Self-Employment: When is work not work?

Let’s say you go to a ‘normal’ 9-5 job. It’s in an office, you have a desk or a cubicle, at lunchtime you get a break where you probably eat a crappy sandwich or something. Basically everything you do in that office is work.

Not 100% everything, of course. Going to the toilet is not work, nor is eating the aforementioned sandwich. But checking your email is. Tidying the communal kitchen is. Talking to colleagues is – even if you’re talking about the latest episode of whatever, because that’s networking, my dear.

If you’re not working, most of the time it’s pretty obvious.

If you’re self-employed? Uh…

Well, there it gets complicated. Because when is work not work? I work from home. Is it working when I hoover the study? Should I then only hoover the study during my work hours?

Sometimes, like with ‘normal’ employment, it’s quite obvious. Obviously doing my business finances is work. Obviously answering emails is work. Researching new contracts is definitely also work too. Anytime I’m on WP-admin is definitely work.

That’s not even the beginning of the conundrums, though.

Because…I do a lot of jobs at work.

I have a volunteer job. I do it both for fun as well as as a job. In my primary job, I do multiple jobs – I run this blog, stream on Twitch, and I’m branching out into trying to do more freelance blogging and general writing work too.

That last one is the trickiest thing. It’s what a lot of people would refer to as a side-hustle. Even the name implies that it’s not your job. It’s something on the side. It’s a little extra. Surely that’s not work?

But I’m getting paid for it. That’s the point. I’m getting paid and it’s still writing and a moment ago I said writing was definitely work and OH GOD IF I’M BROWSING TWITTER IS THAT WORK OR NOT?

There’s a danger in this and the danger is binary thinking.

Because everything I just said places tasks into two categories: work and not work.

So let’s not imagine it like that. Let’s not see it as two bins, but a spectrum. I’ve talked about spectrums before, because the thing is…the world gets a lot better when you see things that way. It gets a lot less stressful. Why?

Well, binary or black-and-white thinking is a symptom of a lot of mental illnesses. It’s pretty normal to think that way and it’s very important to get away from it.

Which is where re-framing how we think helps.

I’m now, any time I think ‘wait, is this work?’ attempting to place it upon the work-not work spectrum. Sometimes a task can move along that spectrum. Checking Twitter? Often nearer to work. Checking Twitter and only reading things about Critical Role?

Mmm…probably a bit further to the right.

I don’t know if this is completely going to fix the guilt of oh god am I even working? I’ll come back to you in a couple of months when I’ve done more ‘side-hustling’ and more of this thought exercise.

Either way, it’s definitely worth a try – because there’s no guilt like the guilt of knowing when you’re putting enough effort in.

If you enjoyed this blog post and would like to read more about my adventures in self-improvement, there’s now a whole category just for it! Watch this space for more similar blogs in the future.