Five years ago, my wife and I were working in a charter school. The school day ran from 8 to 5, and we were required to be there thirty minutes before and after. Ten hour days are enough to make any job unenjoyable. Add obstinate teenagers, a hefty take-home workload, and administrator politics that were always in flux, and you’ve got the recipe for at least one ulcer.
So when I was laid off suddenly, we didn’t mourn the loss very long. In fact, a couple months later, my wife turned in her letter of resignation.
Once we were free from the tyranny of our fifty-hour work week (fifty-five if you include the drive time), we realized how much of our lives that job sapped away. There were friends that we hadn’t spent any time with in years, despite living on the same side of town. My band had only played one or two shows a year. My wife was an avid painter, but she hadn’t made a single painting since she started teaching.
We decided that starting our own business would give us the freedom to do make our time our own. We could spend time with our friends, take vacations, sleep in...
Except here’s the thing about working for yourself. You have to work. A lot. Especially when you’re first starting out. The first several months, our workdays stretched to twelve hours, and sometimes past it. When we weren’t at the shop, we were on our laptops, reaching out to vendors, scheduling classes, and getting the word out on social media.
Before long, we realized we had gone three years without taking a vacation.
We used to take an annual road trip. Now, we were lucky to drive two hours to visit family. We were once avid campers, armed with state-of-the-art camping coffee pots and camp stoves. Now, I’m not even sure where our tent is.
It wasn’t intentional. But Parkinson’s Law was in full effect: “work expands to fill the time available.” And because we hadn’t put up boundaries around it, it did just that.
We decided to do something about it.
As we sat down to make our quarterly class schedule, we’ve started to give ourselves one week per quarter off. Our assistant will open the shop in the evenings, and any members who want access are able to get in.
That week, though, we stay away. We might answer a couple emails, but we spend most of that week doing other things. At this point, we’ve only had one week off (the second is next week), and we stayed home to work on some projects around the house. But as this practice continues, we’ll stray a bit further and further away. We’re even talking about flying to Japan next summer.
But the lesson we’ve learned is that the freedom to set your own work schedule is only freeing if you make your schedule behave itself. Otherwise, you’ll still be a slave to it.