I’m having this blog post in my head for a few days, trying to sort my thoughts and how to put them in a blog post so I decided to just start and see where things go from here. I orignially wrote this in May or April, don't recall but didn't publish it until today.
Starting the business
I have started my business over 10 years ago, in 2009. Little did I know what to expect and how things will evolve but this is something that I will cover in a different blog post. For now, I want to concentrate on some of the mistakes I made along the way or rather one of the biggest mistakes. I will not try to tell you what to do and how to fix things, I am not there yet where I could say that I’m the one to tell you how to fix things but I will provide some insights on what I’m currently trying and will try to provide more feedback the next weeks.
When I started out in 2009 the office was in the living room, nothing fancy, just an iMac and that was it. After a while I started working late hours and even weekends, I was going at it 7 days a week and worked until 23:00 (that’s 11 PM) or even later. All this time telling myself “I need to do this only at the beginning, I will go slower after things get better” (we now have the year 2020 and I was still not going slower). Well, if you are doing this as well, you are lying to yourself. There is no time where you will feel that things are “better” there is always the next big thing, the next project that will give you financial independence.
I get it that it’s complicated when starting and I get it that there are some exceptions where you have to do crazy hours but the most important thing here is that it has to be an exception with a predefined end date.
The thing is, no client asked me to do that, no client was expecting this from me. I created this whole crazy work hours problem by myself. The downside of this was also that everything else I did before running my own business disappeared. If I manage to restore my old blog post you could see how things stopped after 2009, the same thing goes for photography. Holy crap did we carry this heavy photo equipment with us all the time, lots of photos, and even more time spent sorting, editing, tagging, and putting photos online.
That hobby disappeared completely after the business start. Like a cloud of dust on a windy day. Just gone. No, social media is not to blame here, that wasn’t a thing yet at that time.
My wife, meanwhile ex wife, was it that finally stopped me doing this 7 days a week thing and extreme late hours, but the issue was not really solved completely and I dragged this thing with me for years.
I still worked a lot, I spent less and less time with friends, since there will be more time later. Later, later .. everything will be done later.
I also had this idea at the beginning that as soon as things are running good I will not work on Fridays or do some working from the park when there is good weather. This also never happened, I always pushed it for later.
Here’s the real issue with working these hours. It will become a habit real fast. At some point, you don’t even look at the clock anymore or it will not feel weird when at 15:30 you start thinking: “Ok, now I’m going for a deep work session and do some coding”
Holy fuck! It’s 15:30, I’m in the office since 08:30, working all the time and NOW I think of digging into some deep focus work? Some people (including me before business) are thinking of finishing up work and going home not starting something new.
I read plenty of books on this subject and they all presented me with ideas on processes of doing things better and they all told me: “Hey, you are crazy, you are doing this shit completely wrong, stop or it will rip you apart”. Whenever I did change things, they never really lasted. In the end, it all went back to the old schema. Cranky/guilty when having to leave the office early, cranky for not finishing up what you have planned for the day, cranky about this, and that, feeling guilty for not getting enough work done. How stupid is this? Feeling guilty for not getting enough work done even though you just spent 10 hours in the office, a quick lunch break, and all the time really dug up in work. No calling friends, no social media, not going for a short walk not socializing with anyone. After such a day I was toast. Calling friends was impossible, I was drained and had no energy left to even make a phone call. This went on until April 2020.
Thank you, Corona?
So what happened in April 2020? Well, Coronavirus happened (and a lot of other personal shit I won't go into now)! This is one of those things that are actually really bad but at the same time forced a radical change. Like the stories, you hear about companies almost before going bust do some radical shit and then start becoming this great huge success.
I spent a few days at home not working at all and then started working every second day only and also reducing work time. I am now leaving office at 16:00, every day, no matter if I get late to the office because of some other things that happen during the day. I don’t feel at all that I was unproductive or that I didn’t complete things during the day. Getting a break from work from 16:00 to 9 in the morning frees up my mind so much that I can really keep focused on one task and really get some deep work done.
If you haven’t already read “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World” then I highly recommend to read it and start doing the things mentioned in the book, really do them and stick with them. I read the book sometime last year but didn’t stick too long with the things I have learned from the book and now during this corona crisis I was forced into doing the things mentioned in the book and it really has improved my mood, my life and the way I interact with the kids, family, and friends.
Suddenly things are possible that were not before, I can go on longer bike rides with my big daughter, something I wanted to do since a long time but always never found the time and postponed it. I am more patient with the little one and play games with both of them that I would not have had time for or would have been too drained to even think about it. Did I mention I started cooking again? Yeah, I used to do that and enjoy it. I wasn’t a great cook and never made too complicated meals, but I did do it and it was fun. Where did that shit go? Was, of course, put into the “later” drawer. Well, fuck that! Now IS later!
How did I get here?
This all sounds good but let’s go back a bit and start with the question: How did I get here?
I honestly don’t know if I really have an answer for this one. I can only guess it might have been a fear of not earning enough, not being able to provide for the family (yeah I know, caveman instincts coming through) and the fact that my wife is employed by me might have also caused me to feel responsible for her as well. I’m not saying that this would not have happened if my wife worked somewhere else, I’m not sure. It’s probably something I will never find out. The fact is that I dug this hole all by myself and it took me much to long to stop digging and look up again. Like that famous quote: “If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
Well, holy fuck did I miss it and missed it big time!
How am I going to make this stick this time?
Yes, I do think of what will happen when this whole corona madness goes away but I have a good feeling that this time it will stick and here is why:
- This Blog Post is a first step of generating peer pressure, until know I always planned in changing things or changed things without really telling anyone about it. Now I’m blasting this out to the whole world and inviting friends to read it. Screwing up now will be painful and embarrassing if I have to tell friends and family that I could not get my shit together.
- I stopped thinking to bad about failing. If it fails I don’t care. I’m fortunate enough that I live in a country where there is a failsafe, I have been working and paying taxes since I was 15, there will be zero problems filing for unemployment but this won’t be necessary. I have had job offers which I could accept anytime and am very confident I could find a job if I had to. The same thing goes for my wife, we are both not stupid and know how to manage our selves and adapt to all kind of different environments and jobs.
- The past days showed me that working less will result in delivering more. My workload did not get less these past days but I picked two larger projects I work on actively and reserve some space for emails and support. At the end of the day (which is 16:00) I have a sense of accomplishment, I’m happy and I enjoy the time after 16:00 that I get to spend with the family.
More peer pressure? Yes, please!
Since I started with the peer pressure, here are one more thing I will do (not plan or want to do but actually really do)
Fridays off in the summer
This one of the things I admire the most about Basecamp, not working on Fridays from May to the end of September and without adding extra hours to the rest of the days.
This sounds crazy, but now I’m already working only 3 days a week, I get things done and feel good about it. Basecamp proves that it is possible and helps to create a healthy work environment.
If you want to read more about it, check out this article: Basecamp's CEO Limits Himself to 40-Hour Workweeks--and He Thinks You Should Too
So this sums up my emergency break, this blog post was in draft for a while now and it's about time to relase it to the public. So far (It's June now) I've stuck to the 16:00 rule and also to the fridays off. Meanwhile my wife is my ex wife which is a completely different subject. It's just feels strange proofreading this before publishing and reading references to my wife.