The 40 Hour Workweek
January 7, 2017 7:28 PM   Subscribe

I am self employed and work from my home office. I enjoy what I do for work. I make sufficient money to pay my bills. But I am only averaging about 15 hours a week and need to start continuously working 40 hour weeks. I am not sure where the time is going, if this is a motivational issue, or how to best address this. Please help me figure out the easiest way to transition.

For a variety of reasons, I need to start working at least 40 hours a week, which by most accounts would be considered a standard work week. Not an unreasonable expectation by any stretch. Except I'm struggling with this and failing miserably.

I have never continuously worked 40 hours per week in my life and although I have always considered myself to have a great work ethic, I am the type of person who gets a three hour task done in one hour. So I feel like I am accomplishing a lot and working a lot, except that when I really sit down and take a hard look at my hours, I am averaging about 15 to 20 hours a week.

While in college I was taking a full class load and working ~28 hours a week (21 at a city job and ~7 freelancing). After graduation, I kept the same job with the city, and stayed there for a year and a half after graduation until I ultimately quit because it was a miserable, horribly stressful place to work. I never had any aspirations to move up at that job and turned down several promotions because even 21 hours a week at that job was hell and I could not even stomach the idea of 40.

So since June of 2016 I have been running my business as my sole job, from my home office, with the intent of working more hours since I was actually enjoying the work. Except that hasn't happened. I had a few months where work was slow and just not available. Then I moved in with my boyfriend and lost my home office and worked from the couch for several months, which was difficult to find a rhythm and stay focused. Then a month where we were moving to a new house. Blah, blah, excuses... I thought that once I had my home office back and we were done with moving and everything, I would easily be able to get into a 40 hour routine.

But it just... hasn't happened. Boyfriend is getting increasingly agitated at me for not pulling my weight in terms of work hours/ethic, although I am pulling my weight financially. I am getting increasingly agitated at myself for failing to meet reasonable expectations and feeling like a lazy person, even though I've always considered myself a hard worker. We get up at 6:00 and I work for a bit and do stuff around the house and work some more, and feel like I've put in a good day's work, accomplished a bunch of stuff, and then at the end of the week I total up my hours and they amount to 20 or 15 or less. Then I tell myself I'll do better next week, and... the same thing happens.

I don't know if it's because I am not used to working a 40 hour week, if it's an issue with motivation, or what, but I'm beginning to feel like there is something wrong with me for having such a hard time doing something that is just a standard part of most people's everyday lives...

Possibly relevant information: I go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. I am being treated for depression with Lexapro and have a MUCH better handle on that than a year ago. I have had blood work/medical examinations done and no glaring physical conditions that are not being treated. I do truly enjoy my work but have a little trouble getting started sometimes in the morning. Once I get started I fall into a sort of groove.

The work is not consistent in nature, so some days I might have work from several different clients, and other days I might have nothing. Though lately it has been steady. I have tried to set myself a set schedule (ie work from 6:00 to 12:00, lunch, etc.) but due to the inconsistent nature of the work, this method has not been successful. I have tried to do the whole Pomodoro timer thing. That has not worked either.

Please help me identify what the issue is and/or ways to address it. For my own mental well being and for the stability of my relationship, I need to find some way to actually continuously work 40 hours a week.
posted by Malleable to Work & Money (41 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
If you are pulling your weight financially, does it really matter whether you work 40 hours or 20? There are a lot of books out there purporting to tell you how you can make a livable income on less than a full work week of time (such as the Four Hour Work Week). I think you might also be overestimating the amount of actual serious work that gets done in the average 40 hour a week office job. Very few people are working constantly through that time, but because it takes place in an office, people still think of it as "work". Think about what actual problem you have. Would you like to make more money? Would you like to grow your client base? There's no need to work more just for the sake of working more, or in order not to appear "lazy".
posted by peacheater at 7:36 PM on January 7, 2017 [74 favorites]

It might help if you could shift your focus from the actual works work to the amount of work get done. Most people who have office jobs don't actually do focused, productive work 100% of the time. Others can probably give you a better calibration of how many productive hours are typical of a 40 hour a week office job.

More importantly, if you are earning enough money and getting the work done as promised what is the problem? If you need to earn more money, make that your goal. If you aren't delivering, that is a different problem (but not what you seem to be talking about.) It sounds to me like the real issue is the idea (yours and/or you boyfriend) that you are SUPPOSED to be doing 40 hours a week of "work" whether or not that "work" time is producing anything productive. If that is the case, then you are getting caught up in a cultural expectation about what you should be doing that has nothing to do with the reality of your life. Maybe your new question is "how do I stop feeling guilty when I am able to be productive enough in 20 hours that I don't actually have to work 40 hours but I feel bad about the extra time."
posted by metahawk at 7:41 PM on January 7, 2017 [8 favorites]

It's not clear from your question if you actually have 40 hours of work a week to do. Are your clients getting annoyed that you're not completing work on time? Do you have professional ambitions you're not meeting (wish to grow your business etc)?

