An Observation on Self Employment

A few months ago I wrote about how having a schedule really helps a nomad keep a good work/life balance when working remotely for themselves. Today I’d just like to briefly interrupt your holiday weekend to point out one other related point that has come to my attention since I started working from my computer more and work-camping less.

When you start working for yourself, if you keep track of your time (like I do) you may become depressed when you find you can’t really work eight hours a day – mental stamina runs out before hitting that magic number. Especially if your work is creative in nature.

At first it really bothered me that when I was writing my books for instance, I couldn’t put in eight hours a day on it. I felt like a fraud. Until I came to a certain realization.

Most work-camping jobs pay hourly. You show up, and not matter how good of a job you do or how productive you are (or aren’t), you get paid for your time. You’re theoretically working 40 hours a week for a standard full-time job.

But you’re not really working 40 hours.

Of the regular eight hour work day, some of it is spent preparing to work. Some is spent packing up at the end of the day. You get breaks, both sanctioned ones in a break room and unsanctioned ones – zoning out while thinking about what you’re going to have for dinner that night, or whether your coworker is going to finish that thing they said they’d finish, or wondering if you could have done something different on that last project, or a million other things. Some days your mind just isn’t with it and you kinda-sorta work, but it’s more like going through the motions.

No one puts in a full eight hours of work in an eight hour work day, and realizing this made me feel a lot better. There’s a limit to our attention span and energy, and while mindless work in a warehouse or at the beet harvest can be done after that limit is reached (although let me say, I make far less mistakes at the beginning of my shift at those kind of jobs than the end), work that requires brain power cannot.

These past couple weeks staying with my friend Misty, who also works remotely, we discovered that we both put in about the same amount of work in a day, six hours of real work for what we consider a full, standard work day (which usually requires sitting my butt in the chair or at least engaging in a work mindset for eight hours). Days where we do more than that are considered extra productive.

Any other remote working RVers out there? I’d love to hear your numbers for what you consider a good work day. I wonder if six hours is pretty typical, I bet type of work changes that number too.

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37 Responses to An Observation on Self Employment

  1. Yamila November 24, 2017 at 4:19 pm #

    I’ve been working remotely since 1999, and a writer full-time since 2004. I don’t put in 8 hour days. I have ten to 15 days a month where I don’t do any work at all, at least 7 days of 14 hour work days, and the rest where I work three to five hours a day. Most of the work for the month will be done in those seven days when I’m ‘in the zone.’

    At the end of the month I will have written 50,000 good/usable words, which is what I need to make my living. I can’t force work to happen when I’m not up to it. If a friend asks me out I know I’m going to lose the day that we go out, and also the day after when I need to decompress–so I don’t go out with friends that often.

    I want to be regimented and work to a strict schedule, but I can’t do it. If I force myself then the work I put out is all crap and I have to rewrite it anyway. I can’t do any work in the mornings, or what counts as morning for me since I sleep until noon, so I don’t even try. Real work starts at 5pm and goes until 1 or 2am, but that’s only on days when I can work. If I can’t it becomes apparent pretty quick since I’ll find myself doing everything BUT working, like writing a long reply to a blog post. 🙂

    Anyway, what I’m doing works for me to an extent. I’ve had years where I’ve made $90k and others where I’ve made $40k, no matter what I’ve always gotten by pretty well.
    Yamila recently posted..Commune Really Didn’t Work OutMy Profile

    • Becky November 25, 2017 at 10:02 am #

      Thanks for sharing your numbers and process Yamila!

  2. Sue Davis November 24, 2017 at 5:10 pm #

    I’m not am RV’er or a blogger….but I quilt and do artistic crafting on items that I sell. These (to me) qualify as creative processes much like writing and photography. Unlike you, I do not need my income to pay my bills and so keeping track of my hours off and on projects is not something that I track. What I would like to share with you and others is that my creative juices have no rhyme or reason as to when they will show up or how long they will last. If I get an idea and it is working I can go for hours without noticing the time I am spending. However, if my “creative well has run dry” I can spin my wheels for untold hours with more stuff in the waste basket than I care to acknowledge. I have finally accepted the fact that when I’m hot I’m hot and when I’m not, I’m not and there doesn’t seem to be much of anything I can do to change that fact. So my advice is to just go with what is happening and if it turns out to be a cleaning day and not a writing day, don’t beat yourself up. It will all even out in the end.

