industry, and while the bosses weren’t making engineering drawings or cutting lenses for light fixtures, you could see them doing hard work. They were in meetings, they were on the floor talking to the assembly team, they were asking us if there was something they can do to make our lives easier, and they were generally showing (in one way or another) that the work they were doing was because they care. If employees feel like their bosses are using them as money-generation tools without contributing to the products or services themselves, it causes a divide which leads to resentment.
Treat Your Employees Like You Treat Yourself
This one is tied closely to the previous point; being your own boss means that you have certain privileges that most people don’t have. Be thankful for the advantages that you have, such as leaving early because you have a doctor appointment and not worrying about being looked down upon or judged. Being thankful for these kinds of things and being aware of how it feels will lead to the understanding of what it feels like on the other side, as an employee who might feel some unnecessary pressure. Not sure why this picture is relevant, but it looks like freedom and a cute puppy so I can’t not include it here.
If you treat your employees like you treat yourself (or as closely as possible), I think you’ll see an increase in respect from partners and employees alike, which will in turn lead to better work from those people. Reward them for doing good work, treat them as people who have responsibilities and problems outside of their work lives and not just as numbers or money-printing machines (unless they literally are money-printing machines), and I would bet that the net outcome is positive for you and your company.
This became much longer than anticipated. In short, being your own boss is awesome, and despite the lack of security and the pressure of knowing that if you screw up then you don’t eat, the success, accomplishment, money, etc. feels great knowing that the energy put in directly results in the rewards you receive.