Drawing the Line: Time
Updated: Dec 18, 2019
This entry is one part of an April 2017 Mountain Owl blog series on drawing lines in freelance work. To read the previous post, click HERE.
One thing about time: It's the only thing nobody can make more of.
Nobody can give you more time. And, contrary to popular belief, you can't save time either. Saving something means you're putting it away to be used later. Like a squirrel saves acorns by burying them in the ground. Or how I save a half bag of Skittles so I can munch on them after dinner...
*Snort* Okay. That's a lie. I've never saved a half a bag of Skittles in my life.
Either way, you can't tuck away five minutes here, ten minutes there, put them away in a special bag and pop up later with twenty hours and say, 'Hey! I'm gonna spend this on a trip to the Bahamas!'
Uh, no. It doesn't work like that. (I wish!)
The only thing you can do with time is SPEND IT WISELY. Whether you spend it lazing on the beach or typing ten billion emails to people who may not care about what you have to say, the time will tick away at equal speed.
In this series' introduction, I spoke at length about the Administrative Professional (the AP). I use AP's as primary examples of line drawers because they have to be in order to do their jobs well AND with joy.
One can do the physical task of secretarial work without expressing joy while doing it (we've all met that secretary). Equally, one can be incapable of fulfilling the job's requirements and seem strangely happy with themselves. Weird.
However, both these types suffer a lack of lines: they either don't care to have lines or know where their lines should be and yet allow people to smear, move, ignore, or erase them.
As I've said before,
You either have lines, or you don’t.
Everyone's line is drawn in a different place. We're all willing to go a certain distance without feeling like we're teetering on the edge of our personal ethics. But beware: Once you step over that edge, unhappiness sinks in.
Which is why it's so important to know where your lines are. Only you know where your line lays. Everyone else will demand something of you until they learn -- by YOU telling them -- when they have asked for too much.
Until you tell them where to stop, they will keep pushing, demanding, and asking. That's why I say YOU must know where YOUR lines are in order to enforce them.
If you don't know where your lines are, figure it out NOW. Not later, not tomorrow. TODAY. Right NOW.
Because the longer you go without knowing where or when to tell people "No" the longer you'll live pleasing others while giving up on your own ethics and not understanding why you feel unhappy in your relationships, ignored by your boss(es) and co-workers, or dissatisfied with your work.
Above ALL things,
Time is your biggest asset.
People think knowledge is their greatest asset, but knowledge is actually a tool. It gets worn out. It must be kept sharp and maintained (through continued training) and can be lost (e.g. dementia, simple forgetfulness).
Experience -- the combination of knowledge and time -- is a great asset, too, but it can quickly fall to the wayside, as anyone who's been out of the workforce for any amount of time can tell you after trying to get back in.
Time is the only thing you have that people can't give you more of and that nobody can take from you, that doesn't need to be sharpened and never runs out. It's your only asset. Period.
(This guy thinks YOU are your only asset, but as feathery and happy as that sounds, it's also false. You need to be kept sharp, maintained, taken care of. You can burn out, break, and wear out. You are not an asset. You are a tool of the creature that is "your business", albeit the singularly critical one.)
It's been said that people show what matters to them by how they spend their time. I believe that's 110% true.
Drawing a line in regard to your time is the most important line you can ever draw. Don't draw it with a pencil, or a ballpoint pen. Pull out one of those super-wide black Sharpies and mark the shit out of the wall and say, 'Hey! This is my time line, and it will not be crossed!'
I can't tell you where your time line should be drawn, but I can tell you it took me a while to figure out how and where to draw mine.
As I mentioned before, freelancing is something of an administrative professional position. The only difference is that instead of acting as a buffer to protect my boss, I have to be the buffer to protect myself.
Instead of being able to say, 'The boss is unavailable right now,' and passing blame onto the absent bossman, I have to say 'I'm unavailable right now,' which can sometimes result in the client asking why can't I be available? Aren't they important enough?
But I've learned not to ignore the whining. Why?
Because when the clock crosses the time line into MY time -- not my client's time, my business' time, a project's time -- I'm done. Finito. Checked out. Unavailable.
I can't count the number of clients I've had (and still get) who expect me to answer the phone during dinner hour; respond to an email or text immediately; or work on weekends (or during a pre-announced vacation!).
I've had to put my foot down, say "I don't work weekends" firmly and without apology. (I used to say "I don't work weekends, sorry," but quickly stopped doing that once I realized what I was really saying!)
I've learned to ignore work emails during MY time. Yes, I'm possessive of it. Yes, some people don't understand. And, yes: I. Don't. Care.
As a freelancer, you have to tough up and remember your line, even at the risk of sounding unaccommodating to your clients. If they don't get it, it's only because somewhere along the way they decided their needs are more important than you are.
And, if they threatened to find someone else to do the job, those aren't the sort of clients that I'd care to chase after. So, here's my easy 1-2-3-step plan on
How To Draw Your Time Line
#1: Establish office hours.
Much of drawing your lines is simply understanding that, although you are a freelancer, you're also an office. When you "go" to work, you should be dressing as if you're going to an office (which puts your brain into working mode) and clock in when you get there.
If your office opens at 9 AM, you're available starting at 9 AM. If you're a part-time freelancer like me and your office opens at 12noon, you're available starting at noon. (By the way, this doesn't mean you only work four hours a day. It just means you're available to clients for calls, emails, conferences, etc for those four hours. Trust me: I work much more than four hours a day!)
The same goes for closing time: If you clock out at 5pm, you're unavailable after 5.
If you run the kind of office that is only available by appointment, then make that clear. If you think of yourself more like a 7-11 service station, open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, then make that clear.
Basically, treat yourself like a brick-and-mortar store front. When the doors open, you're open; when they close, you're closed. You don't see a retail business opening its doors for a customer after closing hours, do you? So why should you open your doors after you've clocked out?
#2: Post your office hours.
When you finally decide upon your hours of operation, post those hours in an inconspicuous location so people can see them. Businesses usually post their hours outside their front doors; if you have an office you work from where you invite clients to come, this tactic can work for you. If you don't have a physical office, you'll need to find another way to publicize your availability.
I encourage posting your hours on your website, social media page, or printing them on your business card.
Mountain Owl posts our hours on our website homepage, near the bottom right next to our contact page link ("Give a Hoot") as well as the top of our contact page itself.
#3: Enforce your office hours.
Many freelancers are inundated with the concept that they have to give up their personal lives in order to be successful in their work. I firmly believe that line of thinking is quickly going the way of the dodo. Younger generations (and science) are realizing the negative impact working too much can have on our health.
This is by far the most difficult part. As I've mentioned, some clients believe their project and needs should come before your personal time, but don't give in to the guilt-ridden adage "The customer is always right." They aren't. In fact, many times they're flat out wrong and -- yes -- it's up to you to correct them by enforcing your own rules about how you should spend your precious, precious time.
In the end, drawing the line comes down to respecting yourself.
That is, respecting your needs as a whole person and realizing that, as a whole person, you have emotional, physical, and psychological needs that require you take time away from work (even work you love) to spend in leisure.
Join me next week, April 18th, as I talk about Drawing the Line: Money. This entry is one part of an April 2017 Mountain Owl blog series on drawing lines in freelance work.
External related articles: (1) https://paydirtapp.com/blog/the-effective-guide-to-setting-boundaries-as-a-freelancer; (2) Russell, Bertrand. "In Praise of Idleness," 1932. WEB: http://www.zpub.com/notes/idle.html.