One thing that has helped me is being clear at the beginning of the day what work there is to do that day. And if it's a light day — not much work — then plan to do things other than sitting at home in the office. Make sure your time is filled, whether it's work or not. The sitting around kills momentum for me.
posted by wemayfreeze at 7:45 PM on January 7, 2017 [3 favorites]

Part of the issue is that people who say they're 'working' 40 hours a week are including coffee breaks and shooting the breeze with people in the office and staring off into space during meetings that they only have to kind of pay attention for.

If you are pulling your financial weight you have nothing to be ashamed of. Believe me, there is nothing wrong with you. There are a ton of people out there exaggerating their work ethic or making tasks take longer than they really need to to fill out those 40 hours.

Are you really counting all the little things you do to support your business as 'work'? Sitting down with a coffee and getting focused for the day? Reaching out to clients and building your presence through social media? If all you're counting is the super intellectually intensive, nose to the grindstone, focused stuff as work, and stop the clock the minute your mind starts wandering, 20 hours a week is pretty solid. It's the most I've seen all but the most dedicated people manage. Everyone else is filling a lot of that 40 hours with more 'fluffy' stuff. If there's anything more social you can do that helps your business, maybe spend some of those hours you want to have as 'working' on that? Because for me, at least, doing the work of building professional relationships and just chatting about what I do is both relaxing and on some level way more useful than trying to squeeze that much more 'hard work' out in a day.
posted by Zalzidrax at 7:47 PM on January 7, 2017 [49 favorites]

More about realistic productivity numbers:
An unattributed research study, cited in an article at INC said "research that suggests that in an 8-hour day, the average worker is only productive for 2 hours and 53 minutes."

Entrepreneur magazine says "Employees say that they only spend 45 percent of their time at work actually completing their primary job duties, according to a survey of 2,000 office workers conducted by management software developer AtTask and market research firm Harris Interactive."
posted by metahawk at 7:55 PM on January 7, 2017 [9 favorites]

Why is you not working 40 hours a week a relationship problem?
posted by lazuli at 7:55 PM on January 7, 2017 [51 favorites]

Boyfriend is getting increasingly agitated at me for not pulling my weight in terms of work hours/ethic, although I am pulling my weight financially.

This seems like a separate issue that you both need to work on. If you're holding up your end of the finances, why does he expect you to put more hours into working? Is he resentful because he has an office job?
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 7:58 PM on January 7, 2017 [30 favorites]

Part of the issue is that people who say they're 'working' 40 hours a week are including coffee breaks and shooting the breeze with people in the office and staring off into space during meetings that they only have to kind of pay attention for.

Seriously. I don't think I know anyone who actually works 40 hours a week (and I'm a people manager, so I have pretty good visibility into a lot of peoples' work habits). I don't believe that's a reasonable expectation.
posted by primethyme at 7:59 PM on January 7, 2017 [4 favorites]

due to the inconsistent nature of the work, this method has not been successful

As for this: if you can set up some "office hours" (though 6-12:00 is a pretty long stretch) and the problem is that some days aren't filled, perhaps there are work-related tasks you can do that will fill the hours when work isn't coming at you from outside. For instance: filing, office organization, networking, marketing yourself to new clients, writing a professional blog, reading professional blogs, learning a new skill via an online MOOC, etc. That way you can keep your hours consistent and still be "working" even if your hours aren't all billable.
posted by Miko at 8:01 PM on January 7, 2017 [6 favorites]

The issue with your boyfriend jumped out at me too, but seeing as that has been addressed..
I also wanted to note that by not stretching yourself too thin you're doing the smart thing. If you went out Monday morning and lined up 20 new clients and had every one of the next 40 hours scheduled then you'd have no slack to handle unexpected client issues, personal emergencies, new opportunities that you'd rather pursue, or unexpectedly large projects. It's really easy to get overwhelmed and then you start letting your clients down & start to get a bad reputation. Having slack & being known for being reliable are really good things. Your boyfriend needs to chill.

That being said if you have trouble getting started in the morning you might try looking into finding another place to work, like going to a coffee shop, the library or a coworking space.
posted by bleep at 8:19 PM on January 7, 2017 [4 favorites]

Do you bill by the hour or by the project? I would bill by the project and focus on the amount of income you need. And when he next complains about you not working 40 hours, you can simply reply, "Yeah, sucks to be you, huh?"
posted by wwartorff at 8:37 PM on January 7, 2017 [3 favorites]

About twenty years ago, we were told that with developing technology, we would be more productive than ever before, and the world would simply slow down enough to have more leisure time than work time. To be honest, this ended up being a damnable lie, and we are now simply expected to do more over the same amount of time. So, I think you are calling the world out on the carpet by 1) working the amount of hours that the entire world thought would be awesome about 20 years ago, and 2) finding a way to be super efficient with the resources that you have to provide for yourself in a lesser amount of time.

