Blurring the Boundaries
We have been running our own small business for more than 7 years now, and from most accounts, everything is running quite smoothly. While the pipeline has thinned a little as training budgets are slashed, there are indications that even this is turning around. Receivables have been very good, something that I would attribute to personally knowing who cuts the cheque in most places (the biggest challenges have come from the biggest vendors, where I am an anonymous ‘little guy’ with no apparent clout, but I have my ways to get things done there as well…). There remains one area that I struggle with – the traditional boundaries of the workplace.
That old standard ‘9 to 5′ that we have come to define as office hours (or is that ’10 to 10’ for many tech companies?) has become somewhat of a hardwired tradition. I find that if the day of the week is Monday to Friday, I set the alarm for 6:00 and push myself to get up earlier rather than later. I try to keep my inbox clear during those office hours, at least responding as much as possible to let people know that I will get back to them later. All of my clients are working those hours, so in some ways it makes sense for me as well.
This is subject to time-zone variations, of course. When I am on the road, be it East coast or Europe or Asia, it wouldn’t make much sense to stick to my West coast hours. I go native, adopt the local time if not all the local customs, as I am at the client site and the whole point of the trip is the interaction.
A couple of things make the situation more interesting from that small business perspective, though. One is that I am actually only client facing perhaps 40% of the time (which is close to the expectations one should set for a consultancy), maybe stretch it up to 50% if we talk about other interactions that happen in real-time. This varies widely from week to week, of course, but the numbers bear out over time. The other issue that most self-employed people run into is that the business side tends to encroach quite heavily on those non office-hours. While I tend to shut down the Blackberry at 5:00 or so (something I violated recently while I was tracking the Canucks-Blackhawks series), I can often be seen back at the computer after the kids are in bed during the evening.
Our office isn’t downtown, we don’t have a crazy commute to get to work. A double-edged sword there, as we save the time getting to work (bonus), but we also can get to it wherever we are (not so bonus). With the personal ownership of the business, it tends to be top of mind much of the time, either because things are not going so well (need more business), or because things are going too well (need more time to recharge the batteries). The effort of maintaining the balance is much greater here.
I’ve been known to carve out time during the work-day to spend time with the family, but on balance I don’t think I do that enough. There is a quote that I need to lean on to manage this blurring of the lines so that it is more balanced:
People who have learned to answer email on Sunday evenings also need to learn how to go to the movies on Monday afternoons.
By redesigning the architecture of time, we can make room for work, leisure, and idleness. – Ricardo Sempler
While I don’t anticipate much more idleness, it is important to accept the blurring of the boundaries, and leverage it to more advantage. – JB