I’m writing this in my pajamas, curled up in the warm spot in my bed, a big mug of hot tea on my nightstand. I’m crouched and hunched over my laptop in a position that would alarm any chiropractor, but I’m really, really comfortable and I don’t feel like moving. It’s 8am, and I’m just being an early bird getting the worm. I’ll take a break in two hours, read the newspaper and my favorite blogs, perhaps pretend to get a workout in by doing 5 minutes of stretching. Then I’ll get back on my laptop for another three hours, maybe this time I’ll actually venture into society and work out of a coffee shop. God knows my hair hasn’t seen my brush in days and if it weren’t for the fact that I speak out loud to myself often, I’m sure my vocal cords would have rusted for lack of use.
Being a freelancer/entrepreneur can be lonely. No one to make happy hour plans with for later, no one decorates your cubicle on your birthday, no one comments on your new haircut. But there are perks: no boss expecting a report by 5pm after having given it to you at 4pm, no Bertha from HR peering into your cubicle after hearing you’ve managed to bypass the Facebook block settings… I mean, I have my friends to go to happy hour with and I can always instagram a picture of my new haircut, so I don’t need day-to-day coworkers for that. However, if like me, you are cursed with an affliction of procrastination, an open ended schedule can lead you down a dangerous path of mindless cat memes and an inbox full of neglected work. It’s happened to me before, where I’ll open my laptop at 9am and 2 hours later I realize I know everything about Grumpy Cat but haven’t responded to a single email, and I sit there, feeling disgusted with myself and wondering what the hell am I doing with my life.
After a self-talk (“Jacqueline, get your sh*t together”) I’m good to go and launch forward into a burst of productivity that lasts an average of seven hours. But somedays I’ll only work five hours, because thats really all that I have to work on, and I’ll feel a twinge of guilt that I fall short of the usual, standard, eight hour workday. But are eight hours, everyday, really necessary? Is it even possible to sit down for eight hours straight, five days a week – and be productive? Our mandatory 12 years of education definitely prepared us for a life of productive sitting, but new research just keeps rolling out how working in short breaks is the best. Furthermore, for us creative types, we may have our bursts of energy at night, or mid-afternoon, or super early like 5am so we can be done by 2.
So why the eight hours? The truth is, the eight hour day was created to protect employees from working too many hours. Back in the industrial revolution, employees typically averaged at least 10-16 hours per day. It wasn’t until the good ol’ Ford corporation limited their workers’ hours to eight and doubled the pay, that people started to get an inkling that maybe there is more to productivity than the numbers, and now its ingrained in our American psyche that most people should work at least 40 hours a week, every single week of the year, save for an average of 5 days vacation, and thats not to mention my friends that work 1oo+ hours a week (although their salaries generously reflect that as well).
So here is the key: I have to accept that my job is not the standard 40 hour/5 day plan, and that doesn’t mean that Im working more or less or producing more or less than others, its simply about working differently. It took me a while to understand that my work is more about quality than quantity. This is especially true as a writer, I don’t want to churn out article after thoughtless article simply to feel that I’m working. I do have days where the sum of my many projects combined can mean I will work from 8am until 10pm, as well as days where I can write a killer article, and I just so happen to be sitting on the beach…thats the beauty of my work, and I can’t feel bad that I am not always in a blazer, clocking in and out at the same time.
So to manage this sweet work style, my first and most important advice: write all your tasks down. I do mine in order of importance, and it helps to cross each one after its been done, as well as visually help me see my progress. Now, if you are fortunate enough to be able to work from anywhere, there are perils of being on a beach or in a fun city, so my advice there is to get your work done as early as possible, because realistically you wont get back to your computer later in the day after a few drinks or a long swim. Also, get the mindless lollygagging out of the way first. Go on, read your favorite trashy/celebrity/fashion blogs, and then don’t revisit them for the rest of the day. How many outfit changes can Kim Kardashian have in one day anyway? Trust me, you aren’t missing any key updates. I always make it a point to visit a more substantial site, like Brain Pickings, to jump start my day into productive mode – it always has some motivating stories and pep reads to get you inspired. I also take short breaks every 2 hours, around 20-30 minutes each. There’s a bit of science to this workflow, based on our circadian rhythm, and it breaks down my work to make it less overwhelming. And personally, I like to stay hydrated and keep a lot of snacks around (Oreos).
Hopefully, as a freelancer or entrepreneur, the work you are doing is something that inspires you, that you live/breathe/dream every day, so that it never feels like work but more like little challenges here and there. In this way, you’ll realize that you actually do work more than your standard eight hours each day, just a tad bit unconventionally. I’m lucky to feel that way most times, but it is an active process involving discipline, focus, and motivation, all in the comfort of my favorite sweats.