The importance of taking the down time.

If you had come by the house yesterday afternoon around four p.m. you would have caught me napping on the couch with Studio Dog. But I don't feel at all guilty about my indulgence. On the contrary, I know I've earned it. The months of September and October were two of the busiest months my business has enjoyed in nearly a decade. Lots of projects got done, lots of office work got done and lots of construction supervision got done. How busy was I? Here's a shocking revelation: I was too busy to swim with the WHAC masters team for the month of September. Clients just didn't appreciate my need to carve out the time from 7-8:15 a.m. for my swim practice.

I tried to compensate. More push ups in the evening. More planking between post production spurts and lots of swims, by myself, at odd times of the day. But man, it sure felt good to get back into the water with the pack. The daily competition and discipline was like a breath of fresh air.

I think there is a compulsion among all self-employed people to stay constantly busy. Part of it is the fear that nothing will be coming down the road, work-wise, if we aren't constantly priming the pump and part of it is habit; we tend to work when there is work. The work compulsion is a mixed blessing at best. Yes, we have cash flow, but at what cost?

One of the features of freelance work that nearly everyone mentions is the ability to have flexible time, but so few people take advantage of it. We live in a society where the mantra seems to be, "always push forward." There is an old adage from the Tao Ching that says, "Keep filling your glass and it will spill." Another is: "Keep sharpening your blade and it will become dull." When we are busy we tend to settle into comfortable grooves and do the same thing over and over again. When we get into that rut we tend not to try new things, not to take risks (how could we schedule around the failures?) and not to have fun.

I hit the pool at 7 this morning and loved it. Even when I got clobbered on the side of the head by Anne's errant butterfly stroke recovery I loved it. Then I ate steel cut oatmeal with fresh raspberries and walnuts and I loved that. But I loved it all even more because I didn't need to rush off right after and "get stuff done." I'm slowly unpacking the gear from yesterday while making lunch appointments with friends for open days this week and next. After I have BBQ with a friend today I'm pretty sure I'll be heading right back home to take one of those delicious naps with Studio Dog.

I'll start thinking about work again around mid-day on Weds. But even that is just a planning meeting. I could do all sorts of marketing this week or get cracking on some judicious financial planning. But I think I'll put it off and see how a week of leisure suits me. It seems novel now....

Freelancing is a funny thing. You can't really plan your schedule the way you would with a real, steady job. You take the good stuff that comes through the door and, hopefully, over time you start to recognize the jobs that make you crazy and take up all your time and energy. If you get over the fear of not working then those are the jobs you decline. It's the stuff you turn down that really makes your business work. It's tough, sometimes, to stay centered but it sure makes what we do more effective. Both for us and for our clients.


Anonymous said...

It's easier to take down time when you have a pocket full of money!

theaterculture said...

This is one of the great things about research-stream academic appointment. Sure, I may work through the occasional weekend to finish a publication project or a conference paper, pull some moderately late marking nights to ensure student work gets turned around in time for them to make use of the feedback, and spend 1-2 weeks per year pulling 12 hour days to get a student-performed show through technical rehearsals. But since nobody is counting my hours and I'm not punching any clocks, I can do that work in the evenings if I need to and do my grocery shopping at 11am on Tuesday rather than 3:30pm on Sunday with everyone else in the world, go to the post-office when I know there won't be a line, and take the odd nap in the lounge chair in my office...