Are you respecting your own time?

The freedom aspect of entrepreneurship is one of the things that drew me to entrepreneurship in the first place. In fact, the idea of that freedom has always motivated me more than the prospect of making serious money - I’ve been perfectly fine with sometimes earning a lot less than my peers because my open schedule allowed me to spend a lot more time with my son, either in-person or online.

But that open schedule comes with a lot of responsibility. When I started my photography business, I knew I wanted that flexibility, but I had a very different idea of what that would look like. It wasn’t as amazing as I thought it would be and there were many drawbacks I hadn't anticipated. I thought I’d have SO much time to pursue big, fun side projects, spend mountains of time with my kiddo and get loads of hang time with all my friend units, and while I do have more time for those things than most 9-5 employees, I realized pretty early on that being a sole proprietor required way more time commitment than I originally thought it would. But was I being respectful of my own time?

One of the earliest casualties of my work schedule was socializing. Because the vast majority of my gigs happen on the weekend, a time when most of my 9-5 friends had off, I saw less and less of my friends. Our schedules just didn’t match up, and that worsened as we all got older, had children, settled into middle aged routines - there just wasn’t enough social time in my life, even though I had this “wonderful”, flexible schedule. I also wasn't doing a good job of creating space in my life for a real social schedule. In fact, for the longest time, I didn't even realize the importance of making sure I had a social life.

I’m writing about this now because I’m seeing it happen more and more in my and other entrepreneur’s lives. Our social schedules either don't exist or are poorly managed, because we're ultra-focused on living that small business life. I recently had to pass up the chance to hang out with someone that I really would have enjoyed seeing (because they crack me up and help relieve tension with their dumb jokes and silly voices), but I couldn't spend time with them because I needed to shoot a wedding on the same day. That's a valid work reason, but when every reason is a valid work reason, sometimes you need to make the hard decision and make room for social time. Another day, I couldn’t play Fortnite with my kid in the middle of the day, in spite of him really wanting me to jump online and help him demoralize a bunch of randos with our cracked shooting skills. Why couldn't I? Was it because I was making a conscientious decision to do work over spending time with my son? Nope, it was because I didn't manage my time well, and was behind on a deadline for edits. And that, ladies and germs, is what you call a "pain point" - a place in your work flow that could be improved. Some would argue that you don't need to play videogames with your kid in the middle of the work day, but while that might work OK for them, it doesn't for me. My son lives with his mom, so any chance I get to spend with him, online or otherwise, is important for me. But work schedule can't always be subverted for kid schedule - the worst example of that for me is when I have an amazing day laid out with my son - the arcade, a stop by the candy shop, Frisbee in the park, ending with watching Wakanda Forever - but then I have to cancel because I picked up a last-minute gig that I can't pass up because rent is looming and gigs have been sparse this month. These are all examples of time sacrifices you might choose to or be forced to make as a sole proprietor - unlike a 9 to 5, you can’t get someone to cover your shift or just use a sick day (except in extreme circumstances), because as a professional photographer, your reputation is built on follow-through, and ultimately, your clients hired YOU, not a replacement they don't have any rapport with.

And the frustration of managing your time, of respecting your time works both ways. It can be frustrating for friends when I say I can’t hang out because, to them, my schedule seems so open, but the restrictions on my time aren’t like those of people who work a set schedule every week, and sometimes it’s hard for them to understand that. Yes, I definitely have lots of time open on my schedule compared to most, but those time slots often come in odd times of the day or weird, little slices.

And because of how awkward a small business owner's schedule can be, I eventually realized that I needed to be very careful about who I gave my time to, and so I stopped letting people access that time if they didn’t bring real value to my life. I stopped saying yes out of politeness (or boredom or loneliness) and started reserving those important time slots for people who inspired me or supported me or encouraged me or helped me learn - and these people recognized that I was giving them something special and when it came to their schedule, they would do the same for me. Surrounding yourself with people who value your time, who respect time boundaries and limitations - that was, is and should always be the goal. These kinds of friends and peers are very important, and I value their presence in my life more than they may realize.

So, how about you? Are you being respectful of your own time? Are you creating a schedule where your time slots are used in a way that brings real value to your life? Tell me about one way you're going to work to improve your schedule and the access you give to it.