Doing more by doing less: why I’m creating more free time

I’ve recently realised that I’m trying to cram too much into my days and weeks. For every hour, there are always at least two things I want to get done, and those two things probably require at least two hours each. That means work frequently spills over into evenings, weekends, and despite my best intentions, what were supposed to be weeks ‘off’.

Do you find it hard to take time off? I do. I attempted to finish my client work in early July so that I would have some time to work on the business, and then take August off. It didn’t happen. I couldn’t resist when a great project came my way in mid-July. And I found it hard to say ‘no’ when clients got in touch just as August was about to begin. It’s the freelancer’s dilemma: what happens if there is no work? Better take it while someone is knocking on the door.

The result is that I am exhausted. Like everyone, I have found the past 18 months tough. As the saying goes, we’re weathering the same storm in different boats. I feel like I’m running on empty. My creativity is low and I’m struggling to get out of bed in the morning.

Photo of Rachel working at laptop
Me and my trusty laptop

Taking stock of where I am

As I had planned to take August off work, we booked a few days away at the beginning of the month. I didn’t quite get everything finished I wanted before we left so I reluctantly packed my laptop. We got to the hotel, and I hid the laptop in a cupboard. There it stayed until we left again. My brain decided it was on strike and there was no way it was going to look at a computer screen.

Whether it’s mental exhaustion or lockdown brain fog, I just didn’t want to write anything I didn’t absolutely have to. The launch I was planning has gone on a back burner. Efforts to plan ahead have been reluctantly set aside. I feel torn at not making use of my time ‘off’ to get ahead on my own business. But I also know that pushing through isn’t going to help me or my clients.

As I gradually started to relax (and wished we’d booked two weeks instead of four nights away) I started to think maybe I was backing the wrong side in the freelancer’s dilemma. By cramming every moment of my day with work, I’m not living life to the full. I’m working until I drop. I know I’m missing out in lots of ways. I’m not meeting people. I’m not going out. I’m not seeking different perspectives. And all work and no play means I not only have little to say for myself (beyond that I’ve been busy writing interesting things for my lovely clients) but it means I’m not at my best physically or mentally.

I noted as I tried to rest how busy my mind is. No sooner do I close down one thought, then my brain reaches for another one. I’d love a lazy morning sitting in a coffee shop watching the world go by, and not just because that’s been one of the pleasures denied me by Covid. Thinking time gives you the space to come up with new ideas and to process what’s going on in your life.

I’ve been thinking for a while that I create a lot of outputs but don’t have many inputs. One of the ways that shows up for me is that ‘show me a picture of your day’ would always be a dull picture of a computer keyboard. During our few days away at the beginning of August, we went walking in the Peak District, swam every day, and I actually read a book from cover to cover, something which shouldn’t be unusual but frustratingly is. I promised myself I wouldn’t post on social media. A break is a break, after all. But ironically, if I had posted, my feed would have been a lot more interesting with gorgeous views and conversations about the world beyond my living room.

View across a valley near Edale

Esther de Charon de Saint Germain describes ‘days off to nourish mind, body and soul’ as part of her Pink Carpet. I read her suggestions for what to do during them with envy.

  • I want to be able to spend a day with a pile of books, reading and making notes.
  • I want time to experiment with my writing and create for fun.
  • I want to go and stare at a painting in the Fitzwilliam Museum and get lost in the canvas.
  • I want to go swimming or take a long walk by the River Cam.
  • I want to soak up new ideas and listen to conversations I can share with my clients to help them develop their businesses.

One of my dreams is to spend more time in France. I’ve been attempting to learn French for a few months with Duolingo but it’s frequently only 5 minutes a day at the end of the evening. What if I let myself have more time to listen to the language?

A photo of a French chateau
One of the beautiful chateaus we visited in France
A few weeks back Sagi Shrieber posted about something he is calling #9to12club. He had blocked out 9am to 12pm every day to work on his physical and mental health. One of his questions was, what are your priorities and are they in your diary?

Mine are not. Where are my days off to nourish my mind, body, and soul? Where is the time to go for a swim or a long walk?

You might be reading this and thinking about your week and whether there’s something you would love to do but haven’t got in your diary. Can you find a space? What would happen if you blocked out a morning or afternoon each week?

Running your own business enables you to live life on your own terms. Yes, of course it involves putting the work in. And if you’re a solo business owner, like me, you will be wearing all the hats. But the upside of that is that you do have the freedom to do things your way.

Walking up a hill in Edale (I’m not going to pretend we climbed, we didn’t, there was an uphill slope, the kind that doesn’t exist in Cambridge) I felt so happy. I’ve been teaching my son to ride a bike over the last couple of weeks and along with the satisfaction of watching him peddle away from me I’ve a) been grateful that I freed up most of August to spend with my children and b) loved being outdoors.

Changing what you're doing to reduce brain fog

A recent article about brain fog talks about ‘everything being so samey’ as one of the tolls on our mental health. Our brains are finding it hard to process life with little variety. Getting outside isn’t just a change of scene, it’s a change of pace. There’s a sensory aspect to it too, feeling the wind on my face and the sun on my skin. When we got caught in the rain in Edale, it was a pleasant sensation (we made it to the pub before it got truly torrential).

A photo of Rachel walking in the rain in Edale
Walking in the rain in Edale

Sagi has recorded a video about the #9to12club, which he didn’t do until he had tried it for three months to see if it stuck. It’s far more sensible than me writing this with a lot of good intentions. I’ve planned out my weeks with plenty of gaps and I’m trusting the process. I’ve also added in time for coffee chats on Friday afternoons so I can meet more people. Yes, they’re on Zoom, but if you fancy a natter, book in. It would be lovely to see you.

Meanwhile, if you’d like to follow how this experiment works out, you’ll find me on Instagram @RachelExtance.

Oh, and that launch that’s on a back burner? It’s for Your Blog Counts. If you want to write an authentic blog for your business which showcases your knowledge, experience and personality, enabling people to get to know you and what you do, take a look.

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Rachel Extance

Rachel Extance

Award-winning journalist and blogger. I help businesses communicate who they are, what they do, and why. If you struggle to talk about yourself in your marketing, get in touch with me.

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