I have never properly worked a day for myself

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I’d like to see a pie chart representing all the days I’ve worked in my life, with a different color for every product or service my work ultimately provided each day.

The biggest slice, more than half, would be “Urban infrastructure” — my main career has been as a land surveyor for engineering firms. The slice would probably be orange or brown.

A smaller, blue slice would be labeled “Groceries.” I stocked shelves for a few years.

Maybe one tenth of it would be a yellow one called “Spotless hotel rooms.”

A similar slice would say, “Incompetently-built websites for nonprofit organizations.”

A green sliver, about 1% of the total, would be labeled “Kiwis.” There would even be a one-day hair that would say, “Traveling reptile shows,” if there was room.

These odd products are the commercial ends of my life’s professional efforts. The pie represents about 2500 eight-hour workdays, each one spent producing things I am not particularly interested in.

Ultimately, all those days were worked for myself, for money, but the purpose of the work itself — whether immaculate store shelves, salable kiwis, or working storm sewers — was never mine.

I’ve been writing for Raptitude for almost four years now. It’s not a passing interest. Nothing else makes me feel useful like writing does, and I know now it is what I will do with my life. It’s become a no-brainer. My audience has become huge, and opportunity is knocking pretty hard now. I have more willing partners and viable business ideas than I could ever have time to pursue, even if I did it full time. I have all the pieces I need to go pro.

Legwork is necessary though, and it will have to be done in the hours surrounding my day job as long as I still need one. The obvious thing to do is to devote as much evening and weekend time as possible to building a profitable business. Many of my blogging contemporaries have.

Very often I’ll have an open Saturday coming up, and I imagine I’ll be at my desk at 8:00 and proceed to plow through an article and several hours of overdue correspondence, as if the only reason any of my to-do’s aren’t done is because I was simply waiting for some free time. 

Putting my free time to good use has historically been much more difficult for me than freeing up time. I delay the start of the “work” part of my day, as if I’m a child trying to delay bedtime forever with endless requests for sips of water or to be brought certain crucial stuffed animals. Once I sit down I lose myself in distractions, I take three-hour lunches, and I don’t push myself to get to a “finishing point” — say the end of an article — before I decide that’s enough for the day.

Normally, the only time I get long stretches of productive time in is when I’ve reached the last possible long stretch of time before something is due. For my Monday blog posts, that time is Sunday night. Right now it’s Sunday night. And the words are flowing.

The other day I realized I had never actually worked a proper full-time workday on my own work. I’ve worked thousands of eight-hour days for other people, doing things that aren’t important for me, for people who aren’t important to me, providing goods and services I don’t want, or even want other people to want. Yet, for whatever combination of self-defeating reasons, I have never clocked in a proper workday for my own purposes.

It made me wonder: could I actually do it? It has seemed so hard in the past, even to work solidly through a four-hour block I had set aside in advance, and I’m not sure why.

And why is it easy to do when it’s for someone else? How have I so successfully pulled off thousands of eight-hour workdays for other people’s purposes when it’s been so hard to do with me as my own boss? Working for myself will require that I actually work for myself.

I suppose it’s because in employment situations two things are clear that are both fuzzy when I’m my own boss: the standard for what’s an acceptable workday, and the consequences of not meeting that standard. I’m never going to clear my throat at myself when I find I’m Facebooking from my phone at work, and I’m never going to fire myself. I can’t bid myself goodbye and get someone else if I “don’t work out.” I’m like a bad civil servant I can’t get rid of.

So I will do it. I’ll work an eight-hour workday on my own work, on my new chosen career in writing — without leaving early, without starting late, without stretching my lunch break, without surfing the web, without checking email, and without daydreaming the day away.

I have a history of quitting my experiments. A few of them left lasting changes that still improve my life (my temperance and vegan diet trials come to mind) but most of them quickly became something I hated and avoided because I was forcing myself, and any desire to finish them or learn anything quickly disappeared.

This one will take one day. The first day of my experiments has almost always been excellent — it’s always on the day fours and fives that self-sabotage sneaks in — and so this one should be excellent all the way through.

I want to know why it’s hard. What tears me away from my intention to sit and get stuff done? I’ll find out and write it down, and then I know what to look out for. The final half hour of my workday will be my report on what happened. Then I’m going skating on the river.

It’s important to be strict about start and stop times and the lengths of my breaks. If my lunch stretches to seventy-five minutes so that I can finish a magazine article, then I did not succeed and I will have to do it again.

Whether I succeeded or not comes down to my answers to binary questions I will list beforehand on the experiment log. Did I start on time? Did I finish on time? Did I stretch my breaks? Did I spend non-negligible amounts of time daydreaming or distracting myself with non-work?