In other words, you are the envy of many people in the world (assuming you are still providing for your material needs). This takes a lot of skill and good fortune, I think. Push-back you receive may be about a distorted notion that we are supposed to be trading significant amounts of our time for other types of goods and services other people value, because that's "just the way the world works." Bah humbug, I say. Even now, as I work at a job I really like, it feels asinine to spend so much time in an office, compared to how quickly we have to move through life on everything else to get kids to school, homework done, in bed with enough sleep time, and little time for many hobbies. My feeling is that you've found the ideal groove. That's why it feels good to you. I think you intuitively sense your inner balance between the two extremes of being and doing. It feels surprising, though, when people push back with the unreasonable expectations of the entire world, which seems too often to value doing first.
posted by SpacemanStix at 8:39 PM on January 7, 2017 [20 favorites]

Working where you bill by the hour can be difficult if you're doing an hourly rate as opposed to a project price. If you are super efficient, you actually need to up your rate to keep the same profitability. Do you have your financial ducks in a row? Do you know how much income you need to make to meet your needs and obligations? Are you building up a rainy day fund? Do you use some of the work day to market yourself, network, stay organized, forecast, etc.? If so, you're doing right by you and your business. Have monthly metrics you need to meet for your finances, when you meet them, feel great! Who cares how many hours it took?

Secondarily, I don't understand why your boyfriend is watching your clock. It's really none of his business and if I were you, I'd slide out from under that starting tomorrow. Demur, deflect, and move the conversation along. Have a separate business account. Have a set "paycheck" every month with any extra rolling over to the next month. That way it doesn't matter how many hours you worked or billed. He needs to keep his eyes on his own work.
posted by amanda at 8:51 PM on January 7, 2017 [15 favorites]

Nthing that boyfriend's attitude seems weird and aggressive... If you feel like concentration is an issue, maybe do try doing some work out of the house in a coffee shop or shared workspace type place to help separate work and home life. I've also heard that getting up at the same time like you do, properly dressed etc is helpful in treating it seriously. Try to ceate some work routines that work with your changing schedule. A lot people would be jealous of your work situation, I say good for you!
posted by faustian slip at 9:12 PM on January 7, 2017

Problem seems to be with the boyfriends attitude not your work hours. I'm assuming you are pulling your weight financially from what you've said, and if you are also pulling your weight around the house etc, it sounds more like sour grapes to me than anything else. He should be happy for you.

I have noticed since moving to the USA that most businesses over here seem big on the appearance of being busy as opposed to actually being busy, maybe some of that attitude has rubbed off on your bf.

Part of me thinks there is no need for him to have any information about the hours you work or how much you make if he's not able to handle that information like an adult and part of my sympathizes, though he expressed his feelings in a terribly controlling way which isn't healthy, it must be hard to have to work 40 hours a week when your partner doesn't have to, but again the problem is with him not you.
posted by wwax at 9:36 PM on January 7, 2017 [3 favorites]

Boyfriend is getting increasingly agitated at me for not pulling my weight in terms of work hours/ethic, although I am pulling my weight financially. I am getting increasingly agitated at myself for failing to meet reasonable expectations and feeling like a lazy person, even though I've always considered myself a hard worker.

Nthing that it sounds like the boyfriend has unreasonable expectations and you are internalizing them. If you're able to pull your financial weight, there is no reason he should be resentful because you have an "easier" job. Why mess with what is already working? You work 20 hours a week and make enough money doing so. That's the dream, not a Problem to be Fixed.
posted by corb at 9:55 PM on January 7, 2017 [4 favorites]

Boyfriend is getting increasingly agitated at me for not pulling my weight in terms of work hours/ethic

If you're paying your share of the bills, what's it to him? Running your own business has a lot of small moving parts that aren't logged in just 'billable hours'.

I'm a freelancer, and my billable working time is considerably less than the amount of time I spend securing new clients, doing accounting, promoting my business, researching, etc etc etc.

I used to work a 40 hour a week office job in a similar field. I did, I swear, 2 hours of actual work a day, and my bosses thought I was a rockstar. This is apparently fairly common. It's not the time spent, it's the output.
posted by ananci at 10:49 PM on January 7, 2017 [4 favorites]

In no uncertain terms: unless I am misunderstanding something, your boyfriend's position on this seems extremely creepy, and is not normal. Can you imagine criticizing him for the length of his coffee breaks at work, or how much time he is mindlessly staring at his computer, or chatting with people, or pretending to work, etc? It is straight-up emotionally abusive in my book. I don't know what other behaviors he has exhibited that makes this seem like your problem rather than his, but reverse the situation and see how that sounds to your ear. I'm willing to bet it doesn't sound right.

Number of hours worked is beyond laughable as a rubric of any kind. Unless your work is something worthy for society, or you love it passionately, the sane perspective is to work as few hours as possible to achieve whatever financial goals are important to you. I'm totally shocked that anyone could suggest otherwise, let alone your own boyfriend, for whom this is literally none of his business, and trying to make it his business is way beyond the pale of controlling behavior.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 11:09 PM on January 7, 2017 [8 favorites]

I think that work patterns are an area where it is interesting to compare humans with other animals. "Work" for us is most closely aligned to what we call "foraging" in nature. Forces of evolution have tuned this to become "optimal foraging" - how to get the most energy with the least effort. Some animals have a high metabolic rate and a small body size. They are the ones that have to spend long hours looking for food. Bees are the archetypal example: in foraging terms, they are "grazers" and if there is reasonable weather and daylight then they will be out there looking for pollen. There are parasitic animals that go to elaborate lengths to gain a position with a host - but who must then comply with the habits of the host so as to stay there (resisting any temptation to compare with being an employee here). Then there are predators - especially cold blooded ones such as crocodiles: they can go weeks or months without a meal. For all foragers, success is discontinuous, and for all of them, the context of working for a set number of hours in a day, would be ridiculous. Why should this be different for humans?

