24 Hours a Day

24 hours It’s the first day back from my Taiwan trip, during which I was able to connect with a lot of life-affirming family experiences. Today is also the first day in about 4 months since I felt like I was allowed to think about something that was NOT the museum project. While I have a few possible leads percolating that I should attend to, I’m purposely relishing this first day as the beginning of a new period of endeavor. I can resume a path that I now know is critical to my sense of well-being.

There are several things that I am regarding as critical: regular blogging about ideas and inspiration and having the time to creating and refine new tools and ways of understanding. I’m looking forward to redeveloping local community and social media connections, which has been on the backburner for several months, and somehow making it a core part of how I do my work. I’m very intrigued by the possibility of creating new offerings in the areas of writing, creative direction, and product design. The question is how to actually go about getting all this done with as little fuss as possible, while not starving to death.

balancing guilt with mission

While I largely enjoyed my last project, I found it difficult to keep my mind satisfied with just the single project, especially as a remote-working arrangement. Although I wasn’t required to tune out all my other side projects, I nevertheless felt a kind of guilt when I wasn’t spending every peak productive hour on the many project challenges we were facing. While it all worked out pretty well in the end, I can’t help but think that with just some more hours spent here and there, it might have been better or more sophisticated. In fact, I know that more time spent in any way would have resulted in improvement. However, I also recognized early on that there’s a limit to how much you can sacrifice of your personal life to a project before it starts to corrode the core of your soul. I think I struck a reasonable balance for this project, but I still felt guilty about reserving the time for myself; this is perhaps a vestige of working for video game and startup companies. It’s a dumb attitude to have, I know, but if there’s some way of avoiding the feeling of guilt, I’m all for it. In this case, it’s giving myself permission based on prior negative experiences.

Building on that insight, I’m very much aware that there are going to be compromises between time I’d like to spend creating new stuff, time spent maintaining the business, time creating new infrastructure for growth, and time actually earning money. And that’s just the work side of things; then there’s all the personal time. As it was with the museum project, I need to be mindful that all these activities are important, not just the ones that seem more important. It helps, perhaps, that the model of life I’m pursuing attempts to combine personal time and work time, which is sort of the missionary mindset that I grew up with. I touched on the mission in my last Groundhog Day Resolution Review, which is to generally write about and create things that are universally empowering with a group of people that enjoy the same thing. In other words, make stuff that makes a difference, with people that believe that this is a mission well worth pursuing.

I’ve been defining my mission for a very long time, and have evolved ways of dealing with the intangible contributors to depression. Much of the Printable CEO Series is designed to give shape to otherwise-invisible forces of procrastination and blow them aside with concrete progress markers. Today, what’s foremost on my mind is setting expectations for what I can realistically do in a day. Since my mind is also very much on getting billable hours scheduled, I have to also be mindful of not letting those thoughts unbalance my overall mission. Billable hours are not the point of having my business, after all. My business exists to fund the mission.

setting starting guidelines

So today’s thought was that I needed to set a guideline of billable hours per day, and let that shape the way I schedule all my other mission-critical activities. Billable hours are one of those things that seems important, particularly because many business advisers stress that revenue is king. I agree that it’s important, but I’m capping its importance to sustenance levels. And the sustenance figure is shockingly low: 4 billable hours a day, 5 days a week. At first that might seem absurd, but considering that as a solo business practitioner I have to do all the non-billable activities like marketing, networking, business development, accounting, and so on it is actually pretty optimistic. The other side of the revenue equation is controlling costs and managing cash flow; with a lowered billable hour bar, keeping tabs on costs and cash becomes more important. This historically has been an area that I’ve never found very interesting, but now that I an acknowledging the need, I can start to see the opportunity to evolve some new tools and processes.

So where does the rest of the time go? To overhead activities related to business development and maintenance, but a goodly chunk will go to maintaining blogging momentum. I know from past experience that this will lead to productive connections later. For example, the photograph that leads this post shows 24 boxes, which is the beginning of some kind of planner tool that I can just see at the edges of my imagination. Four of those boxes represent billable hours. Eight of those boxes are sleep. The other boxes get sucked up with maintenance. What kind of big picture tool could develop from having just drawn those boxes? What insights can we gain from representing time as a stack of boxes next to 4 categories of activity? I don’t know, but I’m putting it up there because I think it might go somewhere. The mere act of writing it down has created a thread of investigation, and the audacity of sharing this incomplete thought may trigger a reaction from the Internet. The universe has a strange way of getting back at you, and in a way my entire business model is based on the belief that this is a good way of creating opportunity. If you read between the lines of successful businesses that have adapted to market forces, this is the essential mechanism at work.

So…here we go!