As I work on a story about new ways that managers are monitoring employees, I’m reminded of and increasingly grateful for one of the biggest advantages of the freelance life: my time is my own.
When I worked for a company, I generally had to be in the office by 9 in the morning. During the course of the day, I was expected to sit at my desk, work on a computer, talk on the phone, and attend meetings. If I left before 5 p.m., I had to have a good reason. (They never seemed to mind, however, if I stayed late.)
I’ve always struggled with traditional 9-to-5 hours. I have never been a morning person. I may be awake and at my desk by 9 a.m., but I’m not fully conscious until about 10 a.m. Being able to set my own hours has been a huge blessing. I can structure my day according to my own circadian rhythms. I try to start at 9 a.m., but I do undemanding work, like going through e-mails or reading my daily news sites, until 10 a.m. when my brain is up. I’ll work steadily until about 12:30, then break to go to the gym, run errands or do some housework. My energy peaks in late afternoon, so 2 till about 7 is my most productive time. I try to reserve my heaviest mental lifting for then. I’ll break for dinner and evening activities, but often go back to my computer to wrap up loose ends between 10 and midnight.
That’s my typical schedule, but it’s not set in stone. If I have a lot of work, I’m at my desk at 7 a.m. (with a huge mug of coffee) and work till midnight. If the workload is light, I take the day off. If it stays light, I spend my days marketing myself to new publications and editors. Or teaching myself new skills like how to do more with WordPress or how to search for sources on Twitter. If the workload is medium and it’s Opening Day, I go to the ballpark.
The point is, I’m free to use my time in the most productive ways. In traditional jobs, employers are in charge of time and they decide what’s productive. They watch not only when employees are in the office, but increasingly what employees do on the computer. They use technology that blocks websites, and not just the pornographic ones or the shopping sites, but also social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. Network administrators keep logs of what websites employees frequent. Some employers even install software that records every key stroke and captures screenshots.
If I waste two hours socializing on Facebook, nobody cares, but I may pay the price in lost productivity and lost revenue. On the other hand, I may spend an hour figuring out how to do specific searches on Twitter, which may lead me to the perfect source for a particular story. That’s productive.
As a freelancer, I have the constant pressure of meeting deadlines and earning enough income to live. But I’ll take that any day over a rigid schedule set by others and ruled by their judgments about how I should spend the most precious thing I own: my time.