The Work

I've been very busy lately. When you work for yourself, and your ability to provide for your family depends on your ability to do The Work, you have few options but to press forward and do The Work. It sounds idillic, but it's far from black and white.

Would I rather be chatting with friends? You bet.

Would I rather be reading a comic book or writing fiction? Absolutely.

Would I rather be taking frequent half-days off to spend time with my amazing family? Without question.

Sometimes, though, the choice to do The Work rather than something else is incredibly easy to make. I love social media, and it's the main source of new clients for my design business, but wading into that pool every day comes with its own risks and turn-offs.

Do I want to read another sentence about cranky developers and their schoolyard spats about who did what first? Not a chance.

Do I care to read more posts by entitled consumers who think the products they purchased fail to live up to their unrealistic expectations? Nope.

Do I care about rumors of rumors of something no company has announced yet? Hell no.

All of these things are just friction in the face of real work (unless, of course, your job is to deal with those things). It slows me down, distracts me from my goal and saps me of any hope or optimism that might still exist in my soul. I'd rather be doing work. Work that pays the bills. Work that makes me better as a human being. I am losing interest in the trite, the pointless and the spiteful.

I just want to do The Work.

Sometimes, though, friction looks like The Work, but it isn't. Side projects, for instance, look, feel, smell and taste like The Work. They produce results, they keep us busy and they sometimes even contribute to our income. I have many side projects. Some take up more of my time than others. At their core, though, they have a huge potential to be a distraction and a waste of time.

I don't bill myself out in hourly chunks most of the time, but I've started thinking of my time in general that way. What is my time worth? What, then, does that say about my potential to earn more? I've gone as far as to build a spreadsheet all the different types of projects that I do for clients, along with their average amount of time required and average revenue. Then net figure is my hourly rate for that type of project.

The results were eye-opening. Some of my larger projects were the worst in terms of hourly pay. I thought they were normal rates for those types of projects, but it turns out my bottom line suffers by doing them at their current rates. Some tweaking is needed.

When I started thinking about my time this way, my side projects began to look less and less appealing. How many hours do I put in each month on Project X? And how much income does Project Y generate? The answers have been more than depressing. My time could be better spent building sandwiches at Subway.

Is it all about the money? No, but it is all about meeting my obligations and being responsible. That's why so many of the time-wasting activities online fail to interest me: this is time that could be spent taking care of my needs and the needs of the people who depend on me. All of this stuff, unless it's your real and actual job, is something other than The Work.

I hate to say it (because I enjoy the distractions I take part in, side projects and social activity alike), but it is becoming more and more clear to me how important it is that I chose The Work over everything else. Some things will need to go, just like in the movies when the airplane is losing altitude and they toss the cargo and seats and sometimes people. To maintain my altitude — to arrive at my intended destination and reach my goals — some things are going to be tossed out of this plane.

I know this sounds like I'm advocating the "all work, no play" mentality. I realize that I might even sound like money is a bigger motivator for me than enjoyment. As an American, I am supposed to feel entitled to my slice of the "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" pie. We are a society of instant gratification and deeply addicted to newness and distraction. But study any successful person and you'll find the same thing: they all worked very, very hard to get to where they are today.

I have friends and family, and I enjoy my time with both. I believe that work stays at work and my time off can be filled with all sorts of hobbies and fun. But when it comes time for me to chose between doing The Work that needs to be done and slacking off by reading a hundred blog posts about watches and coffee filters, I'm going to try harder and harder to chose The Work.

I'm not judging you. I'm not judging anyone, really. Well, that's a lie; I'm judging myself. I, like everyone else, have three limited resources in this world: time, money and energy. It's not my place or right to judge how you use yours, but you can bet that I'm going to be incredibly picky about how and where I spend mine. I can only spend my time once, and after that, it's gone. Being productive is more than just having a system; being productive is about milking the most amount of accomplishment out of a finite, limited quantity of time.

If I put out less content this year, it's because my time was better spent elsewhere. If I don't tweet for 24 hours, or miss all of the wonderfully witty banter that takes place online during the day, it's because I was working. Working to pay the bills. Working to build something great. Working to solve problems for my clients and take the friction out of people's lives.

I can't be everywhere at once, and I can't do everything everyone wants me to do. I certainly can't pay attention to three things at once. But I know what I can do, and I'm going to do it well and with conviction.

I'm going to do The Work.