When I started on this self-employed adventure, I had no structure. This was the first adjustment. I allowed myself to be distracted by potential projects, pitching things, doing unpaid work in the hope that it would pay off (it didn’t). Over time I created habits for myself, drew boundaries, evolved to this 5 days on / 1 day off which I have found works really well for me.
But projects started to come in, and my work started to change. I’ve had periods that were very busy with client work and heavily scheduled (e.g. at the start of May I was doing so many technical interviews). This past week I had:
- 1 technical phone screen
- 2 calls about a panel I’m moderating (+1 no show that I had to reschedule).
- 1 meeting about project A
- 3 daily standups about project D, plus two in-depth planning meetings and another people management meeting.
- 2 hours in-person work with admin (she finished the rest at home).
- Real-time work and back and forth with UX designer about the UI refresh.
The other thing that has changed is: I have more deadlines in my life. Right now there’s a list of things that I need to finish before I leave on Thursday that makes me want to panic. Instead I spent the last hour working (inefficiently) on something that has a deadline of the following Tuesday. I’m not sure if I’ve been engaging in structured procrastination, indulging my need to feel in control of something (anything!), or just having a normal approach to a Sunday morning.
There’s good things about this, not least of which: feeling overbooked means that I don’t chase work anymore. (I hated this, and also spent too long on back and forth that would go nowhere.)
I also feel more effective, but this isn’t the same as being more effective. I can point to a list of things that I did last week, but I see value in execution not in ideas (or meetings!). So I look at the list and see “oh that was a busy week I got stuff done” and then rationally think “did I really?” – how much of that will matter a week from now, a month from now, a year from now?
Maybe none of it.
Having say, 40-60% of my time structured has in fact meant that 100% of my time needs to be structured (and resulted in me needing to devote some time to getting organised). My day for my own projects has to be planned better and ruthlessly protected, because otherwise nothing happens. Similarly my day off comes with a list of goals because having more constraints around my time means that running the odd errand needs to be planned and can’t just be taken care of when I’m feeling like a break anyway.
I mainly feel the loss of large blocks of time. Tracking small things that can be taken care of in small gaps helps but isn’t a panacea because most small things in practise fall into categories of unimportant things that shouldn’t be done at all and things taking <5 minutes that should be done when you think of them.
It’s possible to carve out time for things that I want a day for. I’ve found it close to impossible to carve out time for things that I want more than a day for.
I am so focused on checking things of The List that I don’t make time for those things that are unknown.
Planning has become more natural to me. I have an all day flight next Friday and I already assembled a list of what I need to be able to work offline during it.