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.

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.

Bad Decisions

As time has gone by, I think I’ve got better at spotting the likely trouble jobs.

In recent weeks, work has been so overwhelming that I feel like I haven’t had a day off in months, and yet I know that’s not the case. But I do know for a fact that I have almost been working constantly for at least a few weeks, which has really worn me down.

Last night I was on the verge of taking a decision to roll the dice and change my business up completely, but this morning I have once again put my cautious cap back on.

But one thing I have definitely made a wrong call on was a recent call that emerged late on Friday, which I had a feeling would be something very tricky, and has proved to be. Not before a long and excruciating saga involving unsociable hour calls, a threaded screw head that needed to be drilled out, seriously cut fingers which have been stinging for days, and the personality of the customer being far too demanding. All this when I was so close to not even taking the job. I should have trusted my inner judgement…

What has ground me down so much has been the fact that I have got myself involved in too many peripheral things, involving my not-yet-might-never-be business “partner” – which has, again, taken up stacks of my time for no return. This involves tax returns, VAT returns, self-assessment, free IT support, on and on it goes. Time that I desperately need.

Undoing bad decisions is impossible. It feels easier to just to ride with it, accept my lot that I made a mistake in the first place, and see what comes of it. Nothing has now for several years, not through want of trying, but ultimately, I am now beginning to think I should never have gone down this road.

One bad decision that I wish I could undo is the use of my house as a workplace. It is not suitable. It has driven me mad recently. I cannot escape the phone ringing. I cannot switch off. I have a clutch of customers that expect too much, around the clock, and think that I’m just bob-a-job, hobby PC advice, who doesn’t mind helping because it’s not his bread and butter.

They are so wrong it’s untrue. I dearly wish I had made more effort to make my business more professional. People assume that, as I’m working from home, and they have my mobile number, that this isn’t a serious enterprise. That they can just call me anytime because they know I’ll be there, and that they can “pick my brains” because I’m their “PC guy” or whatever vaguely friendly but often diminishing term they use.

The business has the strong smell of amateurism about it. About a guy just bumbling along making bits of cash here and there from fixing people’s PCs in his living room.

At the end of the day, they are wrong. I make good money out of what I do, and I do it because it earns me a decent living and allows me the freedom and flexibility to deal with the people I choose. That, in reality is the state I am at. I don’t have to rely on one particular person, and you don’t have any right to ring me at 8pm in the evening, or 6pm on Saturday, or any time on Sunday. Nothing in the IT world is that cripplingly urgent, I promise you. I have never come across a job that couldn’t wait until normal working hours. It really is just people being extremely inconsiderate.

The only people who could possibly have an excuse are businesses. Businesses do not phone outside of working hours. Why? Because they’re not working outside of working hours!

The facts are now simple and I need to be bolder about addressing them. I don’t need certain customers. The ones who think I am sitting here all day, every day, waiting for them to call, hoping, praying that someone will take mercy on me and throw me a few crumbs from their table. Or the ones who wrongly assume I am some sort of international corporation with staff on hand 24/7 to deal with their most minor troubles. So you lost your Hotmail icon? So you want to know my warranty terms? Do you know it’s 9pm on a Sunday? (both true stories)

Maybe people are just getting more rude? Maybe people expect far too much in modern society? We have got used to websites being online around the clock, and supermarkets open all day every day that we forget that PEOPLE are not the same as fictional corporate identities.

I know this has been a bit of an epic rant, but I needed to get it out of my system. I need more sleep, I need better sleep, I need better food, I need more time to look after myself, I need more time to enjoy myself, I need more time to have a social life. I can’t do all of that and run a business every day too.

Bad decisions of the past cause this. Bad decisions that seemed like good at the time, but on reflection set up all of this.

It has to change soon.