Days Off: Threat Or Menace?

Self-employed people work a lot of hours. No, really, I mean a LOT of hours. This is my sixth year as a self-employed person and I can fit the total number of days on which I have done no work in those years into the number of vacation days allotted to the average professional my age EVERY YEAR, and that’s before you figure in holidays or, y’know, weekends. An average work-week for me contains between 60 and 100 working hours.

We work a lot, is what I’m saying.

Now, this isn’t a complaint. I love what I do and would never ever want to do anything else, vacation time notwithstanding. In fact, that’s sort of the problem; I’ve forgotten how to do anything else, and in the last few months I have gradually come to the realization that I may be becoming just a little bit one-dimensional, as a person. I am, not to put too fine a point on it, obsessed with my work, and can pretty much not talk about anything else, most days. I try to remember not to talk about it TOO much to other folks, because I know perfectly well no one else is as obsessed with it as I am, but then I just don’t talk, because there’s just not much else in here.

This isn’t surprising; it’s what I spend all my time doing and thinking about and planning for, and that’s what people tend to talk about: The things they spend all their time thinking about. It’s why new parents talk about their babies (well, also, babies are pretty neat in their own right), and why egomaniacs talk about themselves.

…wait. I’ve just spent 250+ words talking about myself, haven’t I. Oops. Right. Let’s move on from that before I have to have another uncomfortable personal revelation; I think one of those a month is about all I can cope with.

This year my husband and I are embarking upon a strategy to try to re-learn how to take time off, by scheduling a single day of mandatory down time every two weeks, whether we want it or not. This is less trivially easy than it might seem – since work is what we have spent virtually all of our waking hours doing for years on end, we’re not exactly awash in hobbies or projects clamoring to fill up down time, because those were mostly phased out years ago. And that’s before you get to the guilt, because it’s not like the work isn’t still there. Waiting. (This is an irrational guilt, by the way; it has been demonstrated to the satisfaction of my rational self that taking a modest amount time off actually means you get MORE done, not less, even though you have less time to do it in. But guilt is rarely a feeling amenable to being talked away by logic.)

We had the first of these days yesterday, and we were both utterly miserable for the entire day. I was jumpy and anxious and couldn’t concentrate on the book I was trying to read, and Alistair was cranky and grumpy. Our dogs, whose primary role on our business team is as morale officers, were kept busy all day running from one of us to the other, trying to figure out what was wrong and how they could fix it.

So, the initial implementation of this plan was not an unmitigated success, to say the least.

Still, we have learned some things, and while we are both VERY glad that the next Mandatory Day Off is a couple of weeks away still, I hold out hope that we will get the knack of taking time off before we drive ourselves or each other entirely insane with failed attempts to do so. I know that there will be some times when we have a lot of trouble justifying taking one day off out of every 14, but I’m hoping we don’t talk ourselves into cheating very often, because that’s a slippery slope right back into working 360+ days per year and spending the rest twitchy and guilt-ridden for daring to do anything else.

In an attempt to reinforce my efforts to break out of my one-dimensional habits, I’m intending to put an occasional bit of personal-life stuff on here scattered amongst the soap and such, to remind me that not only is it OK to have some bits of life outside of work, I don’t even need to pretend not to. Perhaps with time I will get used to the idea that working only 340ish days per year is not going to turn me into a lazy slacker who never gets anything done! (Really, most people would consider working even 300 days per year to be serious workaholism, but let’s take this one step at a time.)

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About Amy Young

Founder of Foam on the Range soaps. View all posts by Amy Young

3 responses to “Days Off: Threat Or Menace?

  • Nachoaveragemom

    My parents are self employed and went through this same thing. I can assure you that, with practice, you can get very VERY VERY good at taking time off and filling it with non-work things and suddenly 1 day every 2 weeks sure won’t feel like enough. You definitely deserve time off.

    One of the most helpful things we ever did with their business was look at where time was spent and where money was made. Once we really looked at that with honesty and accountability we were able to cut out some parts of the business that were very time consuming but were not generating the amount of income to justify the time. Additionally, a very time consuming tedious (but not difficult) portion of the business that we all hated doing (40+ hours of online research a month) was able to be handed off to someone who could be paid essentially minimum wage. That freed up time to focus on making other parts of the business more efficient or doing other revenue-generating things that my parents liked better anyway (but couldn’t be done by just anyone).

    For me personally, I imagine this went pretty much like the first time we got a babysitter after having 3 kids in under 4 years (we were very isolated and rarely left the house). My husband and I went grocery shopping, thought about going out to eat but decided we’d rather eat at home, and then said “What do people DO nowadays?” as we drove home after less than two hours out.

    • Amy Young

      My dad was self-employed when I was a kid, and my mom’s father was self-employed most of his life – so I certainly can’t say I didn’t know what I was getting in to. Also, I’m pretty sure that the 100% tunnel-vision dedication was a useful thing in the first years of getting the business up and running, but it has served its purpose now, and I need to back off a bit. I know perfectly well that I deserve (and need!) time off, and am the first one to tell OTHER people that. I’m just pretty bad at taking my own advice.

      As for your last comment, yeah, that’s pretty much it. I think we’re going to have to have A Plan before the next one of these rolls around, instead of just kicking around all day waiting for recreational inspiration to strike.

  • Lois H

    My dad was self employed and as a kid I swore I would never start my own business because I watched him work so much. Now I am well and truly into starting my own business. One of the things I do when I am trying to take some time off is don’t do it at home. Also take a little notebook with you so if you have an idea you can jot it down and you won’t spend the rest of your time trying to make sure that you don’t forget said idea. Good luck with making it a habit.
    cabinofbows.blogspot.com

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