Balancing work with regular life

One of the challenges of being an independent consultant is that I have to manage my own time. To some people this sounds like it would be a dream come true, and I have to admit I sure do like it — but it is more work than it sounds.

I am personally responsible for arranging my own day. I work from my home office so nobody will notice if I’m still in my pajamas by noon, or indeed if I decide to ride my bike after 1pm. There’s no concept of surreptitiously leaving the office under some pretense; I don’t need to use pretenses because I define the hours I want to work.

All this power causes a problem — there is too much to do. Home videos to edit, tax and business paper-work, ordering parts for an aging motorcycle, and if I’m lucky some billable hours in there. Sometimes I even wash dishes, vacuum the apartment or do laundry. Why the heck am I doing laundry when I’m supposed to be working?

The flexibility in hours is a fantastic gift, but if I abuse it I won’t make any money in the week and I might as well be in Tofino taking surf lessons, or snowboarding while there’s nobody else on the mountain, or even just walking around town enjoying the sun. Sometimes I do just that, and it is fantastic!

I have a some systems to help me deal with this general malaise that comes from working at home, and managing my own time:

  • I plan my week ahead of time, and put project slots in my calendar. As it is largely for my own planning it is very flexible, so if something comes up I can always move something else around.
  • I make appointments with clients. Some of my clients are flexible with deadlines on the projects I work on, but I always let them know when I’m going to be in their office — that way I’m compelled to show up on time.
  • I sometimes sit in a coffee shop and work for a couple hours — but only if it isn’t dealing with actual papers (maybe network drawings) or lots of phone conferencing. Just getting out of the house, and seeing some humans during the day helps clear my mind.
  • Lastly, I remind myself that this is in fact my dream job. This is what I’ve been striving to achieve for my entire career, and I should make the best of it.

Paul

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