Successful freelancers match much more closely with crocodiles than with bees: they learn to position themselves in the right location for when a juicy bit of work comes along - then they grab it and deal with it as quickly as possible. They minimise their expenditure to give them time to endure lean times. They synchronise their periods of vigilance for the points in the day, the season or the year when prey is likely to appear - if (and only if) there is a clear pattern. They are absolutely not "busy". Nor should you be.
posted by rongorongo at 12:53 AM on January 8, 2017 [5 favorites]

Just wanted to chime in here with my personal anecdata- I work a salaried "9-5" professional job exclusively from home. It takes me a fraction of the time to complete my assignments than it does for my coworkers at headquarters. I maybe actually work about 20 hours a week, including client management, internal improvements, running billing/time sheets, etc. working from home is a whole different experience than going into an office. I rarely get dragged to meetings that I don't absolutely have to be part of. No one really talks to me unless they actually need something from me specifically. I am one of the most productive team members in my company (I pulled the metrics and I do about 1.5x the work of my headquartered colleagues). I'm not a harder worker or more efficient at completing tasks - it's just so much easier for me to concentrate without distraction.

I spend the rest of the time doing Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) like dishes, laundry, vacuuming, and childcare. My husband is not jealous or upset that I'm not putting in 40 hours of work, as i am using my time constructively otherwise.

Does boyfriend think you should be making more money than you do? Does he think if you worked/billed 40 hours a week both of your quality of life would improve?

Do you work the 20hours a week and then not contribute to ADLs? There are definitely some underlying assumptions that boyfriend has about work that are not addressed as part of your question.

Good luck!
posted by Suffocating Kitty at 2:35 AM on January 8, 2017 [5 favorites]

You've not mentioned housework, but it's a thing that people spend time on, and that most people agree needs to be done.
If you don't do more housework than he does, I'll eat my hat. What happens if you count those hours, too? I'd try that and take a look.
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:46 AM on January 8, 2017 [3 favorites]

Does your boyfriend work a regular office job? It sounds to me that he's jealous and bitter that you are meeting your financial goals in less hours and thus have more free time. I think you've made an awesome situation for yourself, something many people aspire to. You can do whatever you want with your life now. You can do stuff 40 hours a week, but it really doesn't have to be work. Would you like to volunteer or do more exercise or take up a hobby?

I work full time and have a long commute and I guess if I had a partner who was doing half those hours I would be jealous too. But I hope I'd be honest enough with myself that's what I was doing. Your partner needs to look at his motivations for being agitated about this.
posted by kitten magic at 3:15 AM on January 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

I ran my own business for almost a decade. 15 hours of billable work per week was pretty standard for me. 20 was a very full week after I had taken care of all the administrative work that goes with running a business, looking for new work, talking to past clients, keeping in touch with others in my field, doing some online learning so I would STAY one of the most knowledgeable in my field, etc.

Are you doing things like that? If so, keep track of them all over a week. I had two ways of dealing with clients. One was to double my number of hours silently, and charge a "reasonable" rate, and the other was to charge a very high rate, and bill hours honestly. I started doing this after tracking all my working hours in a week, and realizing just how few were billable if I wanted to be honest with myself. Essentially I would bill by the job, but many clients insisted on "hourly" and then weren't willing to pay the hourly rate that implied.
posted by DaveP at 4:26 AM on January 8, 2017 [3 favorites]

Both you (probably to a lesser extent) and your boyfriend (probably to a much greater extent) may need to come to grips with the extremely different paradigm that exists for people involved in running their own businesses. Usually with a job at a conventional business, you come in to work at a given time, stay a given number of hours, and then go home. There may or may not be actual work for you to do, but your employer pays you regardless, or maybe arranges for you to take some time off unpaid.

When you're working for yourself, there isn't necessarily a magic bucket of hours you can use to go and pull a specific number of hours worth of workload from. There may not be even 20 hours of billable work, or there might be 60+ hours that only exist if you are able to complete the work this week. There are also all the other aspects of running a business. Advertising, making customer contacts, handling the administration, etc., which no one is going to pay you for, even though these would count as "work" if you were working out of the house at an office job.

Understanding this may be a little hard for people who have had "work ethic" drummed into them for years, and/or equate "work ethic" with punching a clock for 40 hours a week.

