Ever since I switched to full-time freelancing, my hours have shot through the roof, and my income fell through the floor. For a time, I fell into the trap of thinking that working harder (or longer) would solve my problems. It didn’t. Putting more hours in didn’t lead to any more: a) money, b) productivity, c) happiness, or even d) fulfillment.
Somehow, I traded 8 hours of work a day, 5 days a week for 10-12 hours a day, 7 days a week and for lower pay. Worse yet, I recently realized I get fewer things done per hour—even per day—than I used to.
Not the most desired of results, to put it mildly. Besides, I don’t believe that a neverending hustle is the answer to any question worth asking. Call me naive, or lazy, or removed from reality. I don’t mind. There has to be a better way to do things that matter and live a life worth living.
A book I read recently made me want to try something out.
We know our productivity drops when we work too long. We know there’s a point where the longer you work, the fewer things you achieve, and yet we all—most of us anyway—give in to the illusion that by working longer and harder we can beat the system, be the exception, and achieve great things. Science tells us that this worldview is, at best, misguided. It doesn’t lead anywhere. Longer hours have diminishing returns on our productivity. Simple as that.
Can shorter hours, rest, and leisure be the answer? I don’t know. But as my own boss, I can give myself the freedom to try things out.
Thus far, I’ve been driven by things like the clock, the word count, the number of leads generated, self-loathing, hours of deliberate practice, and so on. But for the next 30 days, I will try a radically different approach. I will follow my inner energy levels, not the inner foreman.
I’ll wake up each morning, note the time, hide the clock (and the phone), and get to work. I will continue working on one task at a time, take proper breaks every hour, and stop working for the day when I become distracted or restless. Once done, I will note the time, close my laptop, and forget I ever wanted to be a writer and an editor until the next morning. No e-mail, no twitter, no catching up on work.
The hope is that by cutting my hours, I will also cut out all nonessentials, the nice-to-haves, and the easy-to-dos that occupy so much of my time. Is it possible to get a day’s work from only a few hours each day? I guess I’ll see.
I intend to spend the afternoons enjoying myself. Going for walks, visiting the bookstore, cooking something cool, playing games, or doing anything else that pleases me. Just writing about it makes me feel guilty, but maybe that’s a part of the problem.
And let’s face it, there won’t be a better time to experiment with such things than now when the world is practically on hold.
I also feel a small need to explain myself. After all, there’s this myth that once you turn your passion into a source of income, all problems disappear, and you suddenly find yourself living the dream, that nothing feels like work anymore. That’s rubbish. The moment your passion turns into a profession, the stakes get higher. Work’s work. Even when it involves doing the thing you love.
I often tell writers to distance themselves from their work in order to improve. This time, I’ll take this advice too.
I’ll be brilliant, dedicated, and efficient for a few hours each day, and then I’ll let myself off the hook and be unapologetically idle for the rest of the day to see what happens.
I’ll be reporting the outcomes along the way. Wish me luck.
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