Now, I am not confusing the questions of whether I can work a strict, uncompromised eight-hour day at home with whether I ought to. An eight-hour workday may turn out not be the most efficient scheme for productivity, if it’s not being imposed on me. Nor is it probably optimally motivating to set a stopwatch for my breaks.

But finding the perfect workday isn’t the point. I’ll work that out eventually. The main reason for quitting during several of my experiments was because I was constantly debating whether the terms I had decided at the outset made sense. Is this needlessly difficult? Do I even want to do this?

Being strict with this one is important, because I need a yes or no answer to that important question: can I do for my own highest values what I have always done easily for money?

Or more accurately, will I do it? Of course I can. If I can spend eight hours scrubbing toilets or eight hours speed-picking orchard fruit then I am certainly capable of such a stretch of my own personal deskwork.

The work itself will be mostly writing and content creation, but it will also include a few other tasks I know are indispensable to me for my career-building campaign: managing correspondence (many of you know firsthand that I suck at this), improving this website, and learning new skills.

The experiment will take place on Sunday, January 13, 2013.

The experiment log (and specific rules) will be posted here before the experiment begins.

Until I’ve done this I can’t fairly say I’ve worked a proper day directly for my own values. I fear I’m not that unusual in this.

Have you? What is the end product of your typical workday? Is it important to you?

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 Photo by VinothChandar

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{ 48 Comments }

Anya C. January 7, 2013 at 12:32 am

If your regular job is anything like mine then you probably don’t spend 4 solid hours at your desk, take one hour lunch break, and then output another 4 solid hours of hard white-color labor. I have read that most office employees only work 3 actual on any given 8-hour work day. The rest is taken up by meetings, various forms of water cooler conversations with co-workers, smoke breaks (for smokers), bathroom breaks, coffee breaks, web browsing, Facebooking, personal texting, cell phone calls, paying bills, making doctor’s appointments… you get the picture.
If this is true then it would be very difficult to chain yourself to a lap top by shear will power and work for four hours starlight. I was able to do an eight-hour writing marathon, when I had to turn a 20-page research paper for my political rhetoric class last semester. However, the quality of my work was questionable at best, and I certainly would not want to repeat the exercise any time soon, much less the next day.
I think writing like any creative activity requires a degree of freedom and inspiration. Forcing yourself to do it daily as a character building exercise will probably produce the same result as working for the “men” does — your attitude toward writing will suffer, and you’d want to do something else.

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David January 7, 2013 at 6:53 am

My regular job is probably not like yours. It is a rather physical job and I am used to actually working most of those eight hours. Sometimes it is longer than that.

The work I plan to do for myself will not only be ass-in-the-chair writing. There are quite a few tasks I want to do that will actually be fun. I am also allowed 15 minute coffee breaks.

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Tobi January 7, 2013 at 1:34 am

Perhaps, part of it comes down to that attachment thing again. Obviously, if you stretch out your breaks you have some kind of attachment to what you are doing during your break, even if it’s just sitting on your butt. I will have to ask myself the next time I’m putting off something important to me, what am I doing right now that, even though it is much less important, that I am so attached to?

That’s just my thoughts on the matter, very good article. You can bring to light what we all feel but not express with words, amazing.

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David January 7, 2013 at 6:55 am

There is some attachment there, yes. For me I think years of practicing work evasion have made it feel natural and beneficial to me. I want to practice a different reflex.

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Vilx- January 7, 2013 at 2:46 am

Heh, this rings close to home, as I’ve been thinking along similar lines for a while now. Sometimes I’ve even been at the verge of writing you (David) an email and asking for help/opinion. So I guess I’ll do it here, now that the opportunity has presented itself. Maybe someone else will have something worthwhile to say.

I’ve been toying with the idea of “working for myself” for quite some time now. After all – it’s what all the “cool kids” do, isn’t it? It’s what we should all do, because it’s… well, it’s the Right Way, right? I have a relative who has been an entrepreneur for over 20 years now. And I’ve heard someone say about him that after all this time of working for himself, he would be hard pressed (if not outright incapable) to work for someone else. I kinda look up to him a bit.

But at the same idea I understand that if I did try this path, it would end in a disaster. After all – if you’re working only for yourself, then there’s nobody who will get hurt if you goof off. Nobody will get angry with you. OK, so you’ll get a little less money maybe, but then you didn’t really need it that much anyway. And computer games are way more fun and gratifying than that boring old work anyway, right? Fair trade, I’d say! (At least on an emotional level).

If I would start “working for myself”, it would very quickly degenerate into the same thing that I did with my studies and school – minimum amount of effort required to get an acceptable result, but no more.

This is something I don’t really understand. What motivates people? What makes them strive for better things, what makes them go the extra miles to achieve something truly great (even if it is just a great pile of money)? And why is it the Right Thing™?

