The Thirteen Principles of Pajama Productivity

by Annie

in ruthless productivity

Closeup of image of Che Guevara on Cuban money

The 13 Principles of Pajama Productivity: this is as close as you're getting to a manifesto from me. (Photo credit: Giuseppe Acquaviva -

What the heck is Pajama Productivity, anyway?

It’s a way of running your business yourself without running yourself into the ground.

Well, more to the point: It’s a silly phrase that I coined (with the help of a friend) to describe an approach to being a small or solo business owner, or artist in business for yourself, that recognizes the fullness of life and your own special brand of creativity.

And it was born out of my realization about a deep, dark truth about myself, one I’ve struggled with my entire life. One I really, really hate to admit, but — it’s true.

Hello. My name is Annie. And I’m lazy as hell.

I confess it. I don’t like to work. The dishes in my sink and the laundry in the hallway and my daughter’s perfected eye-roll when she finds me, as she usually does, sitting on the couch watching Star Trek and Law and Order reruns all attest to this fact.

It’s not so much that I’m a couch potato by nature. I’ve always had a lot of energy — a surplus of it, and I’ve wondered more than once if I have adult ADHD.

It’s just that I don’t really see the point in working any harder than absolutely necessary. Not when there’s so much awesomeness on the tube, and fabulous books to read, and stories to write.

Now, to be fair to myself, over the last 12 years there’s been another reason for my corner-cutting ways: my bout with chronic pain from scoliosis and fibromyalgia. When you feel like you’ve come down with the worst case of the flu you’ve ever had after vacuuming … well, things change. (If you want to learn more about that, you can check out Trauma Dolls, my website about living with chronic pain. )

So, this approach to running my own business sort of evolved out of necessity.

This approach is second nature to me now, but it didn’t arise fully formed from my brain. It was the result of years of trial and error (a whole lot of error, in fact), and a bunch of tweaking and analyzing and adjusting and … OK, so it took me awhile.

Sitting down recently to plan out some future blog entries, though, it occurred to me that I’ve never really taken the time to put down in writing just what Pajama Productivity (or PJP) means, in practical terms. That’s an oversight that’s easily remedied.

So here, for your consideration, are the thirteen principles behind PJP. And I hope you enjoy it, because this post was work, people.

PJP Principle #1: Time or Money

You can spend one, or the other. Or both. But you’re going to have more of one than the other, and before you begin, you need to know what your budget is for each. In the beginning, almost every single one of us has more time than money. Spend your time wisely.

PJP Principle #2: Free Is Better

Too often, we get seduced by the latest, greatest, and usually most expensive thing. Office supply. Computer. Application. Business cards. Letterhead. But there are so many free or cheap versions of almost everything you need out there. Go free when you can, cheap where you must, and forget the rest unless it’s mission-critical and you’re absolutely sure there are no viable alternatives.

PJP Principle #3: Pick the Least Expensive & Least Complicated Tool That Works

In some ways, this one’s a corollary to Principle #2 (Free is Better). Some of my clients really struggle with this one. They’ve been sold a bill of goods that they need a really complex piece of software or coaching package in order to be successful. Maybe they do, and maybe they don’t.

In my experience, figuring out what you need to get your work done (or your business marketed, or your books managed) can be overwhelming. We have a surfeit of choices, and that’s not always a good thing.

So, pick the tool that gets the job done that’s the least expensive, and carries the lowest learning curve. Then implement it and forget about it. Stop looking for the next, better thing.

PJP Principle #4: It’s Easier to Stay Organized Than to Get Organized

Just try to implement Getting Things Done when you’re ten months into your business’s lifespan, surrounded by scraps of paper (all critical, of course) and half-maintained files.

It isn’t easy. Sometimes, it’s just not possible — not if you want to keep working at your business at the same time.

Starting off organized is much better for the chronically lazy like me. It’s the difference between fifteen minutes a day to keep it going, and seven days down the road of nothing-but-clutter-clearing-and-filing to catch up, days in which the rest of your life just stops altogether. Not a nice feeling. Trust.

PJP Principle #5: Be Realistic About Your Expectations

You expect a lot. Of yourself, mostly, but also of your efforts, your clients, your business.

