Why you can never work 'full time'

Someone asked me the other day what percentage of my day was spent doing what. Yesterday it was approximately one third general admin type stuff, one third client liaison type stuff and one third designing type stuff. If we ignore the fact that there isn’t really such a thing as a typical day – that is a pretty much a typical day.

Ben Terrett (Interesting Mini CEO Half Thoughts)

When I started working freelance, I worked out my rates and estimated earnings based on a ‘typical’ eight hour day. What I didn’t really comprehend at the time was the fallacy of an eight hour day of solid work. There are so many factors that eat into that supposed ‘billable time’.

  • Admin. The obvious one. I hire a bookkeeper and an accountant to look after this side, but you still need to do a certain amount of admin yourself. Becoming a Limited Company brought with it more forms than I could ever imagine.
  • Illness. Your choice of lifestyle and diet can affect this, but even the fittest get the flu.
  • Hardware/software failures. Kernel panics, hard drive failures, crashy software.
  • Meetings. Not so much with clients (which are billable), but with accountants, bookkeepers, solicitors, financial advisors…
  • Enquiries. This has been a big problem for me, as before I worked for Opera, the level of enquiries was such that I could spend half of most days simply replying to them.
  • Phone calls. The ones unrelated to active projects. “I’ve lost my login details…” or “Can you just send me…”.
  • Lack of motivation. It sounds lame, but you will get days where no matter how hard you try, you can’t produce anything. Usually a sign of needing a break.
  • Power cuts, or lack of internets (something I see happen a lot with Twitter friends cut off by poor service from their ISP).
  • Children!. We love them, but every working parent surely dreads the call from school or nursery, asking them to collect their poorly child.

No doubt there are many more.

The problem with setting such an unrealistic expectation is two-fold. The first is that you often feel like a failure for not achieving those core hours (sometimes you do far, far more of course, but that doesn’t always help the guilt!). Secondly, it leads to underestimating project times, where your belief of how much you can achieve is sadly mistaken.

There’s no easy way around this, it’s just one of the things I’ve got used to. Correction – still getting used to. I’m better than I was, but I still get this wrong.