So, this might or might not help you, but consider these two angles:

1) If you were a wealthy heiress and you brought to your relationship a trust fund that provided you a comfortable but not lavish allowance that covered your share of your living expenses, this would allow you to never earn a dime, but still take care of your financial responsibilities. Do the remainder of your daily activities sufficiently cover your other obligations within the relationship (your share of housekeeping, etc)? If your answer is yes, in my opinion, that's great. In this case, why would you be obligated to work ANY number of hours? That's a question you might need to struggle with. No particular answer is necessarily correct, but see if you can examine the question through the lenses of more than one answer.

2) Because this seems like a mindset thing, have you considered filling some remaining hours with other activities, especially ones outside the house? Do some volunteer work. Find something that you're not necessarily obligated to do, that you can use to fill in some of the hours you might have available during slow times. Read to kids at the library. Pick up trash along the road. Help out at a homeless shelter. Anyone can do those things, and it provides a change of pace. Maybe you prefer to do what you do best, so, whatever your field of expertise is, find some organization that would benefit but can't afford to pay, and do your thing. When you volunteer, you can feel like you're making a contribution to society, and is easy to use to show yourself that you're not "lazy" or have no "work ethic."

These are intended as questions you can ask yourself that are a precursor to identifying what you believe "work ethic" means, and what role it should play. Plus, the volunteering thing is also a great suggestion to improve your sense of accomplishment.

Once you've reached the point of sustaining yourself successfully, there's a huge gulf between that level and between the point of hitting maximum possible productivity. No one can really hit that level of maximum possible productivity, and only you can really answer whether it is necessary or desirable to try to get closer to that goal. Attempting to do so may decrease the quality of life, so failing to move the bar towards maximum possible productivity isn't necessarily a bad thing. Personal choice.

Your boyfriend may not be interested in understanding any of this, and may simply be jealous or annoyed that you're able to enjoy the pleasures of working from home. That can be a trickier problem to solve. For example, someone who has lived their entire life in a family of blue collar workers where everyone worked 40 hours a week just to get by may tend to have some strong preconceptions about this, and may have a rough time dealing with your situation. This can be harder to cope with if you don't fully understand your situation yourself.

Whatever happens, you do need to sort this out. Sooner or later, almost everyone who is self-employed runs up against lean times, and understanding the difference between "lean" and "lazy" is extremely important when that hits.
posted by jgreco at 6:05 AM on January 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

There's a book called "The Now Habit" about work and procrastination that points out that 3 hours of good solid work in a day is actually a huge accomplishment in an office setting, once you subtract unproductive meetings, noodling around on email, getting coffee, talking to colleagues, etc. It may be worth reading (count it as professional development, and hence work!).
posted by heatherlogan at 6:32 AM on January 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

It may feel counterproductive now that you've just got your home office back, but I'd consider spending a week at a coworking space and see how that feels. That may help you recognize the "non work" part of your workday. Are you spending 5 hours a day playing solitaire? No? Then you're probably working on billing, proposals, updating your skills, marketing, and many other things that actually are work.

Try it for a week or two, see if your actual billing hours go way up, then recalibrate: is that how you want your work life to look? Is it sustainable? Are you happy? If so, great, stick with it. If not, go back to how you're doing it now, and feel happy with that.

But to answer your actual question, I've seen a lot of solopreneurs get comfortable with their schedules when they create a "model calendar." Basically, create a brand new google calendar (or software of choice), and map out your ideal life schedule. It's frequently recommended to put "life" stuff in first-- meditate 5:30am, exercise 6-7am, breakfast and paper and shower 7-9am, and exercise class MWF 7pm. Then fill in billable work 9-12, long walk 12-1, marketing 2-3:30, emails 3:30-4:30, daily recap and planning 4:30-5pm, etc. Except, you know, whatever schedule works for you-- and it will likely be different on different days of the week. Like, you might do marketing and client proposals every T/Th morning. This can help you get into a rhythm with work and help smooth out the rough spots so it's not all "OMG DEADLINE TONIGHT."
posted by instamatic at 7:06 AM on January 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

Imagine reversing this, and getting frustrated with your boyfriend because he's spending so much time working (instead of with you), and continually nagging at him to get a less time consuming job that still enabled him to pay the bills.

He'd probably find that unfair or unreasonable, right? Well, nothing makes that paradigm less reasonable than the one he's expecting you to adhere to. Don't let him decide how you should be managing your life, and don't let him imply that you're screwing up somehow because you earn money more efficiently than him.
posted by metasarah at 7:30 AM on January 8, 2017 [5 favorites]

I've read your question again and I still can't figure out what the problem is that needs to be solved. If you aren't using a time-tracker to track your hours, add that in. There are some free ones out there, the kind that let you start a timer, make a note and assign that time to a project are what you should be looking for. There's some apps for your phone that do this as well. Commit to tracking your time diligently for one week then review. Then commit to doing it for one more week and try to make it a habit. I have a project that is assigned to my business. It has three unbillable categories: admin & overhead, new business/business development, marketing. Everyday when I sit down to work, the first thing I do is start my timer under my project for "admin & overhead." I note in the logger something like: "email, to-do list, calendar, planning." The timer is going! This does a few things: triggers that I am "at work" in my mind, reminds me that I have things to do, encourages me to get focused, encourages me to get working on billable things because I want to turn that timer off and get a new timer going on work that makes me money. I have a pre-set folder of bookmarks in Chrome called "Work Day Tabs" that I launch all at once: these contain my email, my calendars, my timetracker and my task tracker. You can layer on Pomodoro techniques or whatever to get focused but I urge you to keep your "unbillable" timer at the ready for when you switch to things that you shouldn't explicitly bill for.