For a long time I’ve sticked to the mantra “Happiness is not getting what you want, it’s wanting what you’ve got”. And today I realize, with a considerable amount of terror, that it works. I don’t want anything. I’m pretty happy the way things are. Sure, there are minor annoyances here and there, small ups and downs in the life – but in the long run they don’t really matter much and everything is fine. And I don’t feel the need to change anything. I don’t feel the need to strive, to excel, to do… anything.

The only thing that still motivates me to work is the fear of what is going to happen if I stop. I have a family to feed, after all, and I love them, and I don’t want them to suffer because of me. But it’s still a fear of losing something, not the desire to gain something. I can still only make myself to spend the minimum amount required to get a passable result, not excel.

In the words of the immortal Internet memes – Am I doing it right? And why?

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David January 7, 2013 at 7:02 am

I think if your primary motivation is still fear then you’re sunk. You have to want the eventual fruits of your labor more than you want to avoid hard work. I don’t think I was ready to do this before now. I was motivated by fear pretty consistently my whole adult life, and that finally changed in 2012. I began to think about what I want much more than what I don’t want.

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Vilx- January 7, 2013 at 10:18 am

I realize this too. But then I don’t understand how it goes together with the rest of things. Like your resolution of “feeling richer” this year, a few blog posts earlier. The idea there is to “want less”. In fact, that’s the core of most “how to feel happy” advice out there. But if you don’t want anything… where’s the exit from this circle?

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It Calls Me Onanon January 7, 2013 at 10:07 pm

Sorry in advance for the whammy of a post.

I understand what you’re going through. It’s interesting because it’s actually a very common thing to want to settle with what you’ve got. It’s part of a human’s tendency to avoid confrontation and consequential change. I was there myself, like everyone.

The main thing I want to communicate is that confrontation is anything (and I mean anything) that implies that what you’re thinking or feeling is wrong and it’s anything that invalidates your sense of self or being. The other thing I should say is that the first thing I had to do for a real change in the way I perceived life was to accept that each human being’s personality—our way of thinking, our sense of being, our wants, our likes, our discomfort, how we perceive life–is really just a set of habits that exist in their present state and intensity because of every single thing that they’ve ever interacted with and tried to make sense of in their lifetime. Problem is, we’re all made out of the same fundamental stuff, we’re all Homo sapiens (animals, albeit complex) and all of our ways of “being” are characteristically human in that we react to things psychologically, physiologically, etc., through an identical structure. That structure becomes a sort of go-to way of reacting in the face of confrontation and it gives off the impression of being a recognizable pattern when observing the way people choose to respond to things.

People typically choose to respond to things by avoiding confrontation and they employ psychological maneuvers to do that. They have personal truths, tedious and arbitrary excuses and erroneous logic. In the end, people “won’t change” unless they have a reason to because of various circumstances, one being that they’ve exhausted all resources. That one’s the logical, as opposed to the idealistic reason why the elderly who have gotten old and tired start to soften up. They haven’t got the energy and only then do you see rationalizations of the pointlessness of arguing or the contrived tranquility upon gaining the perspective of passing on with a notion of a life spent. I hope this is painting a good portrait for you so far about the fundamental philosophical observation of the human being.

Fortunately this isn’t something that has to be a never-ending circle. Once you start seeing your patterns you just need to find perspective. Make it all fit into place and make sense in the real world—the whole world actually occurring around you and not just your personal one. The perspective I had the fortune to observe one day was that people project themselves into the world. Existence and your experience in this world don’t have qualities or meaning. It is literally as empty as the void of space. Everything that occurs in the human’s mind and perception is contained within the vacuum of your mind and projecting it outside of there is essentially like playing with a doll when you’re a child and pretending that it is talking or that what it does is meaningful in any way. This is not make believe. Think about existence and sincerely take a minute to consider how anything you look at cannot possibly mean the same thing that it means to me. You are alone in your mind and therefore the only thing that is making it seem real is you and your longing for orientation in existence. We project ourselves into the universe and that’s your perspective.

How does this fit into wanting things and motivation? Well, that perspective should open up the perception and ability to observe that you create every occurrence that happens in your mind and you prolong anything you’re thinking, any means you have of thinking and your consequential feelings in response to it. Technically an individual doesn’t even have to acknowledge pain. I have a nice anecdote in regard to it. Bob Marley had cancer all over his body but he saw himself as a Rastafarian and that meant that he had to be strong. One day he once shot up in the middle of a seizure and continued on with what he was doing. Bruce Lee was said to have done similar things to achieve the discipline and focus he had. Pain is marginalized in certain tribes all because of the beliefs the people have. It’s all in you, and though you’ve probably heard it a million times before it’s never made sense because people can’t understand or see where they haven’t been. There’s no way that you could discover that it starts somewhere on your own without extensive abstract thought. No way of inherently knowing that you should find perspective or even what the perspective is that you should gain. Objectivity is the simple, unimpressed upon observation of what is occurring and that should be enough to guide the growth in your perspective and intellect, I hope.

