The Glimpse

Today I am taking it easy. It’s Sunday after all. Sundays are meant for this. In the background plays a song by Sam Smith, very easy listening. It could be Lionel Richie. Easy like Sunday morning.

Except it’s the afternoon, and most of the day is over for me already.

Things are incredibly stressful in work at times. I have a lot of juggling to continue doing in the near future, but, broadly speaking, I think I am starting to see a better balance of life ahead of me. My new employee on my business, while taking up a lot of time, and 80% of the income that comes in, is starting to work. I think. This is freeing up my time during the day in the office to look after the things that can only be done during the day… reacting to my business customers, and also dealing with the other business I’m involved in.

So right now I’m getting a glimpse of what my life might become… where I might start to make advances in getting my free time back. Maybe within a few months I will be able to look forward to having Sundays entirely to myself every week. Instead of them being seen by me as a great opportunity to catch up on the work I haven’t completed during the week. Because then the work just never stops.

The irony is that I spent this morning doing exactly that. I still got up at 5:50am, which most people would think is a bit weird for a Sunday. But when I wake up, and I’ve had enough sleep, then I get up. Why waste any time when there’s so much to do? Plus when you get up at 5am during the week, why upset that rhythm too much?

In any event, I did well. So now I have an excuse for procrastinating a bit, which includes what I’m doing now.

But maybe in a few months time I’ll actually start to feel like I can do something sociable? Maybe I will also be more secure in my incomes than I am now. Maybe by then I’ll have had all of the money I’ve lent to my businesses and a colleague back. Who knows. Probably not, but I can dream.

A tantalising look at the future. To most people, what I describe is probably not even relateable. Most people are used to having every weekend off. Every evening off. To me, having spent the last couple of years with no weekends, no evenings, just the merest possibility of having some actual free time – and having something to do in it – is a real excitement.

What a life.

29

OK – so I cheated a little bit and got out the Tardis, but with good reason.

My birthday was on this day. The day I have rearranged my post to… it’s always this day. That’s what birthdays are.

As the birthdays go – this is actually my 30th. My actual birth day – in 1985, was my 0th birthday. OK, that doesn’t make much sense, but it was still the day of my birth. Therefore my 1st birthday, in 1986, was the 1st anniversary of the day of my birth. My 2nd birthday. Except I wasn’t birthed at all on the 1st anniversary, nor any other anniversary after that point.

But what I’m saying is that there are now 30 days across the years 1985 to 2014 which contained the date July 9. On each of those days, a celebration of sorts occurred, a celebration which diminished markedly beyond the age of 18… in my case anyway.

If I had to rank those 30 days in order, from best to worst, I am almost certain that this 30th occurrence would be the worst. It truly was utterly, totally, massively dire. I am not exaggerating.

From the moment I got up, when I went “oh yeah, it’s your birthday today” to the moment I went to bed, not a single person in Real Life said to me “Happy Birthday”. This in spite of – this year – actually letting a few people know when my birthday is some time in advance. In fact, it even went up on the calendar in the office, as I made great pains to point out that I would really like to have the day off so I could actually relax for a change.

It didn’t happen. Instead I was dragged from pillar to post, my brain being fried, nearly every hour of the day. I interacted with many people, including colleagues, who forgot, and did absolutely nothing for me.

I left the office about 7:15pm, in disbelief somewhat that the day could have got much worse. In fact, all I did then was go home, eat, then go to bed. I just wanted the day over with.

My neighbour would normally have been around to wish me happy birthday on the actual day – but she was away. I had received a couple of cards, and I did get some well wishes from the family through text – but other than that, nothing actually Real.

One side of me thinks this is just normal. Birthdays are crap. They don’t do anything interesting. Nothing is biologically different in any good way whatsoever. Every part of the body is decaying, and every year just makes that process worse. Fellow humans are also going the same way. That’s drastically bad.

But another side of me thinks that there are only a handful of times a year where you can feel a bit pampered without feeling guilty about it. Christmas and birthdays. I have failed miserably on the latter front.

