It’s been a long time since I last brought you up to speed on my goings-on.
Why? Because for the past several months, I don’t really feel like I’ve had anything to say! Not a lot has been going on from a business perspective, and I’ve hardly felt like the best possible example of the hard work and sacrifice it takes to leave work behind, nor the level of motivation that is required.
But now I want to take this opportunity to bring you up to speed. The past few months have been eventful in their own way, and I now find myself in a place of relative calm from which I can reflect upon 2014 and consider what I may choose to do in 2015 – both professionally and personally.
I consider myself a pretty chirpy guy most of the time. I tend to have a positive outlook on things.
However, it wasn’t long ago that I found myself down in the dumps. While my personal life was going great, my professional life was really dragging me down. I had no real desire or motivation to do any work, and I couldn’t figure out what it was that was sapping me of my vigor.
My income was suffering as a result. I was in a real rut; my earnings hadn’t really grown in around a year. In fact, I wasn’t even tracking my earnings – such was my indifference – but I knew that my income wasn’t anything to write home about relative to my past accomplishments.
It was a catch-22 situation for me. I had no desire to work on my business (quite the opposite), and thus my business wouldn’t grow.
I was going around in circles trying to answer the questions that I felt needed answering. Why aren’t I motivated? What can I do to boost my motivation? Am I doing the right work? Am I in the right environment? Should I try something new? And so on.
2014 could be defined as a year of ideas for me, and I think that was part of the problem. I was distracted by 101 ideas – from a fast food restaurant, to a month-long busking experiment, to a home bakery, to a podcast called “Die Trying”, to a wholesale cheese business…I could go on and on. I saw so many possibilities, but I was agonizing over the direction in which I thought was best to go.
Eventually I discovered how to get out of my slump, which ultimately lay in the abandonment of Western commercial values.
Put simply, in order to be more happy, I needed to “work” less and do more stuff.
Is that an elusive enough explanation for you? Don’t worry; I won’t leave you hanging.
Let’s talk about work.
It is so ingrained in us to work a 9-5 day that the idea of working half of that time (or even less) may not even occur to us as an option. But, fortunately for me, it was (and is) an option. And actually, I believe it is an option for many more of us than we think. Sure – we might need to work 8+ hour days to sustain our ways of living, but what if we are prepared to live differently? What if we are prepared to sacrifice material wants and exchange them for more time?
I stopped focusing all of my questions on my business and instead asked questions about my life as a whole. What do I like to do? What do I find rewarding? What environment do I want to operate in? I took a holistic approach to managing my life, and it made a world of difference. Perhaps most curiously, I discovered that pretty much all of the things I wanted to do were the simplest (and cheapest) things one could imagine.
And the funniest thing is that my new approach to living has actually benefitted my professional life too. Perhaps not in the way most people would measure it (i.e. financially), but certainly in terms of my attitude towards my work, and how it can benefit others.
A Day in the Life
Fast-forward to present day, and I’m in a position where I’m excited to get out of bed in the morning. This has never really happened to me before – at least, not for an extended period of time.
At the moment I tend to get up at around 7-8am on weekdays. This isn’t typical, but my girlfriend is having to leave the house around that time to get to work this month. I’m actually really liking getting up at this time; rather than laying in for far too long and crawling out of bed between 9-10am as both my girlfriend and I normally do (the advantage/dangerous temptation of us both largely working from home).
I’ll have a shower and get dressed, then sit down at my laptop in my study and get started on some Anki flashcards. In case you don’t know, Anki is spaced repetition software. Spaced repetition learning is the most awesome thing I have discovered in the past year or so. If you want to learn anything, use spaced repetition.
I’ve recently been using Anki to learn the capital cities of the world (seriously, try me ;-)), American Presidents and British Prime Ministers. Why? Well I recently read The Know-It-All by A. J. Jacobs, and it has seriously rekindled my thirst for knowledge.
More recently, I’ve started to learn French using the All Japanese All The Time methodology. Incidentally, AJATT is one of the best blogs I have ever come across, despite having what many would consider an awful design. Let that be a lesson to all of us! (It aint really about the design folks.)
