There’s a relatively new aphorism circulating the interwebs lately that has gotten my attention. It says, simply, “Stop the glorification of busy.” After doing some cursory research, I gleaned that it was lifted from the headline of a blog written in reaction to a book published earlier this year by Arianna Huffington.
Frankly, I don’t give a rat’s ass where it came from, I only care that it perfectly captures my philosophy about work.
Reflecting on the current state of my career is especially apropos because this week marks the second anniversary of my decision to start my own freelance writing and media consulting business. I didn’t quit my full-time job until about six months later, but that pivotal decision in September 2012 is the one that really set the wheels in motion for the career I have today.
There were a lot of reasons I decided to venture out on my own — the potential to make more money, the freedom to choose who I work with and when, not being beholden to any one person or entity ... aka The Man — but the main reason was I wanted have a good life, not just a good job.
See, I have always, always worked to live and not the other way around. Today, I love what I do, but it’s just work. I do it so that I can maintain a home and a lifestyle that make me happy. The work itself is not the source of my happiness. Never has been.
I also believe there is a huge difference between looking busy and actually being productive.
When I was expected to put in long hours in various corporate jobs, I would frequently get resentful over the mandate to come in early or stay late when I was efficient enough to get my work done in a normal workday. There reached a point where I was just an ass in a chair (shut it!) — my brain stopped being in the game after eight hours, sometimes less.
One of my bosses even told me that “it looked bad” if I left at 5 o’clock when several of my co-workers stayed in the office until 6 or 7 p.m. If they were too damn disorganized to get their shit done in a reasonable allotment of time, why the hell did I have to pay for it?
(Side note: I recognize that I am extremely blessed to possess a natural inclination toward organization and self-discipline. If I did not have those gifts, I wouldn't have the same outlook, I'm sure.)
If I left at 5 on the dot, all my work was done for the day. Every. Time. I did not (and still do not) miss deadlines, flake out or otherwise fuckup. Why? Because I did not mess around — I was there to do my job. My goal every day was to do said job, do it well, and go the hell home. I did not want to be in the office any longer than was absolutely necessary, even at jobs I adored.
This is not to say that I never screwed around. In fact, my only career regret is a 6-month stint in cubicle hell in corporate marketing. I knew the day I walked in the door that I had made a monumental mistake, so I spent those few months doing as little as possible. Because fuck them. Srsly.
I know now that I should have still done my best despite being treated the worst I have ever been treated by a boss. I truly regret not keeping my side of the street clean in that toxic environment. But I was SO angry for being duped into taking that abhorrent job that it was all I could do to show up on time and not sob at my desk all day. (Yep, that bad.)
But I digress.
For me, working long hours does not show that I am some super-dedicated go-getter. It indicates that I am not making the best use of my time, and I have somehow lost the ability to organize and prioritize. It also means that my values are misplaced.
Sure, I want to make a good living. There are a certain number of hours I have to bill to reach my ultimate revenue goal. But I tell you what, I am not willing to work insane hours to get there, and I don’t believe I have to.
In the visioning exercise I mentioned last week where I lined out what I want my life to look like over the next year and beyond, under my career vision, I put that I ultimately want to work a four-day week.
Yes, you read that right.
The genesis for that thought came from an interview for a profile story I did with a local life coach 10 or more years ago. This coach told me that her business model allowed her to work only a few days a week, leaving the others open for her to pursue her many personal interests. She told me that she made a VERY good living by setting strict boundaries on when and how she would conduct business. She was efficient and productive enough during her compressed workweek that she didn’t even need the income she could generate on her off days.
At first, I thought she was nuts. Like, who is THIS chick? What makes her think she's special enough to get away with that? But her interview stuck with me all these years, and at some point recently I decided that I want what she has. And why not? The way I see it, I have been laying the groundwork all along.
For starters, I have already successfully set up some distinct boundaries for my business. One, I don’t ever accept payment below a certain hourly rate. I'm good, I’m fast, but I’m not cheap. Two, I require an initial phone call for any potential new clients. If someone insists I take time out of my day for an in-person meeting but refuses to give me any clue about their budget or what the project entails, I just say no. If you just want me to write a resume for $25, there is no point in wasting each other’s time.
I have also set aside one day a week when I do not leave my house for any meeting, any time. I don’t care who you are or what you want, I am not available except by phone that day. And even by phone, the matter has to be urgent. That one day is essential to keeping me organized and on task for the rest of the week. Meetings interrupt my work flow, so I need at least one full day where that flow remains, er, flow-y.
Anyhoo, I think that four days on and three days off (while still making five-days' worth of income) is totally doable for me. Maybe not now, or even this year, but it’s a goal I am actively working toward.
Sure, my less-is-more work style and philosophy may not be everyone’s cup of tea. I know people who live and breathe their jobs, and that’s how they get their rocks off. Good for them, if it makes them happy. If they feel productive working 80 hours a week, fine. I don’t. I just feel burnt to a crisp with nothing to show for it except bags under my eyes and an ulcer. I would rather work a really intense 6-hour day than a half-assed 10.
As you might be able to tell, THIS girl has been done with glorifying busy for going on two years now. Through the bloodshot eyes of the exhausted masses, it may not look like I’m as driven and dedicated as they are, but I’m totally OK with that.
I’m willing to bet that I get more done in less time than they ever will. BOOM.
About Amy Higgs
A former newspaper columnist, Amy takes her random, slice-of-life stories to the web. After nine years, she's still just saying.