Bribe thyself!

I’m a freelancer, working from home. Well, actually “from home” is a bit of a misnomer. I work at home, I work in cafes, I work in pubs and in other people’s houses. I don’t have an office, nor do I need to go anywhere in particular – except to teach the occasional English class.

The toughest part, I think, is keeping to the schedule I planned for myself. Sure, I can *say* I’ll work from 9 AM to 5 PM, which is a decent work day, the sort of thing that gets me far, but then I spend some time procrastinating, or I end up meeting someone, or I get called and people talk to me for some time and it adds up.

And then there are deadlines, which make me work from morning until evening, trying to fix a book in record time, or to proofread one thing and translate another, while remembering that I also had something that needed writing. If I’m not careful, I get bored, then burned out. Last time I felt like I was getting burned out, I bought a 1,500-piece jigsaw puzzle to clear my mind with. It worked, my sanity was maintained, although it was a close call.

Trying to strike some sort of equilibrium, I’ve discovered that I can easily bribe myself into actually working on schedule by giving myself smaller or bigger rewards whenever I make a greater effort. Usually, it’s books or games, or a nice meal somewhere because, god dammit, I deserve it. Even if I know that getting stuff done on time brings me more money, it doesn’t the same impact as “When I finish this, I’ll buy this book that I really want to read”. The book feels more real, more personal. I’ll agree to working overtime for more money because it’s a sensible deal (also, the word “bonus” tends to keep me on very good terms with my employers and to make me a lot more understanding about crazy requests), but when it’s evening and I feel desperate and tired and whatnot, that’s when the self-bribe kicks in. “If I finish this, I deserve…”

Bribing oneself is a skill, it’s an art, it’s a talent. (why, yes, I am poking fun at it, but it’s true) I’ve been doing it for some time, so I’ve figured out a few rules. They really help.

  1. The bribe needs to be something small and affordable, a gift to oneself, but not a crazy, lavish one. I will not buy myself a super-amazing PC because I finished translating a book. That would eat up the money I earned way too fast. Instead, I’ll buy myself a book for managing to proofread and edit two separate books on time in the span of a few days.
  2. The bribe needs to be given for something doable. I used to have super-high standards for bribing myself and, since they were usually time-dependent, I never got the bribes. It sucks. I felt cheated – by myself, yes, but cheated. Now the goals are within my power.
  3. The bribe needs to be for something difficult. Bribing oneself for doing one’s job as usual is pointless. It means that all you have to do to get the bribe is to carry on with the normal stuff. It’s not fair. It isn’t a proper bribe.
  4. The bribe cannot be anything that’s a real necessity. You don’t bribe yourself with lunch, because you need lunch. Without lunch the chances of doing well in the afternoon are much lower. You don’t bribe yourself with the microphone you need if you’re an audiobook narrator – you need that to get the job done. You don’t bribe yourself with the software you need for work. The bribe needs to be something that you can live without, but which you desire.
  5. The bribe must NOT be acquired prior to the achievement. Trust me on this one, you work less because you have something than for something. The joy of having that thing grows when you know you earned it, and the joy of having it is smaller if you can’t enjoy it because you’re working. Also, you already have it, why work so hard?

I also have a sort of wishlist for things to bribe myself with. It’s mostly books, although I’m running out of time to read, which means I really ought to find other bribes. Maybe shrimp tempura? Shrimp tempura is nice.

Anyways. Here it is:

  • Neil Gaiman’s The Sleeper and the Spindle. I’m a fan of Neil’s writing and this one looks like a lovely, fluffy sort of thing – with a kiss between a princess and a queen! How cool is that?
  • Simon Garfield’s Just My Type. It’s a non-fiction book about typography. I happened to come across it in an Amsterdam bookshop and it really, really caught my eye. Incidentally, it’s a past bribe, which I earned the hell out of, so it’s on its way here.
  • A morning off, with my Kindle or with an actual book, in one of my favorite cafes in Brașov (if you can’t pronounce it, just say Kronstadt, although I’m not sure that helps), where I shall have a croissant and one of their amazing coffee cocktails. I’ll have to wait until it’s colder outside, because there’s no better time to do this than on a wintry morning, when I walk in and it’s all warm and fuzzy inside. The place looks like a gazebo, so it’s really, really cool to be all warm inside and watch the snow outside.
  • Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves. A friend who doesn’t read showed it to me once and almost went “My precioussss” over it. It must be worthwhile. And it seems to be the sort of book you need to buy in physical format, because it’s all sorts of crazy when it comes to experiments.
  • Terry Pratchett’s Snuff. Although I’m a big fan of sir Pterry, I haven’t read his latest two (or three?) Discworld novels.
  • Shrimp tempura. Yeah, I’ve thought about it for more than three seconds, it’s definitely bribe material.
  • For a very, very special sort of reward, I want one of these. I haven’t the slightest idea what sort of crazy-complex and really great project could possibly earn me a kimono-like punk jacket bribe, nor where I would actually wear it, but that’s life.

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