Yesterday, sewing designer Abby Glassenberg wrote about the self-imposed rules she follows in her business. I love rules. I mean, I hate rules. I love-hate rules.

I have a general problem with authority and a healthy inclination toward skepticism, so other people’s rules usually make me raise an eyebrow.

(I’m not talking laws here, though after watching Breaking Bad [season four, OMG!] the other night, Greg and I did get to talking about what kind of crime we’d choose to commit if we were to decide to become criminals. I said I’d choose civil disobedience, because the only way I’d feel comfortable breaking the law is if I believed that law was hurting people.)

Anyway, rules.

I was raised with four firm rules that I continue to follow:

  1. No sugar breakfast cereals. (To this day, I consider Honey Nut Cheerios to be a special grown-up treat, and I rarely if ever have a bowl of them on their own.)
  2. No pop before noon. (When I was a kid New Yorker, we called it soda, natch. And I don’t drink much pop anyway. This is an easy rule to follow.)
  3. Always wear your seatbelt. (I do this now, even in the backseat.)
  4. Don’t skimp on footwear; spend more on great shoes.

As someone who’s generally averse to external constraints, these four rules provide a great framework for solid adult decision-making. I allow myself treats, but not for breakfast (with the absolutely required exception of traveling and the occasional unavoidable morning donut). Limit foods that aren’t good for me (I struggle with this in areas unrelated to pop). When it’s straightforward to take a safety precaution (a warranted safety precaution), take it. Spend more money on fewer quality products.

Like Abby, I work from home, and like her, I must get fully dressed every work day. Sure, sometimes I fail on this and don’t get into the shower till 1pm, but I don’t actually enjoy that. Being dressed by 9am feels good. When I’m clean and dressed I feel capable and ready to get shit done.

Here are other business rules I’ve given myself:

  • Meet your deadlines unless you absolutely can’t, and if you can’t, give as much notice as possible to your client or your editor. (You might wonder why I set such an obvious rule. I’ve learned over the years that missed deadlines are a publishing-industry assumption. But just because some people blow past their deadlines without comment doesn’t mean I have to. Also, when I’m the one setting deadlines, I always pad them. Always. Things come up, they always do.)
  • Get paid, unless you don’t care about getting paid to do a particular job. (I’m going to write an entire post on this getting paid thing very soon.)
  • Say no to opportunities that don’t excite, entertain, satisfy or otherwise gratify your need to do meaningful, engaging work.
  • Follow your gut, always. Say yes to opportunities when your gut says to, even if they don’t seem to make sense. Say no when your gut says to, even if you’d get rich.
  • Remember what makes you tick. This might not apply to everyone, but I cobble my work together. I do some freelance editing and writing. I write books. I speak. I teach. With so many different types of work floating around inside my calendar and my to-do list, I need to always keep in mind that I need all the work I do to be in line with my higher-level goals. Examples of my fairly long list of higher-level goals: Have fun, work with good people, work to contribute something good to the world, be creative, be yourself.

Structure is my enemy, but a few well-conceived constraints liberate me.

What kinds of rules do you follow in life and/or in business?

Oh, and don’t think I’ve forgotten it’s Halloween. Happy Halloween! Here’s a picture of my kid in the costume Greg made him. He wanted to be a city bus that’s not in service. (I love that Translink really has their buses say “Sorry” when they aren’t in service.) He’s dressed as a pumpkin at daycare today, but this bus will be going trick-or-treating tonight!

picture of cardboard box Halloween costume

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