As for motivation, the will to do things should be a logical result of what you observe about life. For example, I strive to communicate myself to any length necessary because when I see things objectively, I understand that I have the ability to empathize with humans because I am one, and I can see what others see and how lost they can be and for what reasons. The logical result is that I can’t possibly be rude or short-tempered as an impulsively annoyed reflex when I understand. I continue by trying to bridge whatever disconnects may exist by knowing what questions I need to ask. Suddenly I have a direction and there is no need for fear because all that I understand to do is work towards a goal and that requires any action possible. It suddenly fills your consciousness with the reality of how to attain what’s needed of you and not just what you dream of doing or excuses of why you can’t. The question becomes how can I meet the expectations of reality?

Hope that helps. Good luck.

Vilx- January 8, 2013 at 1:50 am

I’ll probably have to read this through a few times until I get it. :P

It Calls Me Onanon January 8, 2013 at 8:09 pm

That’s the way it’s done. :P

In the meantime, is there anything that it made you think of? What do you make of it and what things confuse you? I ask because it can help me improve the way I go about communicating as well as possibly filling in some blanks for you.

Thanks for taking the time to think about the stuff I post on here.

Vilx- January 10, 2013 at 8:13 am

I still don’t follow how this can help me. If existence and experience are meaningless, then what’s the point of trying to do anything?

It Calls Me Onanon January 10, 2013 at 10:20 pm

There is no point in the grand perspective. That’s something you’ll have to come to terms with through serious thought about it. However, you exist with other people and every-single-action you make has a consequence on them and their psychology and how they function with life. You have a responsibility, objectively, to function within the way life demands you to.

But like I said, there really is no reason to put effort into life or to even keep it. You can kill yourself this night and only the few other insignificant organisms on this speck of dust in the vast universe will miss you. For a while. Then they’ll move on. Life moves on.

Doing anything should be out of the knowledge that you are dying. You will die and there is nothing else. You can experience 102933562034767520347 kinds of things while you are alive and you can feel and see and love to such a grand capacity…. But you don’t. Why not?

What I found helped my apathy with even wanting to begin thinking or caring in the first place was realizing that I will be dead soon. If I didn’t care about that then I had to really look at myself and give an honest observation that if I didn’t care to be alive I could just be dead. ..and if I didn’t want to kill myself I was just making excuses. I didn’t want to have an excuse.

..And What I wrote before says that your excuses mean nothing to anyone but you. It’s in your head and you have the power to stop making them. You make up excuses and do things like feel “victim” to protect yourself or to avoid change, but you are capable of change. It just takes work given whatever situation you’re in and actually being resolved about working around it.

I gave you the recipe for gaining the perspective needed to do it. I wrote above that there are people who ignore pain through beliefs and don’t use that as an excuse, even, and that means that we as humans have the capacity to make ourselves geniuses, excuse-makers, lovers, haters, jesus, hitler—anything. Objectively, we needn’t ever feel “bad” ever again in our life with a healthy perspective on life and the right actions to deal with whatever situation we’re in.

Some of my other posts outline observations I have about life and observations of the way life works is the philosophy of it. Search for honest philosophy about things and life and you’ll find yourself driven to find more truth.

It Calls Me Onanon January 10, 2013 at 10:24 pm

Also, consequently, if you don’t function within the way life demands you to you’ll get smacked in the face. Consequences happen to you in return. You’re not exempt and you always have to be paying attention to how every.single.thing around you is working and what it’s doing. That habit’s kind of what got me paying attention to the way people choose to react to things and led to me seeing a lot about what life is made out of.

It Calls Me Onanon January 10, 2013 at 11:03 pm

Oh, and, if someone uses “but all I need in life is family HURR DURR” They’re really just making another excuse for all of their shortcomings. When you start paying attention to your behaviors you’ll have to live with the knowledge that you aren’t doing anything about them and are even ignoring them in some cases. The most likely thing a human will do is rationalize why their narrative on life is reason to be exempt from anything.

Factoid I’ve observed: People make families and create concepts like “relationships” to circumvent feeling bad or lonely. They use family as a means to institute a pretense concerning the correctness/righteousness of their beliefs or behaviors and isolate themselves from having to be confronted and when their children finally get confronted with different ways of life (like teens) they psychologically act out and go through a rebellious phase. They then proceed to form similar ways of avoiding confrontation. Cycle from A to B.

The same people then might go on to make up new rationalizations from their new disposition. Have you ever heard about people finally “empathizing” with their parents? …That only happens after they’re met with a brick wall that they can’t pass, such as their own children. If they could pass it they would, though. It’s just them getting smacked in the face that creates the excuse to change and not really of their own perspective or any observation of truth.

