I Love My Freedom, but How Much Freedom is Too Much Freedom?
January 31, 2013 9:08 AM   Subscribe

How do you make yourself go to sleep/do errands/be a grown-up when you have no responsibilities or schedule you need to keep? When I hear people say they loved a show and watched 3 episodes before bed because they had to work the next morning I laugh because if I love a show I might watch 10 episodes because I can.

Backstory: I've been feeling very scattered for the past year, and I'm sure it has to do with a job I started two years ago. I have my own business where I work from home for my own clients (job A). This job requires keeping up relationships with clients, and often projects drag on for months and are always weighing on my mind. Over the past two years I've also picked up a new career (job B) that uses my skill set as well as gets me out of the house, working with different, interesting co-workers each time in different locations around the U.S., for different industries. Job B fulfills a lot of what I missed with job A. When I leave job B I have no further contact with the end client or project and I can essentially wash my hands of it. I'm booked on job B on an as-needed basis, usually for 3-6 days at a time and requires I fly to another location 70% of the time. I've already spent 15 days on business trips this January but will only have one in February (as of today, but that could change). Sometimes I get booked by job B a month in advance, but it's more often 2 weeks, and sometimes as little as one day in advance. I might work 3 weeks in a row in 3 different cities (exhausting!) but then might have a month with nothing from job B. I never know in advance that I'll have a good chunk of "free time" because there could always be another job around the corner. Job B pays great, and I don't turn down work because I never know when the next job will come in.

Obviously, this means that I have no consistent schedule at all and taking classes, going to the gym, doctor's appointments or anything is difficult. Often job A falls to the wayside while I'm working job B because my clients are so laid back about deadlines. My friends have been great, and we schedule things when I'm around. Trying to date is much more complicated, but I'm trying. Because I live alone and am single I have no accountability if I don't do the dishes or spend an entire day watching DVDs when I'm not working job B.

Job B is fun, challenging at times, and allows me to interact with people whereas working form home is very isolating. Don't get me wrong, both jobs allow me immense freedom—to take vacations whenever I want, go for a bike ride in the middle of the day, not work if I don't want to. I haven't worked full-time in an office since 2004 and can't imagine going back to that lifestyle. It seems perfect—but all that freedom is a bit overwhelming. Job B leaves me totally exhausted (being "on" for days on end and working 12-16 hour days) and I end up spending 3 days to a week after a job recharging. I know that I should work on job A, do my laundry, go to the gym, grocery shop, go out and be social, schedule dates, get those projects I've been meaning to do forever started, but I always stay up late, sleep until 9 and lose myself in a TV show or book series. I might put off a project for job A and watch an entire TV series when I know that if I just got that one thing done for job A I would feel so much better and be able to enjoy my free time. I have so many lists of personal projects I want to do that that the idea of doing even one of them is overwhelming so I do none of them. In the past I've had to go cold turkey when trying to quit things. I can't just watch one TV episode or read just one chapter of a book. Canceling cable years ago means at least I don't channel flip and watch mindless TV I don't even like anymore.

Question: If you have a non-traditional lifestyle or job like mine how do you manage it? How do you make yourself stay on a schedule? I've thought about trying to schedule my life... make a calendar on Google (although I'd like the ability to check things off a list on a calendar) with everything planned out (e.g., 8am wake up, breakfast, dishes... gym... 2 hour block of work... 2 hour block of creative/project time... with some weekly chores like laundry scheduled) and after all of those things are done I allow myself to watch TV, read etc. Are there any good apps/websites for this level of planning? The downside to this is it would only work on days when I'm in town and not working job B. My life feels like a mess—what can I do to make myself stay on target?
posted by Bunglegirl to Work & Money (10 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Best thing I've started doing is asking myself "Is this the best use of my time? Am I doing what I _really_ want to be doing?"

Sometimes the answer is yes, I am happy with watching TV right now. Most nights these days, I'm doing work for a course on coursera or taking care of to-dos around the house.
posted by bfranklin at 9:39 AM on January 31, 2013

I think some of the things you're talking about are fine.

