The Boundaries and Definitions of Work

Despite my need for flexibility, I still needed some boundaries and guidelines to contain the vast space of work in my mind. Some guidelines I was able to come up with right away.

Don’t work after dinner time. Don’t work on Sundays.

If this makes it sound like I was working 16 hour days, 7 days a week, I should say I wasn’t. I was working, on average, 4-5 hours a day. Not 4-5 hours with breaks in between. 4-5 hours of solid, focused work. I was very happy with this amount of work. The problem was that these 4-5 hours were spreading to different parts of the day. A bit of work here, a bit of work there.

I actually liked and enjoyed this too. This flexibility of working when I want to work, from where I wanted to work, for however long I wanted to work, was a flexibility I deeply wanted as an employee at a startup, and didn’t have. As an employee, I felt I was pulled in many directions, into too many meetings, under too many deadlines I couldn’t meet. As an employee, I was rarely doing the type of work I wanted to do when I wanted to do it. My need for autonomy was never fully met, even when I had a great deal of autonomy thanks to my managers.

The challenge of this flexibility was that I could now be working all the time. And I would think about work all the time. Work was spreading, taking over my entire mental space. I needed to find ways of allowing deep rest. Establishing rest boundaries (after dinner, Sundays) was helpful in this regard.

I came up with some other, more nuanced boundaries, via an exercise advised by Marlee Grace: to list what is work, what is rest, and what is in a gray area.

What is work was straightforward, and I made sure it was specific and expansive:

Clarifying work, setting up processes for work, researching ideas and facts, making a to do list, planning my day/week, assessing my work, tracking my work, working on my vision, brainstorming, sharing my ideas, cleaning my work space, legal and administrative tasks related to my company, managing my finances, teaching mindfulness, attendance to my certification program, homework of my certification program, building my website, social media management, writing newsletters.

The list was excluding big chunks of actual work I do, such as writing, because I realized they were in the gray area. They were work, but they were also sources of joy.

The gray area was a place I had not thought of before and it was interesting to think about, because a lot of things, even if I do them for work, could equally bring me joy:

Producing a podcast - could be a way I am unleashing my creativity,
Meeting creatives and entrepreneurs - could be chatting with friends who inspire me,
Reading for work - could be reading for pleasure,
Writing for work - could be writing for release,
Meditating - could be a discovery of something to teach,
Cleaning our home - could be cleaning as a break from work,
Caring for our home - could be relaxing activities I love doing (example: spring cleaning),
Work trip planning - could be vacation planning, since I often travel for vacation and work simultaneously.

The big lesson here was to realize what constitutes as non-work. What is a restful day? In the past, I would answer: a day I spend on the beach reading. Now I’m thinking: I mostly read books on wellness or literature. They could be work. They are in the gray area.

This brought me to what is rest:

Sleeping, napping, dancing, going for a walk, exercising, yoga, cooking, hugging, cuddling, seeing friends & family, visiting a new city/country, seeing an art exhibition, discovering Paris/Istanbul, eating or drinking out, watching a movie or TV show, journaling, caring for friends & family, health appointments (doctor, therapist), shopping, meal planning.

To my surprise, this was already a full list. In other words, I didn’t have to read a book or meditate in order to rest. I had many other options to pick from when a deep rest day came around.

Continue reading this series: Listening To The Body

Go back to the start: Containing Work When Working For Yourself