It’s Friday today, and as I write this, it’s a little bit before 8 PM on the West Coast.
I’m sitting on my bed reflecting on the day before me. What did my Friday look like?
First, I slept in. I mean, I really slept in. I didn’t even turn on my laptop until noon.
And when I did open my laptop, the first place I went? Facebookland.
But hang on. Whoa. Hey now, hey now. Before you start judging me for going on social media before doing anything productive, let me tell you: I have an excuse. I can explain.
I have to log in to Facebook in order to access Netflix.
(“That’s your excuse?”)
That’s right. My Friday consisted of a brain-rotting marathon of the very under-appreciated Lie to Me, starring Tim Roth and Kelli Williams.
(He’s a brilliant but obnoxious deception expert who consults for the FBI. She’s a former Pentagon psychologist whose attempts at keeping him out of trouble have led her down a dark path. Together, they fight crime.)
And when I was finished killing my brain cells with television, that’s when I did some random reading about poststructural feminism – men can be feminists, too – and then proceeded to take a Buzzfeed quiz on which Canadian province is the drunkest.
(You’d think it’s Saskatchewan, where there are more wheat and barley crops than there are people, but it’s actually Newfoundland.)
So how exactly does this build my freelance business? How does any of this actually help me achieve anything productive?
It doesn’t. That’s the entire point of a mental health day.
Now, don’t get me wrong here. I care about my freelance business, and I work very hard to make it a success. (In fact, I just earned $5,000 in revenue in a single month – and about 90% of it was pure profit. Can I get a “daaang, yo”?)
But the fact of the matter is that running a freelance business is a 24-hour-a-day job. There are no weekends, there are no “off duty” hours, and you’re always on call. We freelancers don’t work the typical Monday to Friday, 9 to 5. We work when we want, where we want, how we want.
And that means, when your brain is fried from client work, it’s okay to take some time off to recover. It’s okay to be lazy. It’s okay to say “screw work” and go have fun instead.
We freelancers talk so much about hustle and work ethic and building empires and whatnot. But the one thing we don’t talk about? Is giving yourself a day off when work is the last thing you want to do. Going outside and hitting the beach when you simply cannot type another word. Putting down the sketchbook when your fingers are swollen and sore from drawing and picking up the latest copy of Us Weekly.
We get so caught up in our own neuroses – not to mention our clients’ emergencies – that we forget that creativity cannot be forced, that mental energy is a limited resource, and that you have to go walk the world for a spell before you can feel inspired enough to do work that matters.
Creativity is what happens when our existing knowledge runs into some unexpected new piece of input – and that’s what results in the inspiration that fuels great new projects. But if we don’t ever take the time to just let our brains do nothing, we never tap into our greatest wellspring of creative power. Psychologists have found that when you simply stop thinking about a problem and shift your attention to something else, you allow your unconscious brain to continue working on the problem – which often generates better solutions faster than if you had just kept grinding away.
We’ve got some very odd notions about work that we need to abandon if we want to be successful.
One recent psychological study found that people prefer to search for flights on slower websites because loading the flights slower creates the impression that the website is “working harder”. How screwed up is that?
Creative freelance work doesn’t happen under the same conditions and rules that blue-collar industrial work does. So trying to apply the same standards to both is more of a hindrance than a help. In creative fields, the value of your work is measured not by the number of hours you put in, but rather, by the outcome your work generates.
And that’s why we freelancers need to adopt a Lazy-Ass Manifesto: Because this horribly out-dated notion that the only way to get anything done is to glue your ass to a chair from 9 AM to 5 PM every day is making us all fatter, more stressed out, less creative, and utterly miserable.
There’s no point in stressing out about the fact that you’re feeling lazy; the only thing it’ll do is make you feel awful about yourself. Sometimes we fall into a rut, and the best way out is through. The only way to become productive again is to let your lazy phase run its course. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
The way work happens has changed, and our attitudes about work need to catch up.
Today, I was a lazy-ass freelancer, and I’m proud of it. Because sometimes, we need to be lazy in order to stay creative, figure out our next move, and/or resist the urge to whack someone across the back of the head with an iPad.
This is how we work smart and hard; how we build successful businesses and feel good about it; how we pay the bills while also building a life worth living – by acknowledging that being a freelancer requires we develop a different attitude toward work. One that makes us happy and healthy, one that takes a long view. If you’re in this for the long haul, you’ll be freelancing for decades to come. It’s not a sprint; it’s a marathon. So if you need to head to a rest stop to hydrate and wolf down an energy bar, go for it.