the benefits of scheduling & blowing it off

Yep, I make my own hours.
I can choose to work whichever 23 a day I want…
– any freelancer or entrepreneur, ever

The Freedom to Be Disciplined

One of the most useful lifehacks I’ve made in the last year or so was the decision to have a schedule. That may not seem to be much of a decision to most of you reading this, but understand something: nobody tells me what to do. There is no HR department to give me a dress code; no time clock to punch, no accumulated leave. I don’t have an accounting department working out metrics, an IT department scheduling upgrades or backups, and most of all, if I’m sitting at my desk zoning out, I don’t get paid.

Heck, some of the time that I stand at my desk and type furiously (like right now) I’m not paid either.

That might sound wonderful – and it is – but it’s also a burden and a responsibility to myself. I could (and have) just let the day bring what it would, taking time to exercise whenever I wanted (or not), choosing what projects to work on when, looking for new work when needed. I’ve done that, and it’s possible to get by on it…but only just barely. And I found that it didn’t really push my goals forward.

Aztec/Mayan Calendar
If google calendar looked like this, it might be more motivating…

The Calendar as Playground

I’m lucky enough to have an assistant who will do my schedule. I told her “I want to have this many hours a week of video editing, this many doing systems administration, time for working out every day, a half-hour for correspondence…” and so on. Certain weekly meetings, such as a sitrep with a partner on the left coast, are automatically scheduled.

Which means when I sit down in the morning to look at what I’m doing during the day, I get a few things:

  • I get something different – maybe starting the day with video, or with writing, or something else. She changes it up.
  • I get the same thing – I can see where I’m getting things done. I get the sense of forward progress on my goals, that yes, I am doing something meaningful.
  • I get to just ignore it completely.

That last part is probably the real thing I love about being self-employed. If my daughter calls me up and needs an Emergency Grandpa, odds are I can shift things around and be there for her. If I have a client that needs me to suddenly focus on a site or project, I can do that. I told my assistant early on that one of the primary reasons I want her to make me a schedule is so that I can have the pleasure of ignoring it completely.

You Will Have Fun Whether You Like It Or Not

I wish I could say that I used that “play” option as much as I should. Instead, it usually ends up more like this – a day when I have more writing to do than I expected, so I am cutting short my lunch break to get a head start on it. I also have yet to get over the guilt of not starting work until 9am (I’m usually done with morning protocols by 8) and trying to knock off by 6 or 6:30. And then not work into the night.

That’s what the schedule does for me: it is that soothing balm to my workaholism, so that at the end of my “free” days I can still feel as though I got something done. That’s more important than you might expect; one of the biggest problems with doing the kind of work I do is that unless I am doing it, I do not get paid. There is no salary, no secondary income. The result of that is a constant nagging worry that I could do more; I could be working right now, and besides, Gray, if you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich?


What is the point of telling you this? Hopefully it’s not taken as either bragging or whining; that’s not the intention. The point is to say that the reason the schedule helps me is because I make sure that it serves me rather than the other way around. Really all it takes is a bit of a perspective shift to make it go one way or the other; that job that you “have” to go to? It’s subsidizing some other part of your life that you value (at least, I hope it is). So it’s not the job – it’s the “home support activity” or the “awesome car payment system.” And you can schedule in the rest of things as well.

How about adding “lay in the grass and look at clouds” to your weekend for 1/2 hour? How about actually putting in your calendar “WRITE: 1/2 hour” every morning after you walk the dog? Too long? Try 15 minutes. Heck, try 5. Mornings not working? Try the evening. Take a smaller lunch hour.

The point is: change it up. We all have schedules of one kind or other. The question is, are we going to let them decide what we do? Or are we, instead, going to decide to do them?

For a different view of a similar subject, I highly recommend Chris Guillebeau’s “Dominoes” post.

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