People just keep selfishly making up reasons for what’s actually happening though because they are being subjective and not objective about life.

Vilx- January 11, 2013 at 5:12 am

Food for thought acquired. Slow digestion initiated. XD

Jill January 7, 2013 at 3:55 am

Thank you for a timely post
I do work for myself and don’t really have a problem doing the work I love (which is combined therapy to help people get out of pain & discomfort)

The problem I have is doing all to other ‘stuff’ around my business, most of which involve being on a computer where I get so distracted & find it difficult to get my accounts, website updates, correspondence and marketing work sorted out; I don’t earn enough to employ anyone and I would fire myself for my track record – I know I can do this stuff and to be honest I think I don’t want to do it simply because I don’t enjoy it, like I do actually helping people.

Good luck with your experiment, will be interested to see your results & thoughts

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Vilx- January 7, 2013 at 4:28 am

I think that’s the case with about any work. There’s about 20% that is interesting, and 80% which is boring, but as much needed as that 20%, if not more. The trick is to find the motivation to do those 80%. People who manage that are called “successful” in our society.

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Terri Lynn January 7, 2013 at 10:24 am

It is the same for me Jill. I love the creative aspects and don’t mind the ‘other stuff’ but still tend to avoid it. Every year as my business grows, I delegate one more task until I can get to the point some day where all of my time is spent on the creative stuff. For me the issue comes down to organization and time management. When I sit down and get the books done, I enjoy it and the feeling of accomplishment it brings.

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Jill January 8, 2013 at 3:04 am

Thanks Terri
Thats what I’m aiming for to as business builds

Jill January 8, 2013 at 3:06 am

Thanks Vilx
I guess the motivation should be to to get what I do to be more than 80% with most of the other stuff being paid to be done by people who like doing it :)

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Karen January 7, 2013 at 4:47 am

This article has given me food for thought. Like you I am working full time in a job that does not particularly motivate me and I am working at what I am passionate about in my spare time.
I too am going to try the experiment and see what results I get from it. Thank you for a great idea.

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Maia January 7, 2013 at 5:43 am

Hi David, that’s great that you want to devote more time to your writing. Working on your own goals is work like any other, but when you’re at work you somehow feel like you should be working, whereas when you are working on your own goals it feel like you’re not being paid for it so you can slack off.
My most recent blog post is about a book I just finished – How to do everything and be happy, by Peter Jones, which has some really good advice on getting a diary and scheduling in hours in it to work on your personal goals and life list and then actually sticking to it.
Wishing you good luck with it, it will all be worth it when you can go freelance.

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Duska January 7, 2013 at 7:45 am

Most creative people need free and idle time for their ideas to germinate. One cannot in my opinion will oneself to have a creative ‘eight’ hours of writing for example. That does not mean that one should not discipline oneself to sit down certain amount of time and try to write, paint, sculpt etc.
But, silence and solitude or as Italians would say ‘Dolce far niente’…’sweet doing nothing’ is where the most creative ideas are born.
Yes, discipline is important, but when it comes to creativity it’s a totaly a different thing. I don’t believe that one can will oneself to be creative at a particular moment in my opinion.
Good luck with your experiment!

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David January 8, 2013 at 6:56 am

I have learned that it is equally important to write when I’m not inspired as when I am inspired. Otherwise you end up always looking for a “better time” to write. Even work in a creative field does come down to sitting down and working. A relevant quote from Peter de Vries: “I write when I’m inspired, and I see to it that I’m inspired at nine o’clock every morning.”

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Marcella January 7, 2013 at 8:54 am

I think a System (like you have set up via your experiment log) is a powerful way to stay on task and successful at your day. A large part of my System is Freedom or Self-Control to turn off the internet and its distractions. I just posted about my System to create good habits on my blog: http://www.theperpetualvacation.com/how-a-system-runs-my-life-why-it-should-run-yours-too/

Cheers and goodluck from Managua

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Sir Evidence January 7, 2013 at 11:34 am

It seems to me that “loving what you do” while earning your living is the key happiness factor. If you work on an assembly line, for instance, the only reason to “love it” is after reasoning out that the paycheck at the end of the month is better than the alternative of having no paying job at all. If you belong to category of people who can do a creative job and earn a living with it, then your job is an extension of your intelligent creativity and the paycheck becomes a secondary (though valid and necessary consequence) of your own creativity. Your creativity is what you really love and what gives meaning to the hours you spend on the job – regardless how short or long your work period is. I happen to be in the midst of such people. I love my job, it is my own identity. It’s who I am. However, as in everything in life, there is a downside to it, too. Working for yourself means also to budget your expenses, manage the money you make. If you make a lot of money you can hire an accountant to do all that boring paperwork that cuts into your time of creativity. I don’t make so much that I can hire an accountant. Eight hours of work? That’s nothing for those like me who love their job! What happens is that I work straight through lunch… then I blink a couple of times… and look at the clock and realize I’ve missed dinner as well! Self-employment is not for everyone. I even know of self-employed people who can no longer work for anyone else and regret it, because the case of working for oneself and working for others is not always in favor of the former when it comes to infinite work hours and no vacation benefits.

