When working for yourself your days are structured around your clients. If they need a press release in twelve hours, obviously those next twelve hours are spent crafting a press release. It’s pretty self-explanatory. But often clients don’t have a set deadline, they just know that they’d like the text “soon” or “before the site goes live,” both of which aren’t found on the Roman calendar. This is just one of the scheduling conundrums you encounter when working outside of an office. You may own a clock, you might have your birth control set to your cellphone timer, you might even use Google Calendars to see what day your ex’s birthday falls on this year, but that means next to nothing in the world of the freelance writer.
I have written some of my best projects in only my underpants. I’ve written some of these posts on the same schedule as streetwalkers and junkyard security guards. I have ignored invitations to parties, concerts, and orgies all because I had to work. This is how it goes. I’m not complaining.
But one of the perks of being an office drone (other than knowing when your next paycheck is going to be placed in your paw) is having a set schedule. My last desk position went something like this: Monday through Friday, I was at the office from eight thirty in the morning until five in the afternoon. Very rarely did I have overtime, but when I did I was compensated for it. I had an hour each day for lunch, I had Saturday and Sunday off, and all the usual holidays. I was able to call in sick one day when I got the flu, and once when my car got stuck on the BQE I was able to take a mental health day. (Try going sixty and having a tire blow out on the Kosciuszko and you’ll need a day off, too.) I knew how much time I could take off. And if I started to get burned out and found myself answering the phone in a near shriek, I knew that I could take a sick day and I wouldn’t be penalized for it.
It bears repeating that I’m a workaholic, which is great in the case of office jobs ‘cause I’ve never taken every sick day or personal day that was offered to me, and I even skimped out on vacation time. Bosses liked that, it made me reliable and worth more than what I was paid. I was always early to work, but I left on the dot when the day was over. This is all well and good if you’ve got a boss who appreciates a nice pair of puckered lips to the rump. But when you’re your own master it can spell disaster.
Okay, if you’re me it can spell disaster. My business partner has never been, and likely never will be, effected by any sort of neuroses or anxiety-driven problem, at least not in a way that cripples his ability to take a nap without thinking that the world is going to end.
Recently we’ve been lucky enough to have several jobs come in. Between the two of us we have about one and a half projects each, all with roughly the same deadlines, two requiring a large amount of work. It is fantastic to be busy. I wish we were busier. But the issue I have is knowing when to stop. I’m the kind of employee who doesn’t pee much. I don’t like to take breaks. Often I take books out of the library, or rent videos, and they just sit around and are returned unopened because I won’t allow myself a few hours away from the keyboard. This is fine when there’s stuff to do. But suddenly, when drafts are in and we’re just waiting for feedback, I’m left with my fingers stuck on the home keys, without a sentence to sribe.
Most people would look at this as the opportunity to take a bit of time off, to catch up on errands, chores, even see those things that some people have called friends. I panic.
I can’t quite get the knack of designating my own days off. I try to make sure I have at least one day or evening a week where I’m not writing, worrying about writing, or looking for more companies to write for. I try to make sure I stay in bed one morning a week, just lounging around and listening to the radio. It doesn’t always happen, but those little hours here and there are probably the closest I get to any “down time.”
I know that weekends are important. They allow you to take care of yourself, or not. (Who doesn’t indulge in cream pie, fries, and Jello shots when trying to unwind?) They let you reconnect with your family and friends. They give you a reason to feel okay about the other five days. And, yes, they even keep our slightly fucked capitalist system running, as noted by Henry Ford.
The average workweek is 40 hours, though I know people who work close to 60. For me, my days start at around nine and end…okay, they don’t end. Eventually I get tired or I need to eat something and the day is put on hold. But, really, I’m perpetually trying to create something. Which isn’t bad, and doesn’t burn me out. What does burn me out is the worrying.
If a weekend is supposed to make you relax, why does it often do the opposite? Well, for me, it’s ‘cause my weekend can technically start on a Wednesday and end next week. If you’re talking about paying jobs, for freelancers it’s usually a stretch of working like crazy, followed by a nice, peaceful, often long, possibly indefinite, oh-my-God, break. So any lag time, to me, reeks of career death.
Practical reasons why even workaholics stop for a little bit include parenting, health concerns, and religious observances. I have no spouse or kids, I’m a lapsed half-Catholic, and my health isn’t compromised by typing too much. I’m writing this with a serious chest cold right now. Could you tell? Sick days? Ain‘t gonna happen.
According to Tammy Erickson of the Harvard Business Review, “the idea of a corporation telling us which days to work and when to rest is outdated.” I can understand this point of view and agree, but I do think that there needs to be mandatory time off, every week. I know that, if I were in a “regular” job, I sure as hell would be pissed if my boss made me work seven days a week, or through the weekends, or overnight. But because it’s me, and I can basically do whatever I want in my own mind, I let it slide. Then, ten days into my so-called workweek I realize that I haven’t gone out of the house to do anything other than get food and check my bank balance. There needs to be some sort of structure, even if I’m the one making it. Otherwise I wind up crying for no reason and staring at things like this all day.
My weekend doesn’t mean my week ends. It means working when my favorite celebrity blogs go somewhat dormant, it means that my bike ride to the grocery store faces more traffic, and it means that my roommates come home drunk. It does not mean that I get to relax, but it should. The weekend itself as an idea connotes leisure, which some old guy named G.K. Chesterton explained is supposed to mean several things, “The first is being allowed to do something. The second is being allowed to do anything. And the third (and perhaps most rare and precious) is being allowed to do nothing.” The truth is, we all need breaks. Whether it’s two days off, or just a day away from the computer, each of us needs time to reconnect with whatever makes us more than what we do. And that’s okay.
For all of you nine-to-fivers, here’s a list of nicknames I found so you can call every day as you see it. Collect all five:
Monday – Blue Monday, or, as made famous by Office Space, “Having a case of the Mondays.”
Tuesday – “Every day is Tuesday.”
Wednesday – Hump Day
Thursday – “So Horrible It’s Thursday”
Friday – TGIF (“Thank God It’s Friday”)
Other cool terms include the Hawaiian phrase pau hana (pronounced “pow hana”) which means finished work, and is used when you clock out on Friday.
POETS day is a British expression for “Piss Off Early Tomorrow’s Saturday,” to indicate that early Friday departure that, if you’re lucky, is happening today.
Happy Friday, TGIF, and enjoy that weekend. Let me know what it feels like.
Write me at AinsleyDrew at gmail dot calm. And thank you for donating! I’ll kiss each of you on the mouth.
Or give me reason to stress out by hiring us to write your site copy, press releases, or corporate identity.
The Brits at The Daily Mail explain why weekends are unhealthy, excluding one night stands and games of shuffleboard.
“So you want a day off” is a horrible math problem explaining why you shouldn’t be able to have one.
A dated but still relevant article from The Atlantic talking about waiting for the weekend.