I want to know at the end of the week, quarter, whatever how much "butt in seat" time I'm putting in relative to my profitability. Ideally, for me, I'd rather see that I didn't do a "butt in seat" at 40 hours for a small amount of billable hours. Because part of being a good freelancer/solo entrepreneur is managing your downtime effectively, too, not just be "on the clock" for the heck of it. Do the work, do the planning, get off the clock and do the work of daily living (there's more than enough to do there, too).
posted by amanda at 8:45 AM on January 8, 2017

I'm a bit of a "sprinter" in my work productivity as well--I can crank out a lot more product in the same amount of time than most people, but the flip side of that is that I seriously cannot maintain that kind of output for 8 hours a day on more than an occasional basis. So give yourself some slack in that regard--it sounds like you've got a rough idea of what typical productivity is in your field, and if you're handling a pretty typical amount per week as other full-time freelancers then that's a good starting point.

As far as your boyfriend's concerns, I'll make a few observations to shift your thinking away from "must work more hours" and toward figuring out a work/life/money balance that both you and your BF are happy with. hinging on the idea of "pulling your weight financially." First, what does that even mean to you and do you and your BF agree on what it means? Does it mean you're earning the same amount? That you're earning enough to pay half of your joint costs and all your personal bills? Does it include being able to save for retirement, vacations, cars etc? Are you guys renting and looking to buy? Thoughts about marriage/children? Does it include plans for income growth over the years so you can afford a cushier lifestyle in a decade or two? Part of your problem may be that you and your BF don't share the same understanding of what it means to make an equitable financial contribution to the household. You may be thinking it's a flat dollar amount, and he may be thinking more along the lines of "from each according to his abilities"

The corollary to this is whether your BF's beef is more with a perceived imbalance in work/life balance. If your work habits leave you with significantly more discretionary time during the course of the week, that can be a major (and IMHO legitimate) source of resentment. So that's another thing to have an honest and open-minded discussion with him on. What is the thing he is REALLY missing in the current arrangement? Is it really that he wants you to be contributing more money (and if so, is it for reasons that you have both agreed on?) or is he feeling short-changed in the leisure department and if so are there things that you can do to allow him to achieve that, that don't necessarily involve you spending more hours with a furrowed brow in front of the computer making brain-widgets?
Which leads me to a couple of practical tips: if you can get yourself in the habit of taking a break from productive paid work by doing productive unpaid work or even "productive leisure" (like practicing an instrument or exercising) it will make you feel better about yourself and your contribution to your home and environment, and it may also make returning to productive paid work after your break seem more enticing.

And for what it's worth setting up your typical schedule so you put in an hour of paid work in the evening and a few hours on the weekend is a slightly sneaky way to make your partner think you're working your tail off.
posted by drlith at 9:33 AM on January 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

I have noticed since moving to the USA that most businesses over here seem big on the appearance of being busy as opposed to actually being busy, maybe some of that attitude has rubbed off on your bf.

Oh yeah. I used to teach in a community college system that mandated that professors be on campus working at least 30 hours a week, with the understanding that the final 10 hours would happen at home, doing grading and the like. So, after counting up in-class time and office hours, most people ended up with anywhere from 5-10 hours of dead time where we had to be on campus and ostensibly had to be working, but there was no real task to do.

It was toooorture. At first I spent a lot of those "open hours" lesson planning and grading homework, but once I had taught each class a few times, I didn't even have that to do. Plus, the textbook website did most of the grading for me; I just had to enter the numbers into the gradebook. It was really only useful twice a year: during midterms and during finals. Other than that, I NEVER worked the full 30 on campus, and certainly not 10 hours a week at home. I spent a lot of time on Metafilter when I was at work . . .
posted by chainsofreedom at 10:47 AM on January 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

Thank you all for your input. Jgreco hit it on the head. I think my boyfriend has some strong preconceptions that unless you're working 40+ hours a week, you're not a hard worker. To add onto that, he doesn't really understand the whole working from home thing and isn't interested in understanding it.

So I'm trying to up my working hours because, well, I wouldn't mind the extra money. I can cover all of my own bills and my portion of the rent, but I wouldn't mind having a little extra to put away for savings. If that gives me a little extra money and helps smooth things over in the relationship, I don't see a downside.

I also love the idea of building in other more social or "fluffy" things into those hours. Like counting the time I'm sitting down with my coffee and browsing for blogs related to my job. I was counting those as personal browsing time, but I can see how that would be something done at work in a standard office job. So I think expanding my concept of "working hours" is a great solution to this.