    • Becky November 25, 2017 at 10:14 am #

      Yes this is totally a thing Sue! I’ve heard it described as a natural ebb and flow. Some days are flow days where the creation process comes easy, some are ebb days where it does not and trying to push it results in sub-par work.

      To work with this instead of against it, I’ve gone through all the tasks I do and labeled them as flow or ebb activities – whether they require creative energy or not. Writing blog posts is a flow activity, but editing them and sizing the pictures, those are ebb activities. So I try to line up my tasks for each day based on where my creativity is at. But whether I’m engaged in flow or ebb activities, I usually don’t make it past the 6 hour mark.

  3. Celena November 24, 2017 at 5:34 pm #

    Totally agree. My average is 4-6, but sometimes it’s none and sometimes it’s 12. It just depends what’s on my list. I used to work 60-80 hours a week at a corporate job, and I get more done now though. It’s not that I was slacking before, but without meetings and those kinds of distractions, I find I don’t need to work so many hours.

    • Becky November 25, 2017 at 10:15 am #

      An excellent point Celena. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Jelly B November 24, 2017 at 5:56 pm #

    Agreed. When I’m really getting after it, I think six hours is about the max I can do as well. Interesting you write about this, because I felt guilty in the same way before. But what you say does make sense. Thanks, I feel better now! LOL

    • Becky November 25, 2017 at 10:17 am #

      You’re welcome! It’s curious that it tends to be about the same amount of time for everyone. Guess we’re not lazy after all! 😛

  5. Daryl November 24, 2017 at 7:31 pm #

    Looking back on 30 years as a self-employed consulting engineer, I usually billed about 1/2 of my time. The other half was spent in administrative tasks (billing, quotes, etc), reading/writing (which never felt like work anyway) and just goofing off (aka refreshing the mind.)

    So your observations track with mine. Like Celena, I still accomplished more than my “full time” corporate jobs. And I enjoyed the freedom MUCH more, which it sounds like you do as well.

    I’ve enjoyed following your travels in the Casita. We had one for five years, and then bought a 22′ Born Free “Built for Two” MH. The BFT is basically a Casita Liberty – fiberglass, side by side beds, with a bigger refrigerator and a smaller bathroom (of which my wife often reminds me.) Both have been a lot of fun, particularly now in semi-retirement (which includes some serious blogging and writing, along with part-time RVing.)

    Please keep sharing your adventures. You write very well, and I’m sure you are an inspiration to many — both young and old. My sincere best wishes to you!

    • Becky November 25, 2017 at 10:19 am #

      Thanks for sharing Daryl and I’m glad you’re enjoying IO. I’ve known other people with Born Frees and really like them.

  6. Jerry Minchey November 25, 2017 at 5:39 am #

    Becky, you hit the nail on the head in this post about doing creative work. And as Sue said, “When you’re hot, you’re hot, and when you’re not you’re, not.” Accept it and don’t fight it.

    By the way, I love that picture of you. You look happy, confident, and content.

    • Becky November 25, 2017 at 10:21 am #

      Hope your book writing is going well Jerry! And thanks. 🙂

  7. Reine in Plano (when not camping) November 25, 2017 at 6:02 am #

    Since it seems your creative work is providing more and more of your income I’d say you’re doing something right so don’t sweat the clock watching. If you wanted your life to be regimented you won’t have started full timing.

    • Becky November 25, 2017 at 10:22 am #

      Ayup!

  8. Anne S November 25, 2017 at 7:31 am #

    Hi Becky, happy Thanksgiving. I agree wholeheartedly. For many years I worked remotely (from home, not an RV) in a technical job. Butt in chair for 9-10 hours typically, because of the need to be available to others, but 6 hours of real productivity is a very very good day. In a work camping job, you are selling your time. In a creative job, you are “selling” your creation! We don’t care if you take 8 minutes or 8 hours a day — we just love getting your words and photos!

    • Becky November 25, 2017 at 10:23 am #

      Now if only I could write a good blog post in 8 minutes! Haha. Thanks and I hope you had a great Thanksgiving as well.

