When I’m Awake, I Work — And That’s A Good Thing
People keep telling me that I work so much.
But when people announce this assessment to me, I’m always confused.
For example, when I achieved my one-year goal in three months, many responses I got were like: “You deserve it, you’ve worked so hard for it”.
That’s literally what people said to me.
I didn’t get it.
For instance, that same Monday evening, hanging out with friends, we were discussing waking-up times and while many of them can’t afford to get out of bed after 7 AM, I’m rarely awake before 9 AM.
Is that working hard?
In fact, the next day, I rose at 9, took a cold shower, did breathing exercises and was effectively studying a paper for my PhD research by 9.20. At 2.30PM, I left to hang out with a friend.
Five hours after I started, the day was done.
The definition of ‘work’
But was my work really over?
I had some drinks with my buddy, but also we solved two nagging problems I had, he taught me about online marketing and gave me the idea for this post.
Cycling home, I wrote part of this post in my head and when I got home I typed it out.
In bed, before dozing off to sleep, I had some ideas for improvement so I made many notes on my phone.
Turns out, all day, I was either studying for my PhD or occupied ‘en passant’ with the blog.
If we are going to define ‘work’ not just as the activities that I get paid for (my PhD research), but also everything else ‘serious’ I do in my life, I start to see why people say I work a lot.
Let me tell you:
If all this counts as work, then working all the time is by far the best way to organize your life.
Personal business model 1: Sell your time
There are two ways to think about work.
In the first way, work is what you do for eight hours a day and that time is pre-sold (it’s not yours) for most of your life. All the other time is yours and is where you do things you like more.
Let’s call this model the “sell your time” version of a personal business model: you sell your time to an employer, and he/she pays you for that time.
When you sell your time for a living, it does not belong to you anymore:
“Those who blocked off their entire day and sold it to an employer, are therefore OK giving it away in 30-minute phone call increments. It’s not really their time anymore.” -Ryan Holiday
When you design your life like this, it has a so-called ‘work-life balance’.
Work-life balances, also, suck.
They imply, after all, that we must counter the downside (that which we must endure to get paid for our time) with the upside (that which we do to feel alive during the time which we have left).
A work-life balance implies allocating half of our waking hours to “work”, anxiously waiting for the other half to arrive so that our “life” can start already:
“A “sell your time” model of work means you’ve set your personal time (and goals) in direct conflict with the time you have to sell for work.” -Andrew Chen
I don’t want to live like that.
So let’s get out of selling our time for a living and find another business model instead.
I have an idea, and I call it the “life as work” version of a personal business model.
Personal business model 2: Life as work
On the second way of thinking about work, the distinction is not between “work” and “life” but between “goal-directed time” and “idle time”.
Everything that is related to any goal you have, counts as ‘work’. Work is the sum of everything you want to do in your life.
Working is fulfilling your potential and expressing yourself optimally.
‘Idle time’, on the other hand, means unplugging, decompressing, relaxing. It’s not necessarily a bad thing.
The crucial difference is that this model does not equate ‘spending time on something during work time’ with ‘working’. Only activities that — directly or indirectly — contribute to goal-achievement count as ‘working’.
Doing stuff that’s neither ‘decompressing’, nor ‘goal-achieving’, means you’re wasting your time. Some examples that come to mind: conferences built around buzzwords, almost all conference calls, everything done for the sake of impressing others, dysfunctional relationships, fad diets, figuring out how things work which you don’t need anyway, almost all ‘productivity improvement’, almost all meetings, Facebook and Twitter. Etcetera.
Having a work-life balance is the worst plan there is
On this way of thinking, there is no distinction between work and life, because all the time in the day is “yours”.
Obviously, this means there’s no such thing as a work-life balance.
That’s a good thing, because you shouldn’t separate your time into “working” and “living” like that.
Making that separation is one of the most life-unaffirming proposals for how to live that I’ve ever heard.
The question of how to “balance” life and work presupposes the wrong picture entirely. If we choose the “life as work” paradigm, by contrast, the question shifts profoundly.
Imagine, for instance, being asked as a kid not what kind of job you want, but what kind of life you want — and imagine then being taught to work towards that goal.
Wouldn’t that be great?
Looking after yourself is part of the “job”
But Maarten, surely you don’t want to count meeting friends as work?
For the “life as work” scenario to work, it’s crucial that you’re taking care of yourself and improving yourself.
“What strikes me is the fact that in our society, art has become something which is related only to objects and not to individuals, or to life. But couldn’t everyone’s life become a work of art? Why should the lamp or the house be an art object, but not our life?” — Michel Foucault
You are the project and your life is your assignment.
Therefore, spending time with friends counts as work for me because I enjoy it, I find meaning in it and (consequentially) I benefit from it. It contributes to achieving my goals.
I’m OK with “working all the time” or being a workaholic, or whatever.
I want my work to be an expression of feeling alive.
If you do it right, almost everything is work.