Talking to people without kids can sometimes be very amusing. I was recently talking to someone on the phone and we started chatting about work while having two kids and how it is on the days where the children are with me (for those who don‘t know, the kids are with me half of the week and with their mother the other half of the week).
I said that on the days where kids are with me, I have to leave work at around 15:20 so I can be in front of the school on time. His answer to this was: “you can work at night”, he told me this with complete calm in his voice like it was the most normal and logical thing to do. I had to hold my first thoughts back and just replied “absolutely not”. Would I have gone with the stuff that shot to my mind as soon as I heard his reply ... well I guess that would have implied the f* word, a lot.
Why is this the first option that comes to mind? To work more, longer hours, exhausting yourself. It’s not that it’s some exceptional situation, something temporary. It’s just a normal school day. So going by this logic, half of the week I am supposed to, wake up in the morning, prepare the kids for school and kindergarten, breakfast, lunchbox then dropping them off at school and kindergarten. Probably get back home and have breakfast because those two hours were not sufficient to get the kids ready on time because there also several mini tantrums or fighting between the kids, complaints about not liking the clothes, issues with getting the clothes on, more tantrums because the socks are too tight, too loose, too colored, too colorless ...
Go to the office, work, try to get some lunch, leave the office at 15:20. Pick up my big daughter from school, go to kindergarten to pick up the little one, and head home. Since I don’t like giving my kids crappy food, I hopefully have something prepared or I would start cooking now. Children also get bored and since I don’t want them spending all their free time in front of the TV, not that I don’t allow them to watch TV but it shouldn’t be too much and doesn’t have to be every day, so I play a game with them, or they draw something on their own, I do some coding with the big one in scratch, read or just sit down and let the big one do the reading. When the kids finally go to bed and until they stop coming out of their room because they are thirsty or whatever other new excuse they find it’s something around 20:00. So going by the “you can work at night” logic, I would now have to start working until let’s say 23:00. Getting ready to go to bed also needs some time and until I fall asleep so chances are that I would sleep from 23:30 to 06:00 or more realistic would be 00:00 to 6 which gives me 6 hours of sleep.
Taking into account the full afternoon, I am already quite exhausted to actually get any quality work done, and also working so late results in me sleeping very bad and getting up exhausted in the morning. But let’s say that I would sleep well those 6 hours and I would wake up rested. Again this is not some exceptional day, it’s just a normal day, half of the week. What’s missing?
Where is the “me time” in all of this? When do I get to sit down, relax, unwind, stop thinking about work, watching a movie, reading a book, or just sitting there and doing nothing?
Wouldn’t it make more sense to use the hours I have until 15:20 to work highly focused, blocking interruptions, delivering my best quality work, and if need be saying no. No to useless tasks, saying no to toxic clients or projects that are just not worth it. Not necessarily worth it in sense of money. Worth it in sense of doing something that I feel good about doing, things that challenge me and let me put my mind to work and find interesting solutions. But yeah, of course, money is also a factor which needs to be considered. After all, the idea is to work fewer hours, do things that I enjoy and also earn enough to not freak out at the end of the month. I think this quote hits the nail on the head in what I am trying to say:
There is nothing so useless in doing efficiently that which should not be done at all – Peter Drucker
It is possible to work normal hours even when being self-employed, it is possible to have spare time and still get all your things done.
It’s hard making that change as long as you have options and you know there is someone else there taking over some of the tasks. But if you do not have options and you are forced to make this change, you will notice after a while that it does work, it is possible. And yes there are of course days where there are exceptions. There are emergencies, after all, I work with IT. But exceptions and emergencies should be just exceptions. If it happens once a week, then that is not an exception anymore and there is a problem that needs to be fixed so that it doesn’t occur every week.
I will finish off by repeating myself: Learn how to say no!
And with one more quote to give you something to think about.
Time is what we want most but what we use worst – William Penn