On the actual life front – life continues. Social life doesn’t exist. Work life is insane. Maybe this time next year it won’t be so bad – but because I have taken action and changed my direction of life altogether by getting employees in, delegating more, strategising more but doing less.

What depresses me most is that I said all of this three years ago. Nothing has changed since then, except life has got even more crammed full with work.

Is there a way out? Not without a personality transplant, I don’t think.

The Easter Working Weekend

It’s Easter Saturday. It’s currently 5:41am. I have been awake since 5am.

What is my life?

It’s a question that, when enunciated with an American accent, can sound incredibly irritating. Indeed, it’s not even a question I would dare to use in public, for fear of rather odd looks in return. But, at the same time, it is actually quite accurate.

My life, as I have known for the last few years, is basically split into the work and non-work sliver. In the non-work sliver I read political websites, playing increasingly less and less guitar, listen to Radio 1, and watch programmes I missed on catch up TV.

The Easter Weekend gives a brief window to change that. And, this year, I decided to give myself an extra reward. I told myself for several weeks in advance that I’d be having the Thursday before Good Friday off too. This would give me five consecutive days off. Wow, wow, wow. My brain said. I don’t get many of those with no consequences. OK, Christmas can be up to two weeks off, but Easter is at a nicer time of year. And the weather certainly has been good so far.

After two days of my five day weekend, how is that shaping up?

Well, on the Thursday I ensured I was “working from home”. The main reason was to sit around all day and await delivery of my new Virgin Media super hub (cost £6.99). In return, I really did sit around all day. Little did I know that the courier’s rule of “between 8 and 6pm” was almost literal. The delivery finally arrived at 4:30pm. This stressed me out incredibly.

Why? Because, after all that waiting, I had to go and do some work anyway. 4:30pm arrived, and I immediately rushed into the office to do a mail merge for my business. This involved a hefty queue in the post office, a ludicrously priced purchase of stamps, a run back to the office, printing, folding, sticking.

Then at 5:15pm my carriage awaited. To go off to my next job, which had been sitting, waiting, all day.

Back home at 8:30pm, I then proceeded, for the next two hours, to do some remote technical support for a new client I have won, which I had promised to do after 6pm (best time when the computers are not in use…). Along with the bits and bobs of work done during the day, I think I managed to still do a full day of work, even when I said I wouldn’t.

Good Friday. In the office at 8am. Having an informal discussion with someone we want to take on but don’t know if we can afford it. Then doing more work, general discussions, tidying, a small amount of fixing and minor catching up.

Home for 3:30pm. Back out again immediately because I had to do shopping. Back home to do more remote fixing for new client, who seemed to be working on Good Friday properly. This is not good.

Easter Saturday. The plan is to digest my company’s “Quality Management System” today, and do all the things I should have been doing over the last several months.

This is not a non-working weekend by any stretch of the imagination.

The problem is simple: work is my life. Work is my identity. Work is where I will – hopefully – continue to make a decent return on the time I am investing. Not that I have any time to spend what I’m earning…

In the meantime, some of my customers, both home and work, continue to send me e-mails. I do not reply to them. I cannot show to them that I do not use my holiday weekends as holidays. I cannot open the door. The problem, though, is that some of these e-mails are urgent, and leaving them till Tuesday will probably cost me business. That’s not fair on me at all, but it does seem comical that I try to maintain a strict outward show of protecting my holiday time jealously, while secretly working all the bloody time.

There is something wrong with modern life. We are entirely responsible for remoulding our work culture into an ethos of “(s)he who works longest, looks best”. We have had our evenings and our weekends invaded with e-mails and text messages and now WhatsApp and other conversations. We are all guilty of replying to them, let alone just reading them, and allowing our work to also take over our alleged free time.

Part of this influence is just the nature of capitalism – and how it slowly is engulfing our very identities – for the pursuit of more and more. It’s starting to twist to the point that now the people who say bold statements as “I do not answer the phone after 5pm” or “I do not read my e-mails at weekends” are looked at as a bit weird. We invest bizarre justifications such as “But why not deal with it, because if you don’t it will only make the morning 100 times more difficult!”

