Monday, 3 January 2011

reclaim the night (from work)

FOR most of the last five years, New Year's resolutions have been a breeze. Every January, 'get a better work life balance' or (after repeatedly failing that one) 'change job' went on the list. Every December, I gloomily realised it'd be on the next list too.
Then I actually did change my job. So what now?
The trouble is that a big one-off change of job is a bit like a crash diet: dramatic in the short term, less effective in the longterm. It's easy to stop bingeing (on either cake, or work) for a bit, but hard not to backslide, unless you tackle the ingrained habits and assumptions that made you overdo it in the first place.
Which is why a few days after Christmas I found myself at the computer well after midnight, finishing a commission I really shouldn't have accepted because I really didn't have time to do it. And then it hit me: I hated working into the small hours in my old job. Why am I still doing it?
Working at night is a classic trap into which many self-employed or freelance parents fall. You free up time for family things during the day, but end up working when the kids are in bed to catch up. It feels better than working nights for a traditional employer, because in theory you could choose not to: but for whatever reason - money worries, anxiety about doing a good enough job, inability to say no, bad time management - you don't.
Yet habitually working in the evenings squeezes out stuff that matters: sleep, conversation, a social life, time with your partner, getting organised for the next day. So this year I'm resolving to reclaim the nights.
Firstly, we've started eating together as a family rather than cooking once for the small boy, then again for two adults after he's in bed. Mealtimes are somewhat less civilised, but it claws back a good hour in the evening - and cuts down on wine consumption. Which is a good thing. I suppose.
Secondly, I resolve to go to bed earlier. This classic post on why sleep is a feminist issue puts it neatly: suffice to say: since having my son, 7am counts as an unprecedented lie-in.
And thirdly, the tricky one: from now on, if it can't get done in the three days I work it doesn't (except in an emergency) get done. I may earn less initially, but over time I suspect I'll become more productive for not being constantly knackered.
And yes, I am writing this in the evening.....Damn it.


  1. Not being able to turn work down (and not knowing where your next commission is coming from - the two are inextricably linked) is the problem with freelance work. Good luck with your resolutions and happy 2011.

  2. I'm in the same trap - as a freelancer it's unbelievably hard to turn work down (particularly when your partner is also self-employed), and the temptation is just to say yes and work long into the night to get it done.

    However, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Since my daughter started school in September I've had unprecedented numbers of evenings off - being able to work a few hours each day (and keep on top of the boring household stuff) rather than shoehorning everything into two days has made a huge difference.

  3. When I was writing (as opposed to commissioning, which I do now) I used to find it almost impossible not to work sometimes in the evenings because the people I needed to interview were unavailable during my daytime working hours. And I used to get very fed up with those who had the luxury of taking long lunches - because they returned to their desks at roughly the same time I was about to set out on the school run.

  4. I used to freelance three days a week, and I found it really hard to fit it all in - even with night working. Interviewees would usually call me back on one of the non-work days and I'd be pushing the pram to the playground, having to pretend I was on my way to a meeting! Now both my boys are in schools every day it's a lot easier, but inevitably calls always happen at 2.45 just as I'm about to pick up my son from preschool......

  5. that's interesting - had been wondering if it would get easier when my son's at school or not. As far as I can see you get free time every day, but if only working in school hours then actually no more hours overall per week than I get now from three longer days. Suspect the answer is there's never actually quite enough time whatever you do....