I understand that this whole dynamic with my boyfriend is a little weird but he's pretty old fashioned and stubborn and, well, that's just how he is. I admit that I probably have given him too much of a look into my daily work life and now he's up my ass about it all the time, so I will bring that to a stop.
posted by Malleable at 11:19 AM on January 8, 2017

I admit that I probably have given him too much of a look into my daily work life and now he's up my ass about it all the time, so I will bring that to a stop.

You might be being too malleable, Malleable. :) As far as you've said here, he's not your boss so please don't let him act like the de-facto boss for you. That would, in fact, be bad for your business especially if he "doesn't really understand the whole working from home thing and isn't interested in understanding it." You're just letting some standard mansplainer stuff take over your business and I can't see how that would help you with your business goals. Is it possible for you to just "work more hours" and make more money? If you are in a fee-for-services business you can either increase your hourly rate or find more clients. If you feel like you want to make X% increase in profits then make sure that you actually do the work to create a framework for that metric so you know what you've been making, what your exact "take-home" is and what your weekly/monthly/quarterly goals are so you know you're making progress. Do not just turn over all your income to the shared pot and then let it get frittered away because you'll never know if you're making progress or have met your goals.

Good luck!
posted by amanda at 11:34 AM on January 8, 2017 [6 favorites]

Boyfriend is getting increasingly agitated at me for not pulling my weight in terms of work hours/ethic, although I am pulling my weight financially.

Then this is his problem, not yours.
posted by MexicanYenta at 12:41 PM on January 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

I understand that this whole dynamic with my boyfriend is a little weird but he's pretty old fashioned and stubborn and, well, that's just how he is.

I would like to say "ugh, don't put up with that BS", but that's probably not helpful. Instead I'll say that I used to have this very same discussion with my mum, and I have been able to convince her that not wasting your whole life on work is a perfectly reasonable choice (like you, I have less - but enough - income than if I'd work more). So maybe he'll come round, too? He may be somewhat jealous, even if he won't openly admit it.
posted by ClarissaWAM at 12:50 PM on January 8, 2017

Is this the same guy who was trying to get you to move to a really isolated town, far away from your family, after you'd only known each other a few months? While you're working from home and not getting out to meet anyone, on top of it? And now he's trying to control that, too?

If so, he is sending up so, so many red flags. I am concerned for you. I don't know if you ended up making the move but the fact that he tried combined with this question makes him not seem like a very great guy at all.
posted by Jubey at 1:40 PM on January 8, 2017 [8 favorites]

Sheesh, find a partner who values your happiness first, not your efficiency as a cog in the capitalist machine. His complaint reads as pretty nutty to me. If his issue really is that his loved one isn't "working hard enough" in an abstract sense, not because y'all need more money, but because of some unexamined pathological idea that "people should work hard", then this guy a) hasn't really figured out how to care about you and b) has a twisted outlook on life.

You only get one freaking life, why waste it worrying about how hard you're grinding your nose on the hamster wheel? And why waste it with someone who thinks that is the ultimate goal? If my loved one found a way to bring the same paycheck for half the work, I would throw a party for them! I mean, sure, I might be a bit jealous, and I might want to discuss them taking on a somewhat larger-than-50% share of the housework, but I'd like to think I'm grown-up enough to not do...what your boyfriend is doing.

Another thought: this could also be a ridiculous man-boy pride issue; maybe he's upset that you can bring in the same amount of bacon with less than half the work day he puts in. You know, the "man of the house" nonsense, and all.

Also don't forget that if your boyfriend works in an office-like environment, he isn't spending close to 100% of his workday on productive work! There's more than one way to add up your hours; try purposefully checking your five favorite websites between each mini-task of the day, and see how many hours you "work" in a day.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 4:57 PM on January 8, 2017

Not to pile on, but your boyfriend isn't being reasonable and instead of dismissing this as just a quirk, please consider that this is a red flag. Obviously Internet strangers don't know the whole story about any relationship but I read your question and whispered "what the fuck?" because I would be THRILLED if my girlfriend was able to make a living and didn't have to arbitrarily hit a certain amount of hours a week. And on the flipside, I'm self employed and my girlfriend is interested in learning more about that world and supporting me. She's happy that I have flexibility and supportive when I work long hours when big projects come in. You shouldn't be doing more housework just because you have more free time. That free time is yours. You're productive and you get the work done that you need to do, period. You earned that free time and you deserve a partner who appreciates that! You do not need to do extra labor around the house to justify your success.

I've been self employed for around five years now and while I do need to bill around 40 hours a week to be financially sound, I embrace the flexibility of working from home and say to all the suggestions to force yourself to work a certain schedule or go to a coworking space or whatever to be really silly. Don't make your life closer to a standard office worker's because for most of us that life is miserable. Fuck anyone who thinks you need to dress up in business clothes and go into your office at 7am if you'd prefer to work from the couch in loungewear to start the day. Self employed people have perks but we also have far more responsibility and risks than employees: taxes, bookkeeping, health insurance, retirement, equipment, needing a home office, saving for slow times, saving for sick days and vacation days. We don't have guarantees and we often don't have a good support system, especially when people don't seem to understand what being self employed entails. These cons take a toll and if you don't allow yourself to enjoy the benefits of being self employed there is no point. Don't force yourself to sit in traffic and pay for coffee and meals out if you want to work at home. Don't force yourself to work 9–5 to make your boyfriend or friends feel better about their life choices. It might help to point this out to your boyfriend if he doesn't realize that being successfully self employed means being a one person show—CEO, CFO, creative director, all of it—and that takes emotional energy even when you're not "working".

