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!