I work a lot. Like, pretty much all the time.
But I also have a more expansive definition of what I consider “work.” For example, today I went for a 6-mile run and I considered it work (it’s where I wrote part of this column actually). Last night I had a drink and played pool with two friends at a club I belong to, but also solved about three nagging problems with them and had a good idea for something else to do. My girlfriend and I run a business together, so when we talked on the phone earlier part of that was work too.
My point is that there are two ways to think about work. One, is that work is what you do for the middle eight hours during the day and that time is pre-sold more or less for most of your life. All the other time is yours where you do things you like more. The other way to do is that you make no distinction and consider all the time in the day to be “yours”–you just actually like spending it on work.
For this latter scenario to work it’s also crucial that you’re taking care of yourself, improving yourself, honing your abilities become part of the “job.” You are the project. You become, as they say, paid to exist.
So running and spending time with friends or reading or taking trips to cool places all count as work to me. I get paid for them. I benefit from them. I find meaning in them. Which means I’m ok “working all the time” or being a workaholic or whatever.
It also doesn’t take a tax lawyer to see that the government encourages this in many ways as well. The things that the self-employed get to write off are awesome. They want you to invest in yourself and do and buy things that will help you earn more. It just happens that those things also have a lot of overlap with living an enjoyable life.
For whatever reason, I tend to get asked “how I get so much done” a lot. I try to ignore the question because it’s annoying, but I have the issue myself when I trying to introduce myself to someone. It’s difficult to say “what I do for a living.”
I usually just pick one thing or lie. The honest answer is that I don’t do [something]. I’m just me. I don’t have to fit ‘all of that in.’ It comes out. My work is an expression of being alive. And that feels very good.
So while I embrace this expanded definition of work, I also look at a lot of the stuff other people consider to be part of working–conference calls, meetings, proposals and such–and try to avoid at all costs. Of course I do them if there is no alternative, but I hate scheduling them and get all flustered and overwhelmed if faced with too many in a short period.
People don’t always understand but the reason is this: Those who blocked off their entire day and sold it to an employer, are therefore OK giving it away in 30-minute phone call increments. It’s not really their time anymore.
But me, I blocked the whole day off to work on and for myself, and distractions prevent that from happening. Where I otherwise would have been free to flow naturally from one activity to another, now I have to pivot around a 2 o’clock appointment…where the end result is “Ok, so we’ll follow up by email?”
If I am going to have pivot my day around something, I’d rather do it around stuff that’s important and can’t be accomplished any other way. Going to therapy? Ok, that’s good appointment. Explaining a pitch or a project that doesn’t fit in an email? Of course, let’s set a time to talk. Meeting someone for the first time? Great, it builds a connection.
“Do you have time to meet for coffee?” A “kick-off conference call?” “A sales pitch?” Conferences built around buzzwords and charlatans? No thanks man.
Everything else let’s either avoid or play it by ear (for instance, we don’t need to schedule a time to talk. People can just call each other, that’s why there are phones that we carry around in our pockets).
Man is meant to be busy. But busy on certain types of things. There is not supposed to be some distinction between work and not work. It’s all supposed to be work…and none of it is supposed to feel pointless or soul crushing. You’re not supposed to have sneak in a Crossfit workout at 9 PM at night before you go home because that’s your only opportunity to feel alive or part of something. It can be that way all the time.
You can be the project and the job.
I’m not unrealistic, a lot of us have to have jobs to pay the bills. I’ve been in the place myself and was for a long time. But you can still be stealing little bits of time for yourself. You can be working for yourself as you work for other people (there is a great chapter on this in The 50th Law for those who want to see more).
We also need to relax and enjoy life. We need to decompress and unplug. I get that, and I’m not arguing against that. I love those things too. (I’m watching Breaking Bad as I finish this article.)
I just know that only time I am unhappy is when I found I have committed to do things to or do for people I don’t like. The only time I’m not happy is when I am not working in some way or another. When I’m just dicking around. (And again, ironically, pointlessly dicking around is what most people have confused for work).
To me, that’s unhappiness. Idling. Not being me. Doing something that someone else says matters but clearly doesn’t.
Happiness is working and excelling. Fulfilling your potential. That’s our real job. Everything is part of that description and nothing is not work if you do it right.