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Kat January 7, 2013 at 12:06 pm

Just had another crappy day at my ‘day job’ (IT) and would love to give it all in and paint for a living. Have been wanting to get my own business of the ground so that I can work for myself but never seem to have the time. An 8 hour day would be very beneficial so I may do an experiment of my own. Thanks for your continuing inspiration and good luck!

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steph in berkeley January 7, 2013 at 1:08 pm

you’ve worked as a land surveyor…like thoreau ;) –i like that. i think this is a fabulous experiment and an exciting start to a future of pure possibility. as i read the article i imagined your future kiddies reading it and realizing the thoughts of their papa many years before. break a leg!

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Vilx- January 7, 2013 at 4:26 pm

Heh, accidentally rediscovered this relevant link: http://theoatmeal.com/comics/making_things :)

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David January 8, 2013 at 6:49 am

Haha, that was perfect

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Thomas January 7, 2013 at 6:59 pm

David, It all boils down to acquiring the habit. And that usually involves unlearning several other habits that you either were programed with or adopted on your own. There is a very good book I could recommend if you really want an edge on doing what you want…no,.. should be doing. Let me know.

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David January 8, 2013 at 6:49 am

Send it along

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Ningus January 7, 2013 at 9:39 pm

My and some other people’s lives are like a “hot-bottom” fan – a fan that is blowing coolness for others while our own bottom is being hot. I have a dream like you, if I have time for myself, the brain that will be clearer because my working life ends, will try to initiate things for the good causes, eventhough it means little money I don’t care, I don’t spend much. Working for business is bad enough. Working for causes that change things at surface is better than nothing but still…..

Thanks for writing inspiring blogs and for being you.

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Fiona January 7, 2013 at 11:58 pm

I had a tough time reading this. Several years ago I became what I call ‘temporally claustrophobic’ (a fear of being scheduled or blocked by time) and this is what initially led me to become an entrepreneur. The idea that being an entrepreneur requires a commitment to X hours/day is defeatist to the freedom of being self employed in my opinion. Instead I try to apply dicscipline to my output quota or how much money I want to make. I find faster ways of getting things done so I work less. My clients don’t need or want to know how many hours it took me to do something – they just have to be agreeable that they paid a fair price for services rendered. This focus has really helped me be successful as an entrepreneur despite taking walks during the day, checking FB when I please, etc. Some of my most saleable Eureka moments happen while doing crossword puzzles or doodling. If I didn’t allow for that I’d be hooped.

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David January 8, 2013 at 6:37 am

Hi Fiona. I didn’t mean to trigger your temporal claustrophobia. Output quota is probably better than “time-in” quota. I was pretty clear here I think:

Now, I am not confusing the questions of whether I can work a strict, uncompromised eight-hour day at home with whether I ought to. An eight-hour workday may turn out not be the most efficient scheme for productivity, if it’s not being imposed on me. Nor is it probably optimally motivating to set a stopwatch for my breaks.

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Terri Lynn January 8, 2013 at 8:15 am

My friend is a writer. He decided that when he made enough income from writing, he would quit his job and enjoy the freedom of living anywhere that he wanted, such is the freedom of being a writer. He moved to Ireland in December. This was his FB post this morning:

Good morning of writing. Nearly another 1000 done on the day. Now to take a ‘Hemingway break’ (always stop when you’re on a roll), shower and into town for a mid-afternoon late lunch at Cafe & Cakes. Then perhaps some more writing;or perhaps just enjoy the most glorious, warm sunny day since I moved to Ireland. Have a beautiful day, North America!

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meg January 8, 2013 at 10:15 am

Writing means showing up, inspired or not. It also means forgiving yourself when you have less-than ideal days, the ones where you don’t meet the word count or when the output reads dull and flat. Writing means planning. Writing means rewriting and editing.

But the main thing is showing up, the habit of showing up, and treating it as if it was at least as important as any other thing in your life, if not more. After a while, the process seems to become part of your cellular structure, and you’ll always be in some stage of the writing process, even when out with friends or taking a shower.

You’re a bright guy–even if you churn out 80,000 words that don’t form a coherent whole like I did last summer, you’ll know that all you have to do is let it incubate for a while, a few weeks or months, then have at it. You linear-thinking engineer brain will edit and rearrange and salvage the best into usable bits.

Writing means not being afraid of writing crap. Even things that are unpublishable are not wasted–they’re either the seeds of something better to come, or bits of emotional or mental confusion that needed to be exorcised. It’s all good.