I also know people who set an out of office autoreply just for the weekend. Imagine that… we have degenerated so much as a work culture now that we have to have an actual system that reminds senders that their e-mail sent at 9pm on Friday might not get a response until Monday…

Maybe – just maybe – Easter Sunday will actually be a day off.

The Early Mornings

I have always been one of those individuals who doesn’t like sleep. OK, it does make me feel better, and generally is a good way to put distance between yourself and a shitty day, but my appreciation of it lies purely on a functional level.

As such, I don’t ever “lie in”. I don’t know what such a thing is. For me, there is an optimal amount of sleep, and it lies somewhere between 7 and 8 hours, and that’s it. When I’ve reached it, I’m awake, and can’t go back to sleep. My brain gets restless and agitated, and starts stressing that any longer does nothing for me, and I could be getting on with a, no doubt, busy day.

I used to get by on a lot less sleep when I was in college, regularly surviving on 6 to 7 hours, and it made no difference to me. My theory of sleep is that your body adjusts to whatever you throw at it; as long as it’s not regularly under 6 hours, you’ll live, and not suffer too much.

This attitude to sleep is what I call “pragmatic minimalisation”. Sleep, once its brain optimisation functions are completed, is a barrier to life. Taken to its extreme, I would sleep as absolutely little as possible. But I recognise that would cause me harm over the medium and long term. Hence “pragmatic”. See, I don’t just make shit up.

This approach is now ruling my modern life, but in a brand new way for me.

The new life pattern has become starting every day at 5am. Yes, 5 o’clock. I have always loved the early mornings, but this is quite something. Since about November, I have decided to get up at this crazy hour… and not really for any apparent reason. I live 15 minutes from my place of work. I have no reason to do this. I could realistically get up at 8am, and still get into work for 9am.

But that needs to be put in context. I work for myself. I also work for another business, which I’m a director of. Both of these jobs require immense amounts of my time and concentration. And they are exhausting, frequently involving work beyond the “traditional” 5pm finish of most other businesses. And, my IT business generates hassle at all hours of the day. Even when I don’t answer the phone, I still get angry when someone calls me at 7:30, 8, 8:30pm… it still makes me think of work, and wonder what it could possibly be. This is painful, and can go on and on, even after I’ve gone to bed (between 9 and 10pm) on some unusual evenings.

Except. Except there is one time of day when people don’t call me. Ever. Mainly because they are safely tucked up in bed.

And that’s the early morning.

I can safely say that I have never received a call from a customer between 5am and 8am. And even then, the number of calls between 8am and 9am is extremely low, relative to the rest of the day.

This creates an incredible respite. A time of the day during which I know I will not be distracted. A time of day I know names won’t appear on my phone, or the adrenaline rush of the office phone ringing will send my concentration out the window. I haven’t had this for some time. Other people can get home from work and switch off, knowing they are done for the day. But I can’t. The e-mails keep coming, the phone can keep ringing, the texts do flow.

Yet none of that happens in the morning. It means that from 5am until pretty much 9am, I can, and often do, do my own thing. I like to get up and make a cup of coffee, something I have never done in my life. I can feel relaxed, and not rushed in the morning. I can even put some washing on, do some cleaning, listen or watch a TV or radio show I’ve missed.

But more often, I can do a little bit of work, knowing that I will be able to knuckle down for 1 to 2 hours, without distraction, and get it done. This can give me an incredible sense of achievement. Which makes me feel like the day starts well, and hopefully carries on that way. OK, it invariably doesn’t go that way, as the ceaseless calls and e-mails during the day push me in dozens of different directions.

But at least I get a few hours of me time.

I like it. And now the mornings are getting lighter, it’s only going to get better towards the spring and summer.

We’ll see how long it lasts…

 

Fourth Quarter, 2013

It’s hard to believe the year is nearly over. This year has disappeared without trace, in a blaze of constant work.

I can honestly say that since the last time I wrote, on the 1st of September, I haven’t stopped working. Except for maybe snatching a couple of hours here and there to watch X Factor. Or eat. Sometimes I forget to do that.