I’ve always wanted to learn a foreign language, and right now I’m further down the road than I’ve ever been before. I’m loving it. I’m watching Friends in French and listening to French music and everything. I’m not actually understanding the vast majority of it, but still.
At about 10am I’ll pack up my laptop and walk down to Moseley Exchange – my local coworking space. At the moment I tend to work from around 10:30am to 1:30pm; three hours per day, with lunch time being the clear cut off point (i.e. I don’t work after lunch). Because of the limited time I have available to work, I tend to get a lot done in that time. This a phenomenon I am familiar with: the greater your time constraint, the more efficient you become with your time.
Once I’m finished with work I’ll head home for lunch. I’ll typically spend the afternoon working on Anki, reading and baking. Yep – baking. I make a mean sandwich loaf these days, and I’m working on expanding my repertoire in the near future.
Evenings tend to be taken up with social engagements (don’t I sound grown up ;-)) or just lounging at home and taking it easy. I’m typically in bed before 10:30pm, and I’m sleeping as well as I ever have (despite a history of insomnia-related sleep issues).
How My Earnings Have Been Affected
It’s all well and good that I’m living the dream, but I still need to support myself, right? We all do.
Well, at the moment things are going well by my standards.
My whole approach to finances (both personal and professional) has become ultra simple, and involves three simple questions asked on a weekly and/or monthly basis:
- How much am I spending?
- How much am I earning (and is it more than what I spend)?
- Do I have more money in the bank than I did last time I checked?
That’s is the extent of my business “growth” plan and personal financial planning.
I have a personal budget in a Google spreadsheet that contains an estimate of my monthly expenditure. I add up my actual expenditure at the end of every month and compare it against the personal budget to check that my estimate is relatively accurate (within reason). That takes about 15 minutes.
I have an earnings estimate that I update every week based upon product sales in the previous week and freelance earnings projections. It takes a couple of minutes to update.
Finally, I add up all the money I have in my bank accounts once per month and check that I have more than I did in the previous month after tax. This takes about five minutes.
If my projected earnings go below about 15% more than my projected outgoings, I’ll have to get my thinking cap on about where my business is going and/or what I’m spending. That’s not in danger of happening at the moment, so I’ll just keep on doing what I’m doing.
You know what’s so exciting about that approach? It means that my business can be based entirely on what I love doing: helping people. If I can help people and make money doing it, I’m a very happy guy. And once I stopped trying to help people and make more money at the same time, it made a world of difference to how I feel about my work.
At the moment everything is going in the right direction. While I couldn’t tell you my exact earnings (I’m just not interested in precise numbers, so long as my income is comfortably higher than my expenditure), I can give you the estimates I keep track of:
- Paid to Blog Jobs: ~$2,000
- Paid to Blog: ~$1,000
- Bluehost affiliate sales: ~$700
- Writing income (net): ~$3,500
- Outgoings: ~$500
- Net income (before tax): ~$6,700 per month
If my outgoings drop below $6,000 I’ll have to think more ‘commercially’ about my business. Until then, I can just carry on doing what I’m doing.
The most absurd thing is that I would have considered $6,700 income a ‘failure’ a month or two ago. After all, my old income reports summary show that my highest earning month – way back in June 2013 – was just a notch or two under $9,000. How can I be happy when I’ve gone backwards?
Well, the devil’s in the details. First of all, I’m earning less but working far less – just three or so hours per day. Second of all, I’m as happy as I’ve ever been. Finally, I have a far healthier perspective – I simply don’t care that I’m earning less. I don’t need that extra money. I certainly don’t need to deal with what I’d have to trade for it in terms of time and effort.
So What’s Changed?
I could point to many things that have changed over the past couple of months that could account for my drastically increased happiness, but what’s really made the difference is my mindset.
I’ve completely re-framed in my mind what life should be about (at least for the time being). I’ve switched from a mindset of “How can I earn more?” to a mindset of “How can I be more happy?” And boy is it liberating. I’m spending far less on material things and feeling better for it. If my earnings do get closer to that $6,000 mark, I will probably look at where I can spend less before figuring out how to earn more.
However, I’m sure I won’t be able to ride this wave forever. Life has a way of making sure we experience our fair share of ups and downs. But I feel better equipped to deal with what’s to come than ever. Bring it on.
Photo Credit: Damian Gadal