It’s Okay to Breathe

Gregory, looking properly industriousI just finished The Money Book for Freelancers, Part-Timers, and the Self-Employed yesterday, although the book was eye opening and (fer skerious) life changing throughout–I’m leaving it under Greg’s pillow, on his keyboard, and in his underpants drawer–one paragraph near the end caught my eye:

Return calls promptly. How many times has someone explained away a long delay in response with that lame excuse “I’ve been swamped”? Expunge this phrase from your lexicon. It’s horse hockey. Newsflash: it’s the twenty-first century, and we’re all swamped. If someone leaves a voice mail message for you, log it in and get back to them within twenty-four hours. E-mail etiquette is slightly different, we know, but even here you should set a high standard for yourself, such as committing to get back to an e-mail correspondent within one to three days. If you need to, set aside one hour a day to return calls and emails. (272-273)

Now, this is geared towards freelancers and independent workers (i.e., people making money and sales from phone calls and emails), but it’s something I struggle with in non-money-making work and personal communiques, too. The longer the response needed (personal catch-up emails in particular), the longer I stall.

Like apparently everyone else in the twenty-first century who isn’t riding on the “simple life” bandwagon, I’m, well, swamped. To cover all my projects (volunteer sites, wedding, project management, etc.), I need about 2 hours a day to process emails and the occasional phone calls.

And none of these are my day job.

Leaving aside my own personal desire to simplify (all three volunteer projects weren’t supposed to ramp up at the same time!), I see nothing wrong with making a conscious decision to set a slower pace in your business life. Prioritization is necessary, and it’s okay to say, “This call can wait two days while I take care of something on another project.”

As wonderfully as the book works to break the stereotype of the “starving artist”, remarks like the above do nothing to dispell the idea that being a freelancer means that you must work yourself to death. If you have organization–meaning that you have properly logged calls, emails, and tasks you need to return to, and that you will actually take care of those things–it’s okay to breathe and to encourage the people you’re responding to to breathe.

Now, if the delays are the result of avoidant behavior, a failure to prioritize, a lack of a system for task management, or a lack of desire to work… well, fix that.

Or go get a salaried job.

What’s the point of cutting ties from the evil W-2 world (the book is humorously condescending towards salaried folks) and taking control of your destiny if you work yourself into an early grave like everyone else?

  • Andrew Geiger

    I’ll be the first to admit, I took a salaried job as a cop-out to being an entrepreneur. No way I could cut it working on my own. That said, this is great advice regardless. Putting aside planning and paperwork catch-up time is simply the only way to stay sane under a heavy workload. I’m going to try it as soon as I get the time to do so!