I write today in relative tranquillity. There is nothing pressing, work-wise, to do. This makes me feel less guilty about having a “quiet” Sunday. Sunday, my favourite day of the week. But I have had to call into the new office first thing, just to get some minor tasks accomplished. This has been tolerable, but I don’t like to do it often.

The whole point of getting the office – of going there to work, and not do any work at home – has been breached a number of times. But, on the whole, it does work. It does make sense. Best of all, it stops people coming to my house. My house is now not a shop front… no more do I have to worry about inviting people into my home. No more do I have to worry about what items are on display, or what state I’ve left the living room. Or whether people can infer things about me from my total lack of liveability in the so-called living room.

It’s worth it alone to stop listening to people saying things like “this is definitely a bachelor pad!”. It’s not that I necessarily care what they think (it does rankle a bit…) but it does make the next 10 seconds of the conversation totally awkward. What is one supposed to reply with, when smashed in the face by a visitor with a “witty” barb like that?

The flip side of that is that, with the constant work, it has meant that I’ve neglected my house a bit. Now it’s easy to go out and lock the door on the crap held inside. It doesn’t tend to bother me. I have always been a bit “messy” – which is bizarre for someone who enjoys with organising and analysing things.

Such apparent contradictions, though, are easily explained by the bachelor nature of my life.

What comes next before the end of the year? Who knows. Every week brings a new challenge. Maybe if I remember, I will write up a bit about the latest one, involving our new employee.. deep joy.

What Happens When Work Takes Over

It seems to have been three weeks since New Year’s Day, when I last wrote. I’m not quite sure what happened. Well, I know, but it just doesn’t make sense. It all goes so quickly.

After New Year I had a good break, spending time relaxing, doing my own thing. Playing an awful lot of piano too. I really could notice myself getting better and better every day, but there’s so so much to learn, and it’s so difficult dividing your brain into two for the left and right hand. If you’ve never played piano, you won’t quite understand, but eventually there comes a point that clicks. Your brain just starts doing it after you practice it millions of times. Or seemingly millions of times.

But I suppose it’s like that with anything really. If you do it enough times, it suddenly slips into a subconscious part of your brain, and you don’t need to actively think about it any more. It’s like that with my business too. The work is not challenging any more. In fact, when a challenging and difficult job comes up, I really enjoy it. The jobs are all the same – which means it’s relatively easy, and sometimes doesn’t take me long any more. That can actually be a big problem when you charge by the hour…

The start of this year was supposed to bring some big developments with my business, but thanks to the slowness of the wheels turning when you’re trying to secure big business contracts, very little has happened. I am fortunate, however, that instead of worrying about it, I have been busy non-stop for two weeks since I got back. So after coming back from holiday feeling totally refreshed, instead I have exhausted myself really quickly and am already looking forward to the next holiday…

There was also not so good news either when I got a letter telling me one of my bigger customers has suddenly turned into a “creditor”. Not good. £843 they owed me, and I’m unlikely to ever see that again. Bastards.

About the only bit of non-work I have to report was on Wednesday, when I went to see the film War Horse. It was better than I expected, but very very mushy. It wasn’t a war film, but in its war scenes to did capture the essence of the effect of war on people very well. It’s a film about human relationships, really. Numerous tearful moments…

Then there is today. I’m sitting in a neighbour’s house some 10 miles away from the normal house. They’ve let me borrow it just to get away for 24 hours – which is very kind of them. It does work. I have had a little chance to sit back and relax, watch some TV, some DVDs, do a little reading, and a lot of eating too. Eating is a must, after all, and I have been so busy this week that I have missed tea on two days in a row. I just didn’t have time. Literally, 15 hour days of work.

And just when I feel like I’m getting on top of things, on Tuesday I’m going away on business for a week. Exciting, and interesting, a new web project… hopefully. But it’s not a guarantee, and it’s going to lead to me falling behind on the normal bread and butter PC repair work, again.

Anyway, enough for now.