  9. Debbra November 25, 2017 at 9:42 am #

    I would say a typical work day is about 5-6 hours based in my corporate experience. With breaks, lunches and the general chitchat that goes on during the day as well as some personal phone calls, etc., 8 hours included all that.
    There were times where more were put in but that was usually for an event that was happening.

    Do not discount you thinking about what you are going to write because that IS working. Prepping your area and setting up IS working also.

    Photographing IS working for your future articles. Building your library of information IS working. Getting information by having conversations with others IS working and so on and so forth.

    I struggled with this years ago. But having observed many of my past coworkers who were at the executive levels and at the time (80’s) were making 300K or more and seeing just how much “work” time they actually put in, believe me…you are probably putting in more doing what your doing.

    And creatively speaking some days I can go many hours without realizing it and before I know it I’ve gotten 8/10/12 hours put in. Other days I can be on a roll so to speak and work way less and produce more.

    Bottom line is; you’re working a lot more than you think you are. Getting supplies for your computer, printer, etc., making phone calls and because you travel for your job, THAT is all work related.

    Debbra

    • Becky November 25, 2017 at 10:25 am #

      Thanks for sharing Debbra. Since I’d never worked in an office environment before it was all speculation on my part. Vet tech and retail work has a different feel.

  10. KJ November 25, 2017 at 9:57 am #

    You make a good point. I’m more goal oriented. There are certain goals that are the core for my job. These are the ones I focus on. I call the others, when working, simply fillers 🙂

  11. GKLott November 25, 2017 at 10:30 am #

    Been remote/RV working since 1999. Have small engineering company. I find that the active time depends on the task. I can sometimes zone in while writing computer code, and I can spend a full 10+ hrs. When writing technical documents, 6 hrs per day is reasonable. I find that after answering client emails, QuickBooks entries, etc., that client task time can reduce by 1-2 hrs per day. My productivity key is to break every hour for stretching, walking, etc.

  12. Donald G Stebbins November 25, 2017 at 10:37 am #

    I write fantasy novels in my RV on public land, During my writing ‘season’ I live where there is no wi-fi or cellular signal so my work won’t be interrupted or diverted. A writing ‘shift’ is always 8-hours but productive output varies. New material is usually created about two hours in after rewriting or polishing previous work. Helping to maintain this schedule is a set routine and predictable circumstances. My camping areas are not highly trafficked, some seeing no more than one car a month. My day starts at sunrise with a 1 to 2 mile hike, followed by a light easy breakfast. Then writing for 2-4 hours, another shorter hike, snack, writing 4-6 hours, then pre-dinner hike, dinner, free time. This routine has worked for me for the past 8 years and four novels.

  13. Clare Sente November 25, 2017 at 1:59 pm #

    Hi Becky. Thank you for all that you share. I’m hoping to be a full time RV’r in a couple years. In anticipation of that I am building some online business for myself. I am currently reading the best selling book 4-Hour Workwwwk by Tim Ferris.

    His opinion is that you need to focus on the 80/20 Pareto’s principle -20% of your work results in 80% of the revenue. Don’t feel bad that you are being efficient. Keep up the great work.

  14. Furry Gnome November 25, 2017 at 4:51 pm #

    When I was working full- time, I always found I could get more done in a day if I took an hour or more and went and exercised over lunch than I could if I tried to work straight through. A half-day at full concentration is far more productive than an ‘ordinary’ day.

  15. SmallRVlifestyle November 25, 2017 at 9:01 pm #

    Eventhough I also do not work 8 a day, I am way more productive when I put my mind to it and I sit down to work. I create a list for each week what I need to get done and I am usually very good at going through the list and complete all the tasks. You also have to consider that people who work 8 hours a day and commute to work, that they need probably an additional 2 or 3 hours to wake up, get ready, drive to work and then home etc which we don’t have to do. We can just wake up, sit down in our pajamas front of the computer and can start right away. Overall we have way more time and more freedom. This lifestyle thought me that you can always make more money but you will never have more time.

  16. Linda Sand November 25, 2017 at 9:47 pm #

    My Brother-in-law works mostly out of his home for his own company. I was there one day when he was chatting away on the phone and his wife was steaming about him goofing off. He said something about not having a water cooler to hang around plus his client enjoyed those conversations and keeping your client happy is part of the work. I don’t know whether or not he billed those hours.

    When a woman I once worked for found out her accountant was billing her in tenths of an hour for chit-chatting she stopped being friendly to him. Is that better?