And always back everything up. Really.

So glad to see you doing this.

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A. Julie January 8, 2013 at 12:11 pm

I’m sort-of-employed: I’m a grad student with teaching responsibilities (but it comes with tuition and stipend). It’s odd: lots of self-directed work, but at my own pace, and many other-imposed responsibilities and deadlines. I found a good work rhythm for myself recently, on a particular task (a paper to research and write, and ten days).

I’d get up, make breakfast, sit down, still in my jams, and work for a few hours. Usually I’d make lunch and come back to it. Morning work session: 4-6 hours.
By then it was mid-afternoon and beautiful and no time to be working! I’d go for a run, or clean something, or do errands, or cook something… I forget what else I did, but I definitely did *no* work for at least three hours. Sometimes I’d take a nap, even. But then I’d make dinner, and sit down to get back to the paper. I’d usually work another 4-6 hours. It was interesting and I was engaged; unfortunately I also stayed up later and later because it was interesting. Oops.

(Nota bene: no internet at home, which is awesomesauce, and just a netbook with minimal word processing power, which is not, but is affordable).

The other few days I spent working at the studio, where I could use my big monitor and a real word-processing program. So when I finally had to go to my studio to use the desktop computer, the internet was there too. The pulling-together-and-polishing was harder than the research and generation and free-thinking and first-drafting. So I’d get immersed, then get stuck, then stare into space, but sometimes distract myself with the internet, then go back to the stuck part and poke and prod and rearrange and so on, until I was stuck again, then I’d stare off into space… Still, there were times when I needed to walk away but didn’t want to turn my mind to another form of thinking or engagement; I wanted to stay with the paper, but needed to just let it mellow in my mind for a bit. Sometimes I’d move on to the next thing (my drafts are full of notes to myself and other inline thoughts not-worked-out) or format a couple footnotes properly (which I usually do last, but was glad to do in the middle) or something.

By the last couple of days I was anxious to get it done and ready to be done. And there was a day in the middle of the process where I just needed to stop for a day. But it worked out, and I feel like I found a good way to work. Spending those few afternoon hours pleasantly – productive on something else, even if ‘productive’ was also ‘having fun’ or ‘relaxing’ – is key. It gives my brain a rest, and also meant I wasn’t trying to do ‘life’ around the edges of ‘work’. It’s a schedule I’m going to keep using.

PS: most of my work hours have been spent as an architect. Field work is my favorite, so I envy your work as a surveyor.

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Max January 8, 2013 at 4:32 pm

I’m pretty neurotic in this regard, which has always been helpful. If I’m writing an essay, I’ll set aside a specific day to do it, and then I’ll write the entire essay without exception. I think this is more a matter of anxiety than motivation, but it has been very useful.

That said, if it’s something personal—for example, I’ve tried to write fictional short stories—I’m much less motivated. While I enjoy writing essays for classes, I’m still pushed by external forces (i.e., a good grade). It’s much harder when I’m doing it exclusively for my own enjoyment.

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Zack Hayhurst January 9, 2013 at 2:18 pm

I too have tried (the operative word being “tried) to devote more time to working on things for myself; things like writing, learning languages, reading, practicing piano. One thing that I found very helpful was the elimination of television. Without it, I am in no way tempted to sit mindlessly and watch it, simply because the option isn’t there. I have instead surrounded myself with the things I want to do, but could never before seem to focus myself on doing. Namely, I’ve surrounded myself with new books to read, subscriptions to interesting periodicals, language books, new music, I’ve even made a concerted effort recently to producing more regular content for my blog. David is right. Producing writing that is entirely your own , and for yourself, leaves one with a sense of accomplishment and ownership unlike I’ve felt before in other creative endeavors.

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Dragline January 9, 2013 at 10:49 pm

Good luck with your experiment. You have a very nice blog here.

This and your Christmas post suggest that you may want to start getting serious about becoming financially independent, which can happen sooner than you think if you are willing to save hard and spend less (and follow a different drummer, but you already do that). The masters at these concepts are at Early Retirement Extreme and http://www.mrmoneymustache.com.

However, do not fool yourself into believing that you can do what you love and by the force of will find someone else to pay you for it. (See the life of Spinoza.) It can happen, but it does not always work out that way. Sometimes it is better to keep financial and other goals separate and not insist that they be achievable through the same acts.

In the end it does all go back to Emerson and Self-Reliance. On many different levels.

