April 16, 2012

Bulk view

Optimizing for weather and other thoughts about self-employed time

Over a leisurely mentoring lunch, @height8 shared this interesting self-employment tip with me: optimize your schedule for weather. Warm and sunny weather is relatively rare in Toronto, so try to arrange your time to make the most of it. Depending on the kind of work you do, you can work in the evenings or during winter.

It makes sense to me. Although W- and I have set up a small office in the basement for me, I’m much happier working in a sunlit space, with the occasional break of a bike ride or a walk around the block.

I’m writing this blog post while sitting in the airy Bloor-Gladstone building. Earlier, I’d flipped through some of the children’s books for inspiration. Across the street, my bright blue bicycle is locked to a post, red-and-white panniers easy to pick out against the grays of the sidewalk and the brown brick of the Tim Hortons cafe. In a short while, I’ll bike to the supermarket to pick up ground beef and other burrito ingredients, sit down to a quick supper with W- and J-, then head out on my bicycle again to a tech get-together.

I have these days penciled in for business development, but that’s probably closer to self-development than specific business opportunities. I’m not talking to potential clients so that I can line up the next contract. I’m talking to mentors so that I can make sense of what I’m learning from business. I’m teaching myself new tools so that I can imagine and explore more ideas. I’m writing reflections so that I can take notes along the way and make it easier for other people who are trying things out. I go where my interests take me.

On some days, I don’t feel particularly productive. I’m not checking things off my list at a rapid rate, although I do manage to get one or two important tasks done. Well, that’s not quite true. I do feel somewhat productive, even when I’m trying to write my way around a thought like this in order to understand it. This is work; not client work, but life-work. This general feeling of openness in my day – that’s intriguing, potentially useful. It’s qualitatively different from vacations or staycations or weekends, and there are things that I can learn from it that I might never have learned in decades following the well-established paths.

It reminds me of what that other speaker was talking about. You don’t get that external validation of progress. You don’t get that gold star, that performance review, that thumbs-up from a manager or a client. I’m oddly okay with that. Maybe it’s because writing has gotten me used to asking myself questions and figuring out my own plans.

So, weather optimization, following interests. For me, I think that means going on bike rides or walks, and trying out different places to think and work. I already know that I work well at home and at the client’s office downtown. Does sitting in a library encourage me to think different things? There’s that cliché about writers and cafés, but maybe the ambient social atmosphere might be interesting. I haven’t done a lot of people-watching, but maybe with a sketchbook in hand, I’ll find inspiration for practice. What about just getting on a bicycle and cycling around, no particular destination in mind? (Okay, maybe some destination, and GPS. I still have to work on being more comfortable with spontaneity. ;) )

This is a different sort of life, and I’m curious about where it goes.

Getting the hang of making time for business development

This week, I’m taking Monday afternoon off, and all day Friday. The client wins because we can spread the hours over more time, and I win because I can invest in building more capabilities. In the future, I may limit myself to working at most 32 hours a week on any particular engagement, and maybe even dropping down to 24 hours a week if the rhythm works out well.

It’s easy to fall into the more familiar patterns of a 40-hour work-week – maybe even up to 44 hours if I invest the extra four hours in the client relationship by working for free. But it’s also valuable to spend time thinking about business, and it’s good to keep myself honest about what fits into the time that I have for work.

I think I’m going to love having the ability to manage my time like this. I schedule my breaks around the clients’ needs, of course, but my time isn’t constrained by vacation policies. As I get better at managing the schedule and as I build more flexible streams of income, I’ll have even more control of and responsibility for my time.

These chunks of time are challenging because they’re self-directed. No one tells me what to do or what to focus on. It’s easy to spend time reacting to people’s requests, but the real value comes from choosing what’s important to work on and making it happen.

What are some of the things I could work on?

  • I can learn new skills or improve the ones I have. I’m particularly interested in drawing, writing, and designing.
  • I can work on building QuantifiedAwesome’s possibilities by reaching out to people, offering help, and improving the system.
  • I can read books, share my notes, and draw more visual summaries.
  • I can follow up on leads or flesh ideas out into opportunities.
  • I can meet people and help others out.
  • I can brainstorm and plan.

There’s a lot I can do, and it’s well worth making the time to do so.