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August 9, 2011 » 7:20 pm

Wednesday Play Days

This is my calendar for this week:

It’s a pretty typical week for me, except for one thing. Can you see what it is?

One of the things I need to be happy, creative, and productive is space. Lots of it. I usually fill it up quickly, but that’s okay, as long as I have space to fill. One of the things I’ve done poorly since starting Blue Oxen Associates is create space for myself. It’s hard to do when you have your own company, especially if you love what you do. But it’s necessary.

Over the past year-and-a-half, I’ve been making some structural changes to try and create space for myself. One of those changes was to start taking vacations. I took my first extended vacation in eight years last October, and last month, I went on vacation again.

(Vacations, by the way, are awesome. I highly recommend them to everyone — real vacations, where you leave your devices at home. I know this is obvious to most people, but for the rest of you, please, do yourself a favor, and take a week off.)

Another change I made was to raise my consulting rates. I had not raised my rates since starting Blue Oxen eight years ago, and I was below market rate, so it was definitely overdue. That made a difference as well, partially because it gave me a bit more financial peace-of-mind, but mainly because it allowed me to hire more and better people for my projects. That made the work better and more fun, and it created some additional space for me to focus my energies on the stuff that excited me the most.

Still, at the end of June, I decided I needed a heart-to-heart with my partner-in-crime, Kristin Cobble. We had just finished a massive project together, busting our butts toward the finish line. Along the way, we had also been pouring hours into building our business, cultivating new clients, recruiting new talent, and planning and thinking together. Not surprisingly, we were exhausted.

So Kristin and I sat down together, and I said, “I want to take the entire month of July off. I don’t know if we can, but I want to. And then we need to make more changes so that we have more space — space to rest, to reflect, to play.”

Kristin was supportive and enthusiastic. We both already had vacations planned in July. Our previous client wanted to do some more work with us, but we weren’t sure when that would get started. We were also in discussions with other potential clients. We knew at worst that we’d have our vacations plus a small break from client work. But knowing that was not enough. I wanted to make more structural changes.

We decided to experiment with a new practice: Wednesday Play Days. In short, we would essentially treat Wednesdays as a weekend. That meant no meetings and no client work. Beyond those constraints, we could choose however we wanted to spend that day. We were using “play” in the broadest sense of the word.

We had several inspirations for this. One was Kristin’s dad, who believes strongly in working intensely for two days, then taking a break. He’s been practicing Wednesday Play Days for a long time. Another inspiration was my friend and colleague, Odin Zackman, who keeps his Wednesdays clear so that he can use it for thinking time. I was originally surprised that he did it in the middle of the week, but he made a really compelling case for breaking up the week that way.

We put it into practice immediately. Kristin has since stopped doing it, finding that, as a mom, it works better to distribute her rest time throughout the week. I’ve been doing it for a month now, and I’ve been absolutely loving it.

In the beginning, it was painful for me to schedule around Wednesdays. When client work is light, I tend to schedule more meetings. Wednesday Play Days prevented me from doing that.

It got easier quickly, though, because the impact was immediate. Whenever I look at my calendar and I see that blank space in the middle, I feel joy.

I’ve filled that space in different ways. A few times, I did “work” — not client work, but thinking and writing work, stuff I really enjoy and never find enough time to do. One time, my parents were in town, and so I spent the day with them, completely guilt-free. One time, I literally did nothing. I just relaxed.

So far, it’s had the desired effect, and I’m going to try to maintain it. This week, I’m being severely tested. A new project is starting, and we’re going to be working our butts off again. I also have some proposals to write for potential projects that I’m excited about. We’re in the middle of an internal strategy process, and we have the usual laundry list of things to do for everything else we’re involved with. What’s truly making it challenging is that all of this stuff is actually fun!

I am sorely tempted to break the “no client work” rule tomorrow, but I’m going to do everything in my power to resist. It may be easier to lift that rule and just keep Wednesdays meeting-free, but I’m not going to lift it without a fight. Things are picking up, but not insanely so. Leaving space in the middle of the week is enabling me to maintain that sanity, and I think the results will pay off for everyone — my clients, my colleagues, my friends and family, and most of all, me.

See you all on Thursday!

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5 Responses to “Wednesday Play Days”

  1. You know the first reaction I had was "well, its nice Eugene gets to work 32 hours a week". And also then "well, even if he squeezes the hours in the other days, that wouldn't work in a meeting-driven culture like where I work" and then I thought "even if could clear out a day a week, I literally don't have 40 free hours on the remaining 4 work days" (I really don't, with the kids, etc). But then it struck me, I've actually been doing Wednesdays as "work from home" — which is not the same as not working at all, but the planned change of scenery does make a short break from the daily grind and does make everything more bearable and changes the perspective.

    I am curious though, from a business perspective, are you not concerned with losing a day's worth of billable client time? Do you really spend 20% of your work week on non-billable work anyway? I'm just curious how this is justified from a business perspective… because I really also believe in space (both time and physical) being important for sustainable workplaces…

  2. No consultant bills 100 percent of their time. That's why you charge overhead. It's not sustainable otherwise, because you have to do all of the other things required to successfully run a business, and that takes time.

    And honestly, no full-time employee works 100 percent of the time either, at least not in the billable sense.

    The problem is that, as an independent consultant, you're always worried about where the next paycheck is going to come from, and so you end up overextending yourself. If you fall into this trap, you're going to end up killing yourself. In some ways, if you love what you do (which I do), that makes it even worse. Both your life and your work suffer as a result.

    We had originally thought about calling it "No Work Wednesdays," but I didn't like that. The reality is that I will work on Wednesdays, it's just that I'll be doing the kind of work that I want to do, not the kind of work that somebody else has told me to do.

    For example, I'm constantly griping about not having enough time to think and write. Now I have a day a week when I can do that. And frankly, the more I think and write, the more business I'm going to get. So I think that every way you look at it, it should more than justify itself.

    I really think that — at minimum — everyone would benefit from designating a day a week as a no-meeting day. Again, I think that a lot of us have a pathology about meetings — we have to have them, or we're going to get in trouble or things are going to fall apart, etc. In reality, many meetings are a waste of time, and they take time away from work that needs to get done.

    I think what you're doing on Wednesdays is very much in the same spirit of what I'm doing. You should try the no-meeting (or no-phone-call) thing on the same day if you're not doing it already.

  3. Sounds inspired! Keep the rest of us drones posted.

  4. Thanks for this. "I know this is obvious to most people, but for the rest of you, please, do yourself a favor, and take a week off." Ok, you got me. I was debating whether to take my iPad with me on a 3-day vacation or not and this pushed me over the edge to not bring it along. Also, I plan to turn off the Internet on my iPhone after I arrive, except for one quick email check in the evening each day. Thanks for the inspiration! 🙂

  5. Awesome, Chuck! Glad to hear you disconnected. Hope you had a great break!

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