Sure you do. And that’s good. It’s in your blood to dream big. It’s what led you to take the leap to go do your own thing to begin with.

But along with those Godzilla-sized dreams, carry some realistic expectations. Know the odds, know your stats, know all possible outcomes, and be prepared for a longer haul than you’d like.

You can always deal with being pleasantly delighted. Much harder to cope with being blindsided in a bad, bad way.

PJP Principle #6: Bring Both Sides of Your Brain to the Office

Being a successful business owner isn’t just about being logical and orderly. But it’s also not just about being wildly creative and intuitive. You need both hemispheres operating smoothly and playing nicely together in order to succeed wildly.

Bring them both to work with you.

PJP Principle #7: Create Your Business

Apply your innate impulse to make and build things to your business. Create everything about your business mindfully. From your business systems, to your workflow, to your schedule, to your office, to (especially) your client’s experience, start to finish — every aspect of your business is fair game for your creative flair.

Take advantage of that amazing opportunity from the get-go.

PJP Principle #8: This is Serious Business, So Have Fun

This principle might seem self-contradictory, but it isn’t really. An attitude of “serious play” is conducive to establishing what Mihály Csíkszentmihályi called “flow,” which is the optimum state for the creative process.

This is where the chronically lazy like me have a bit of an advantage. To us, play is second nature. We know play. We love play.

Figure out where your work can be fun. Find the fun in everything you can. It’ll keep you going, and maintain whatever questionable sanity you start out with. (I mean, c’mon. We’re artists, solos, entrepreneurs — we’re all a little bit crazy to begin with.)

PJP Principle #9: Sell Yourself

This one’s especially true for freelancers, artists, and solo professional service providers, but it’s equally true for everyone who works for him- or herself. You are the product, when you get right down to it.

Whether you’re convincing others to buy your paintings, or hire you to navigate their divorce, they’re really getting sold on you. Keep that in mind, and let it guide your decisions about what to do, how to do it, and when you need to get it done.

PJP Principle #10: Delegate and Outsource Wherever You Can

In a way, this is the key principle underlying all the others. You see, “solo” is such a misleading term. No one is in business for herself by herself. Not all alone, anyway. No one can do it all themselves with no help from anyone.

You have your bucket of talents and skills, and I have mine.

If you’re after wild success (and who isn’t?), then recognize that fact, and outsource the essential stuff that you don’t have the time, energy, patience, skillset, or passion for to someone who does.

Trust me on this one. You can save time, or you can save money. You can’t ever really save both at the same time unless you’re some superfreak genius with an off the charts IQ. And in that case, you don’t need me or anyone else anyway.

PJP Principle #11: Learn to Say No

This one is crucial, too. (OK, they all are.)

The stuff on your commitment list — your to-do list, your task list, whatever you want to call it — is there because you didn’t say “no” to it at some point in time. For those tasks that build and support your dream, your vision for your business? That’s a good thing.

But for the rest, a firm but respectful “no” is the best gift you can give yourself, your business, and the folks who are asking you to do it in the first place. It frees them up to find someone who will be passionate about that task, after all.

PJP Principle #12: Build Your Team

Related to #10 above, this principle says you need to surround yourself with people who know how to do the stuff you don’t, and who are passionate about it.

Look for and befriend your people: your WordPress person, your accounting person, your design person, etc.

And once you’ve found them, treat them like gold. Because basically, they are.

PJP Principle #13: You Have Three Hats — Know Which One to Wear

Each solo entrepreneur or freelancer wears three hats: the hat of the CEO, the hat of the upper-level manager, and the hat of the line worker.

The CEO is responsible for creating a vision for the business.

The manager is responsible for figuring out how to achieve that vision.

And the line worker gets it done.

Almost every failure of a solo business falls down to a failure to wear these hats interchangeably and appropriately. Learn this, and your chances of wild success go up by a factor of 100. At least.

Bonus Principle: Learn to Love Your Fuzzy Slippers

Yes, I’m lazy. I acknowledge it. I claim it. I make it work for me. It’s why I love fuzzy slippers and why you won’t find a single pair of stilettos in my closet. They’re too much freaking work.

What’s your fuzzy slipper? How can you make it work for you?

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