What’s Your Number?

For most of the past 16 years I’ve worked for myself, and from home. Although that’s not a choice for everyone, I think anyone can learn from some of the insights this way of working and living has given me.

Time is not money

Time is way better than money. Time buys health, fun, and peace of mind. For example, people often ask how I can fit in one-hour daily workout sessions. My day has an extra hour than most because I don’t spend an hour or two commuting.

I did commute for the first five years of my professional life, and the cost was higher than just those hours in the car. I paid in anxiety, recovery time, and lost opportunity, too.

CONSIDER: If you could arrange with your employer to work just two days a week from home, or to change your work schedule to avoid rush hours, what would you do with the extra two or more hours you’d have in a week?

Not all time is created equal

Being my own boss, I have dominion over large swaths of my time. This grants me the freedom to design my schedule for utmost productivity. I’m useless in conversations and meetings before 10:00 AM, so I don’t take meetings and calls until after then. I’m most awake, creative, and productive in the afternoon (when other people are in a post-lunch slump), so I make the most of those hours.

Those things weren’t possible when I worked in corporate environments, “doing” a 9-6 day. Now I work five hours a day and get more done in that time, with more creativity, than I ever did on other people’s schedules.

CONSIDER: Within the constraints you have, how could you design your schedule to best serve the way your mind and body work? Let’s say you recapture three hours a week by working from home two days. Rather than exercising or prepping meals in the evening simply because you normally do those things after work, do those things at the OPTIMAL times based on how YOU function best.

Know your number

I’m solely responsible for my own income and health benefits. I don’t qualify for employment insurance. I have no pension. I need to be prepared for short-term disability, long-term disability, and critical illness scenarios, as well as slow periods.

While these responsibilities never outweighed my distaste for corporate life, they did induce anxiety. Until I figured out what I call “my number”.

Try this. Run these calculations:

  1. The value of an hour of your time to your employer. e.g. you work 8 AM-4 PM, 5 days a week, 47 weeks a year, with an hour a day commuting and another 30 hours a year doing extra work on evenings and weekends. That’s 2,145 hours/year. Let’s say you make a salary of $90,000. That’s $41/hour. To be fair to your employer, call it $55/hour at a loaded rate. This is the numeric value your employer puts on an hour of your time.
  2. The value of your time to you. Run two scenarios (or more if you like):

    i. Dream scenario: e.g. you want to work 3 hours a day, 4 days a week, with 8 weeks of vacation per year. You want to make $150,000/year. That’s $265/hour at 564 per year.

    ii. Moderate scenario: e.g. you could work 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, 46 weeks a year with no overtime and no commute. You want to make $100,000. That’s $72/hour at 1,380 hours per year.

    Average your scenarios to get YOUR number (e.g. $126/hour averaging the above two hourly scenarios).

CONSIDER: How does knowing YOUR number alter the way you think about work, job security, and happiness? For me, having a number made a lot of things very clear, such as when to say yes and when to say no to work; when I’ll do favours; and so on. This exercise also relaxed me because even my “dream” situation is achievable at the higher end of acceptable industry consulting rates.

Forget about your pension

Living in a city whose primary employers are governments, I’ve lost count of the number of people I know who are sticking it out in jobs they don’t like, ruining their health in toxic work environments, or waiting until retirement to do something they care about … all in the name of a pension.

Entrepreneurs like me don’t get it. We’re proof that you can design the life you want, do the work you want in the way you want to do it, with no so-called “security”. I struck out on my own in my 20s in the middle of the high-tech bust because it felt like the least risky option. I learned early on that the only real security I had was ME.

CONSIDER: If you’re dissatisfied, unhappy, or have spent any time wishing that “things would change”, know this:

You can design your life. The first step is to unshackle yourself from other people’s estimations of your value.

Notes & Resources

This Washington Post article is interesting, as it debunks some timeworn ideas about the best times of day to do what – but I maintain that the better approach is to do what YOUR body wants to do, WHEN it wants to do it.

My article, Body of Knowledge, is about learning to listen to what my body has to tell me.

I know that “Designing Your Life” is the title of a book, but I haven’t read it. I read the description and it looks like the authors might be writing about some of the same ideas I’ve got here.

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