Since the end of summer, I have been blessed to be “doing nothing.” I left my day job at IGN, and have had the modern luxury of choosing how to spend my time. I am grateful for that.
This is what I learned. Mostly about myself. I think it will apply (at least to me) whether I have a day job or not.
1. Hang a “beware of dogs” sign.
Tell everyone, straight up, how you spend your time and why. “Can we have coffee, since you’re Doing Nothing these days?” “No, I’m trying to spend more time with my family and on my own stuff — sorry. Talk again in three months?” That works. People don’t mind. (I even set an autoreply that said “I’m only checking email once a day for the foreseeable future…” and I only turned it off because Gmail kept re-sending it, annoyingly, to the people who email me most.)
2. You are how you spend your time. Corollary: you are not who you think you are.
All those “I’ll do that when I have time” stuff on the side project list? Nonsense.
When I started the “Doing Nothing” phase, I thought I’d spend my days with family, puttering around the house. Fixing stuff? Doing the magical side projects. Learning to code. I didn’t know what, really. And, for a few weeks, I did just that. I spent afternoon after afternoon with my kids, a couple of date nights a week with my wife. I turned down basically all the inbound “let’s hang” asks, much as I like meeting good people.
Those few weeks were great. Then, things evolved. I started spending more time on one work-y thing or another. And these days, I basically leave the house in the morning, come back at the end of the afternoon (though I often pick my son up from school), have meetings all day more or less, and jump on email late at night. Why? Because…
3. I must really love what I do. Proof: Given the freedom to spend my time any way I like, I keep doing it.
A big part of it is OUYA, the open Android game console where I’m now chairman — I just <3 it. I’ve spent much more time on it than I expected. The team there makes it a joy.
But the bigger part is I love the things I get to do in my profession — talk to entrepreneurs, think about how to make the world a bit better, and sometimes much better, learn new ideas and skills, and watch (or sometimes make!) invention happen. The action junkie in me is in heaven.
My behavior mystifies some people around me: I have no day job and yet, there I am, “working.”
This said, I feel a much greater sense of balance and self-control than I ever did when I had a day job. I’m the one deciding when to work and on what terms. I appreciate my life (including work) so much more when I’m anchored by being present with my family and enjoying myself.
4. Ruts are good.
The word “routine” is almost an insult. We say you’re “stuck in a rut.” What I learned about myself is that, without a daily pattern, I falter. I don’t take care of my health as well, I’m not as productive, I waste time hand-wringing on “what’s my plan for today.” It’s helps me to have a skeleton routine. (I wish I were disciplined enough to create my own routine, but I’m not.)
All those vehicles stuck in a rut? They know where they are going and can go pretty fast. Embrace the rut.
I wrote this all mostly for me, but maybe others find it useful. Soon, I’ll start a new day job, and I actually think most of these lessons will still apply.