Lots of people have heard of Parkinson’s Law:
Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion
Anyone who has worked for any length of time knows this to be true. Looking at it from another angle, you’re never quite finished - yes, you finish projects, empty inboxes, get through to-do lists but there’s always, always something else.
When you work for someone else, this is ok – you reach your lunch break or 5.30 or whenever you’re due to stop and as long as you know you’ve done what you can and your boss isn’t going to fire you / shout at you / give the job to someone else, you find it easy(ish) to walk away.
The challenge is however made very different when you work for yourself. Then, those outside constraints – the “it-really-is-time-to-stop” alarm clock – don’t exist.
I reckon there are three main reasons why this is:
1. Your edges – your work-life balance – aren’t so clearly cut. This might be because physically they’re blurred – i.e. you work from home and your desk is also your dinner table; or it might be more about the intangible – you can (and do) access your email at any time of the night and day. Your business becomes your life and your life becomes your business.
2. It’s YOUR thing – your business, your company, your idea, your reputation – saying “fuck it, I need to stop” becomes infinitely much harder when you’re embedded in something you believe and have invested in.
3. There genuinely isn’t an end to the work that needs to be done when you’re working for yourself. Yes, you might have got to inbox-0, got all the client work out of the way and done your invoicing, but there’s always the improvements, the business development, the file shuffling, receipt printing, content writing….
I’ve worked for myself running a digital agency with my wife now for coming up to two years. I love it, and we both work extremely hard at it, but I’ve only recently come to see that a positive acceptance of Parkinson’s Law (rather than a resistance to it) is a hugely important thing for the self-employed. I know far too many people (you know who you are) who work for themselves and stress the hell out of their entire lives 24/7. They might be doing incredible stuff, but many of them spend their weekends and evenings working and their lives stressing.
By positively accepting that I’ll never, ever get everything done – and it’s ok for this to be the case – I have found it hugely much easier to find a sane, guilt-free, family-friendly work/life balance. As an example, we’re now working to a 9am-3pm daily schedule (which fits in with school hours) and try to use Thursdays and Fridays as “look ahead” days to develop new ideas and processes. The short day thing is highly effective – we get as much done in those intensive 6 hours than we would in a “normal” day of 8 hours AND I get the pleasure of hanging out with my kids after school too. The Thursday/Friday thing is challenging at times as client work almost always tries to invade time set aside for future-thinking, but we’re getting better at being disciplined with this. Evenings and weekends are – with very, very occasional exceptions – sacred, set aside for non-work stuff.
It seems to me that one of the huge luxuries of working for yourself – and one that surprisingly few self-employed people I know take advantage of – is the flexibility to choose when NOT to work.