I hear you that you wouldn't mind making more money but figure out what works for you, not your boyfriend. I prefer to take a few half days and finish work on Sunday night and no one gets to say boo to me about that because that's when I'm most productive. I can get a lot done working in bed and who cares (except my back if I'm not careful)? Maybe the reason you're not working more hours is because of subconscious resentment that you're not making the choice to do that, your boyfriend is. Listen to your gut on this. Clarify to yourself what your priorities are for your life and work only the hours that you need to reach those goals. Maybe it's only five extra hours a month or maybe it's taking on extra work once month out of the year and working your ass off so you have money in the bank for a rainy day.

Also, don't forget that office workers often do things like go the doctor/dentist/vet/therapist's office during their day. It's okay for you to do that! I saw a nutritionist over Skype for six months in the afternoon and it was life changing, embrace that you can do that sort of thing without needing to ask permission from anyone. :)

In closing, you are amazing for being successful in such a way that allows you to have free time. You should be proud of yourself. I honestly have nothing but admiration for you and hope that you refuse to accept anything but the same from people in your life.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 6:04 PM on January 8, 2017 [3 favorites]

I am your boyfriend. Well, not literally, but. I work a full-time job, my spouse is a contractor who works from home. When he started as a contractor, I felt a mixture of fear and jealousy (which is a weird combination, showing that the problems were mostly on my end)

I think it comes down to perception of fairness. there's a lot of "fair".

hours worked are the same, even if pay is different
pay is the same, even if hours worked are different
total contribution to household funds is the same, even if % of takehome pay is different
% contribution is the same
# of chores done is the same, even if he works 8 hours and you work 4
# hours worked is the same, even if he does 0 chores and you do 4 hours of them

Personally, and I hate this about me, I can have it all set up so things are perfectly fair on one spectrum.... and then get all bent out of shape that the system I created makes it unfair to me on a different spectrum. If your boyfriend is like this, he needs to work that out for himself.

Useful thoughts:

If you were single, would you work more hours? I ask myself that a lot to deduce weather the issue is really something my husband is doing, or something I'm creating in my head. Might be useful for him to start asking himself that, too.

I also recommend YNAB. Set some savings goals. Contribute your income to those goals every month. When you can see where your money goes, an extra 5 hours of work per week gets a lot easier.
posted by rebent at 6:14 PM on January 8, 2017 [4 favorites]

I appreciate the concerns of those of you saying this is red flag territory, however I just want to clarify that I don't feel my boyfriend is being controlling. This is just something that has come up in our talks when we have discussed concerns in our relationship, and this was one of his concerns. I probably don't put in my fair share of housework, leading him to think that since I work less than 40 hours and there are still chores to be done when he gets home, what the heck am I doing all day? We both believe and understand that the choice to work more must be mine, and for my own improvement, not because of him. Please trust me when I say that we have a loving, caring relationship and that if I felt he were trying to control me or were being abusive, I would leave.

Thank you to those who have provided advice. I will definitely be implementing some of your suggestions, including setting savings goals, talking about each of our definitions of fairness, and taking a closer look at what I have been counting as "working hours".
posted by Malleable at 6:59 PM on January 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

since I work less than 40 hours and there are still chores to be done when he gets home, what the heck am I doing all day?

That's possible to tackle. Just because you're not actively working doesn't mean your time is available for chores or that you become the de facto housekeeper as your unpaid 2nd job - any more than any hours he spends not working are available for chore assignments. Assuming your chores arrangement is equitable, and your finances are equitable, there shouldn't be much to complain about. If there are issues about that equitability, then you can sit down and hash those out for what they are, without confusing them with your work-hours log.
posted by Miko at 8:06 PM on January 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

Agreed that you should expand your definition of working hours. I work from home, and have three overall buckets I've defined for myself during the day, and I use a time tracking program (Harvest) to keep track of it all . My categories are Marketing, Client Work and General. Client Work is self explanatory (and I keep track of time spent on each client project, which includes drive time to client meetings). "Marketing" is any time I spend trying to bring work in, such as making calls or sending emails to prospects, attending networking meetings, writing blog posts, being active on my professional Twitter account, writing bids, etc. And General is stuff like putting together my morning to-do list, sorting through all my emails, finances (taxes, invoicing, budgeting), reading industry blogs, ordering office supplies, whatever.

I use an Excel sheet to see how I did every week and aim to have a certain amount of hours spent working overall and a certain percentage on Client Work + Marketing. Basically, if I don't have enough billable work to fill my time, I try to spend that extra time on Marketing my services which will eventually bear fruit as increased Client Work down the road.

Basically, set some quantifiable goals for yourself, and develop a system see if you're meeting them.
posted by Leontine at 8:51 PM on January 8, 2017 [3 favorites]

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