There's nothing wrong with managing your free time however you want. I'm currently unemployed, and while I try to have some structure to my day, there are some days I mostly just dick around on the internet and watch stuff on Netflix. And that's fine. I try to keep myself on a reasonable sleep schedule so I don't become nocturnal, which is always weird and complicates life more than it should, but I try not to beat myself up that I'm not spending my free time as "optimally" as possible, or whatever.

On the other hand, if you find that things that need to get done are not getting done, that's a problem. If your dishes are sitting in the sink to the point where the food on them starts rotting, that's not great. If you're neglecting Job A because you have nobody standing over you making you do it, that could have bad consequences down the road.

Is there a way you can cut yourself slack on managing your free time while still doing the bare minimum in terms of work and necessary domestic stuff?

One thing that helps me on the dishes front is that I have a small kitchen and not a lot of dishes. If my sink is completely full, I can't use the sink, which means there's a whole range of things I can't do until I do the dishes. If both my mugs are dirty, I can't have a cup of tea until I wash at least one of them.

Also, routines are good. When I had the goal of finishing a writing project, I set an alarm every morning, got up, and IMMEDIATELY started working on writing. The only thing I was allowed to do before starting writing was to make coffee, and I wasn't allowed to drink coffee without writing. I didn't place any hard time limit on how long I had to write every day, but I did hold myself to writing at least five pages. If I finished my five pages in three hours, great! All day watching old episodes of The IT Crowd on Netflix! This was a great motivator to just do my writing for the day and move on. So rather than make a schedule, I'd say that what you really need is a routine.
posted by Sara C. at 9:40 AM on January 31, 2013 [4 favorites]

I have an unpredictable schedule like yours. What I try to do is if I have a string of days off, I try to schedule morning appointments on the days off. Otherwise I am much worse than you, I'll stay up til 3am and sleep til noon. So I make a morning appointment (let's say for a haircut, or a handyman visit, or a phone call for my other job, or whatever needs to get done that week) for 9 or 10am that gets me out of bed and started on something I need to do, and the momentum from that helps me make the rest of the day productive too (i.e. I've gotten out of the house and can run other errands, or whatever).
posted by treehorn+bunny at 9:50 AM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

I’ve been working a nearly identical schedule for 20 years and I’m still trying to get it together. When your work consumes all of your time you don’t really ever learn to manage time.

I really think a lot of it depends on your personality. Although something about the idea of a strict schedule appeals to me I finally came to realize I’m not much of a schedule person, I won’t stick to it, that’s why I ended up doing what I do for a living. I just have general goals to be met. Every day I do some housework or yard work, every other day exercise, most nights work on music, etc. I don’t decide specifically what work or exercise I’m going to do ahead of time. As long as I hit my goals most of the time I feel pretty good about it.

I agree though about getting the work done first. My schedule is more limits on when I can screw around instead of when to do tasks.

I set alarms on my phone and computer just to help me keep track of time. It’s 1:00, it’s midnight, etc. They’re not strict "it’s time to do chore X", they’re just to give me guidelines. It’s midnight, time quit whatever I'm working on and watch a little TV. Try and be bed by 2:00 so I can read for a while, etc.

Otherwise I am much worse than you, I'll stay up til 3am and sleep til noon.

Yes. If you’re getting up at 9:00 that’s pretty good. I’m working on it.
posted by bongo_x at 10:34 AM on January 31, 2013

most nights work on music

This is another good point. It might just be that I'm unemployed in winter months more often, but I try to schedule my media consumption hours in the evening so that I'm more inclined to get out and get things done during daylight hours (which coincide with business hours at this time of year). I can watch as much TV or movies or whatever as I want after dark, but during the day is for Getting Things Done.

