At the beginning of this year, I quit my job to go out on my own. I wanted to kick off an art career, write my novels, and do the kind of work I really wanted to. People say I was brave, but I wasn’t really. I’d set things up so my overheads were minimal, and I was so drained that there was no other option. There’s nothing brave about necessity.
I’ll be reflecting on what I’ve learned since then, but in the mean time I want to talk about time. Because stepping out of a job means walking away from the kind of structure it offers, especially the way it structures time. As a salaried employee, I had to fill in timesheets. I hated it, hated the way it defined productivity, emphasising process over the end product. I wanted to be free from that kind of thing.
There’s a lot of freedom in working for yourself. Theoretically, you can get up whenever you want, take leave whenever you want, and do whatever you want. If you want to spend the day at the spa, go for it. The funny thing about freedom? The moment you go after it, you find it’s not that simple.
These are five things I’ve learned about time since I stopped filling out timesheets:
1. Weekends and weekdays become completely blurred. I don’t have a partner who works office hours or a kid who needs to go to school, so pretty much my only reference point for what’s happening in the world is Twitter. If I have a deadline, whether it’s a Wednesday or a Sunday means nothing. Weekends are meaningless now. Shops close earlier and there’s less traffic, but apart from that, it’s hard to tell the difference. Public holidays? What are those?
2. Work is a lot like gas molecules in an enclosed space. No matter how much time there is, there’ll be work to fill it. Another email to send, another presentation to draft, another article to write. Oh yes, and all those neglected novels. While I was working on my doctoral thesis, I didn’t have a guilt-free weekend for seven years. I’m back there again – if I’m not Being Productive, I get antsy.
3. Leave? What’s that? I have a lot of freedom. I don’t have a boss to report to, and I don’t need to ask for permission to run an errand or take a long lunch. I do have clients and deadlines, though, and for all of the freedom that working for myself should bring, it doesn’t. I work seven days a week. I haven’t taken leave in ages and will probably have to cancel the trip I have planned at the end of the month because it’ll just create more stress with all the catching up I’ll need to do.
4. I work longer hours. I frequently work until midnight – mainly because if there are deadlines, I’d rather go to bed knowing I’ve met them than have to get up early. When I was preparing for my art exhibition in July, I worked 15-hour days for weeks on end. When work doesn’t get done unless you do it, there’s no passing the buck. (Not if you want to get paid.)
5. My hours are a lot weirder. I don’t function well on less than seven hours’ sleep. Because I’m not forced to get up and get to work by 8.30am, I can afford to work late and sleep late. So my standard bedtime is between 12am and 1am, and I never get up before 8am if I can help it. I’m at my most productive in the morning, less so between 2pm and 5pm, so try to use that time for errands, going to the gym or meetings. I’ll start working again at 6pm and push through to midnight if I’m under the whip.
So all in all, since quitting my job, I have more freedom and a whole lot less free time. I wouldn’t change any of it for the world. Although it would be nice if I could get those novels written — I just haven’t had the time.