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SFS January 10, 2013 at 10:00 am

I am so fortunate to be working 2 jobs that I really truly love! Like, I really want to get up at 5 in the morning when its still dark and go to work. I am a pediatric Physical Therapist, and I work with kiddos with profound disabilities. This is the best fit for me on a number of levels: as I work with these kids and their families for 10 hours each day, I am reminded of how grateful I am for my life and my health and the things that I usually would take for granted; it is a service-oriented vocation and, as such, takes my mind off of me for a great many of my waking hours–this is always a good thing!; also, it is a cheerful place to work/play for a living. It is my job to make work fun, so we have toys, toys, toys, and I get to create fun ways for small people to get stronger and gain gross motor skills to the best of their potential. I actually get to play for a living! I could totally do without all the paperwork, but then this wouldn’t be a job, would it? And the other therapists that I work with are pretty much like-minded and fun, outgoing and creative, excellent team players and good problem-solvers. I am very blessed to work with excellent staff and great kiddos and families every day. And then at the end of my day, I am a group fitness instructor and I get to teach fun classes like Zumba, Yoga, kickboxing, weight-lifting, and circuit-training. I get paid for going to the gym and working out! Amazing! I am a self-admitted cardio and endorphin junkie, so on the weekends you will find me cycling, dancing, and practicing my class routines, but it could be worse, right? These are both jobs that I am employed by someone else to do, but they are also both jobs that I would gladly volunteer and do without pay (and frequently do in other countries), if someone would feed, board, and clothe me, simply because of the rewards that I receive from the folks that I work with on a daily basis. Thank you.

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Kimolisa January 10, 2013 at 11:49 am

I read this post at a great time when I’m battling with my own inner demons. The odd thing is it’s hard for me to view work and what I enjoy doing in the same light. As soon as I view something that I love to do as work it becomes tainted. Great article, food for thought.

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Joshua January 12, 2013 at 8:52 am

I’ve worked in jobs for others and worked for myself, alternately, for years. I find I am as productive in short spurts when working for myself as I am in an 8 hour day at an employer – I work “as hard” at either. I recently took a job with an employer for the simple fact that the income stream was steady with a job and erratic with self-employment, and that became rather draining. Self-employment provides flexibility to work when and how you see fit. I imagine you’ll get as much done as in your self-employed day job once you don’t also have an employer’s day job – it’s hard to carry both and I suspect some of your daydreaming and surfing are simply your brain’s need to have some unstructured time.

Good luck with your experiment, I look forward to reading the results.

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Summer January 12, 2013 at 3:02 pm

David, I just want to say how glad I am to read this. I love your blog and hope that you find the motivation to turn pro. In my humble opinion you are more than capable and most deserving of the success and satisfaction doing what you love for a living would surely bring. I wish you the very best.
Summer

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patti January 20, 2013 at 9:13 am

working for myself was the best thing i ever did for myself.
my work is humble enough….i make soap….but it gives me a lot of pleasure, and i have happy customers to interact with, and i have arranged my small company to align with my personal values, and i make enough money to live comfortably and share the wealth.
my days are very flexible, i don’t have any stress, and i drink a lot of tea.
it is a very simple lifestyle, and i highly recommend it.

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Joan Harrison March 13, 2013 at 12:38 am

First may I offer some practical advice. The human mind can only take in information for 90 minutes at a time – it is good practice to then take a twenty minute break and do something physical. Secondly, everything that happens in our life starts with a thought. Now that sounds super simple, however it is not. By monitoring our every thought, moment by moment we can see a pattern emerge. When we do this often enough it then becomes a habit.
Habitually recognizing a thought, watching what direction it wants us to go in and making the choice, for me is the key. This practice takes a lot of dedication and you have to want to change your thought patterns to achieve the different goals.
I am not there yet, but I am getter better at practice. What I think is what I attract, I know that for certain. It is up to me to monitor what I think in order to attract what I want, moment by moment.

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Bek in Aus March 26, 2013 at 4:04 am

For me, I feel my hobbies are as close as I want to get to working for myself. I like my job (I’m a dietitian), but I love being able to leave at the end of the day and not have work hanging over my head. If I can’t do it in the clinic time I have then it doesn’t get done. My end product is helping the people I can help, and the reward I get from that is valuable to me. I could go into private practice, and I did do that for a couple of years between part time jobs, but for me it was too much organisation and admin, which I abhor. In having a job to turn up to I don’t need to do any of that.
But outside of my main job I also teach taekwondo, for which I get paid a fairly pitiful wage, but I do it for the love of it. I have a fabulous time teaching my mostly 8-15 year old students. Again, I could have started my own club, but I don’t want to have to deal with the admin. I just turn up and teach. Even though I don’t receive much back dollar wise, again the value is the outcome – seeing the kids improve their skills, develop both mentally and physically, is amazing. I can’t imagine not teaching.
So even though in both of these instances I have a boss that I report to, and I’m not truly working for myself by definition of having a boss, I do feel that I’m working for myself in the sense of getting what I want out of these roles.
Thanks for the post, and the blog in general. Its awesome, and is inspiring me to do some soul searching. Even writing this reply has been an experience in better understanding myself and my motives for doing what I do. So cheers!

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