I'm not sure it would be as easy to trick oneself into following a schedule at other times of the year, but on the off chance you're in the northern hemisphere where days are short and nights are long right now, that's probably not a bad way to structure your time.
posted by Sara C. at 10:58 AM on January 31, 2013

Response by poster: Yes. If you’re getting up at 9:00 that’s pretty good. I’m working on it.
Waking at 9 is a big step for me, I usually allow myself to sleep until I wake up so my body gets what it needs but that leads to staying up to 4am (or not sleeping at all). Waking up at 9 yesterday was good, but I took a 3 hour nap... not good.

The winter definitely makes it worse—sunshine makes me happy and energized. I've considered getting a lamp but when I'm honest with myself I know I won't use it.

So rather than make a schedule, I'd say that what you really need is a routine.
A routine worked great when I wasn't working 16 hour days or traveling. The times I went to 7am spin class 3 times a week I got a ton done. As soon as I start a routine nowadays I have to leave and it's hard to start back again after a week or two off.

It's somehow reassuring that other people struggle with this, thanks.
posted by Bunglegirl at 12:10 PM on January 31, 2013

Best answer: I think you're assuming a much stricter routine than what I'm talking about.

I don't mean a routine where you have to be up to get to a rigorous exercise class by 7am. I mean a routine that's actually realistic.

For example, one routine I have, which I have had for YEARS, regardless of my work schedule, is that dishes must be done before bed. Period. Sometimes that means I'm washing that day's breakfast dishes at one in the morning. Doesn't matter. As long as the dishes are done before bed, it counts, and the routine lives to see another day. I'm willing to cut myself a lot of slack, but there's a line that must be drawn, and I know where it is, and as long as I'm staying on the right side of it, that's cool.
posted by Sara C. at 12:56 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Agreeing with Ms. C.

I don’t say X will happen at this time followed by Y. I say X, Y, and Z will get done today. Between 1:00 and 10:00 is not for watching TV. Things like that. It’s a collection of rules that I’m always tweaking to work better.

If someone works 9 to 5 they need to get to that exercise class at 7am or they miss their window. If you don’t have a strict schedule you can’t use the fact that you didn’t go at 7am as an excuse to skip the whole thing. Go at 10pm if you have to. Quit worrying about what how someone with a completely different life would do it.
posted by bongo_x at 1:36 PM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I've been leading a very similar lifestyle for five years now. I am just now beginning to figure out one or two things that work for me.

First, I use a "rule of threes" to help me stay on track. This goes along with what others have said about being flexible with goal setting. For important categories of things I want to accomplish like exercise or chores or completing goals, I try to to do each thing at least three times a week, but I am flexible about when I do these tasks. Three times seems to be a realistic, reachable, goal so I am more often successful than not, and this motivates me to keep going each week. Its also easier to get back to this habit after being away for awhile. I start each day with a written list of what I want to accomplish that day and I physically cross of each task once its completed. I try to accomplish as much as possible early in the day (as others have suggested). Its been proven that wehave limited reserves of willpower. So the more you use your willpower during a given day, the less you have left for the end of the day. I think that's why I am able to get more done in the mornings.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 3:26 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Job B doesn't finish when you leave the location. It finishes when you have recovered from it. Factor in one or two days at the end as part of the necessary recovery period required by the job. Then, as you are relaxing and watching a whole TV series you can say to yourself "relaxing and recovering is part of my job."

As for the scheduling of appointments and the randomness of Job B, factor in some cancelled appointment fees into your charges as well.

The gist of it is, you can't control Job B's scheduling, but you can control how you respond to it.

Healthy sleep, food and housework scheduling is independent of Job B. You can have a schedule of doing X each day you are in the house - going to bed before midnight, doing the dishes each night, tidying up before bed etc.

You can feel guilt free and motivated by giving yourself permission to relax and recover, while keeping doing your basic house and health schedule.
posted by Kerasia at 4:11 PM on January 31, 2013 [3 favorites]

« Older Ok, enough about me, let's talk about you.   |   Genuine shared experience ideas for dissimilar mom... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.