    If you spend your lunchtime reading work-related materials, did you actually get a break?

  17. desi November 26, 2017 at 8:56 am #

    you know becky nurses travel and work doesnt what you studied for have the same options for a month or so some women leave for maternity and need temp workers trained in the provession ,just a thought,better to be paid well on your schedule

    • Becky November 26, 2017 at 1:15 pm #

      Nah, the vet tech field doesn’t work that way Desi, I researched it heavily when I was preparing to hit the road. Good idea though.

  18. Becky November 26, 2017 at 1:17 pm #

    Thanks for sharing your stories everyone, it does seem like my experience is quite typical!

  19. John November 26, 2017 at 6:23 pm #

    I don’t have a link handy, but I did see an article from a psychological study that concluded that six hours of intellectual activity is about the limit of a human brain in a day.

  20. mary November 27, 2017 at 7:12 am #

    Thank you Becky! You always give great ideas and info. I would love to work remotely. Not sure what I would do or how to go about it, but I am ready for a change. I work for someone, but not feeling like I am “accomplishing” much. I am there and work x hours per day, but don’t feel like I am accomplishing anything. If I were working for myself, perhaps that would change.

    • Becky November 27, 2017 at 11:00 am #

      It starts with research Mary. 🙂 There are a lot of websites and blogs out there on working for yourself, it’s not something I write a ton about as I consider myself still something of a novice at it. https://www.themiddlefingerproject.org/ is where I first learned, but fair warning, if swearing offends you you’ll want to pick another.

  21. John November 27, 2017 at 10:31 am #

    I agree, I figured that out while working in “normal office jobs.” There is a fair amount of time you really are not doing something productive. Jobs where you have a specific task (answer the phones, ring people’s orders up on a register…) that are lower paid are often working all day (essentially – maybe 7 h 30m+). I found it a bit weird that the lowest paid people often (not always) worked longer and with fewer breaks than those making more.

    I find working for myself some days I will work 6 hours and some days 10 hours. I have much more variation working for myself. I find one of the challenges is motivation to work longer if I don’t have a specific task or tasks that must be done. It might be different for others, but I have set things up so I am not as pressed as when I had a “real job” which means I don’t have as many things that must be done. In my office life I always had numerous things to do.

    Sometimes when I am not in the mood for certain things I can just switch to something else (in the office I had many of those to choose from) now I often run out of those things (really a fair amount of it boils down to stuff just to do versus things when I have to really think and create something from nothing). When I am blocked on the more creative stuff I can still do tasks that are just (answer emails or do these specific things someone needs from me…).
    John recently posted..Insurance as a Digital EntrepreneurMy Profile

  22. John November 27, 2017 at 10:39 am #

    I also wrote about Motivation and Delivering Solutions When You Work for Yourself on my blog which captures my thoughts on remote work as I was traveling around (though not in an RV).
    John recently posted..Use FI/RE to Create a Better Life Not To Build a Nest Egg as Quickly as PossibleMy Profile

  23. Becky November 27, 2017 at 11:02 am #

    Thanks for sharing everyone!

  24. Maggie Connor November 28, 2017 at 11:03 pm #

    Spot on accurate I would say Becky. I work from home, see clients and yes, 3 2 hours meets and I am done for the day! Thanks for confirmation.
    PS: Did you know in Hawaii IO stands for the Hawaiian Hawk yet also in ancient times equates to the Creator of All That Is and Ever Shall Be. Pretty Cool! Keep on keeping on Becky! Aloha.

    • Becky November 29, 2017 at 5:01 pm #

      No I did not know that Maggie, pretty cool!

  25. zan thornton December 7, 2017 at 2:37 am #

    1st: thank you & gratitude for honesty. 2nd: 20-80 rule: 20% of work gets 80% done. Yes i heard other stats, but npr research claimed new low in human attention span = 7 sec; goldfish = 8! 3rd:truly correct @ 8 hrs “work” not equal 8 hrs. 4th: reserach @ students and newer research @ work = 25 min max attention. Im a sign lang interpreter for deaf. We swap out 20-25min to keep accuracy.
    THUS = 4.5 of 8 hrs is actual work.
    5th: suggested timer, set 20 min stop do something physical too
    6th: you are still amazing. Thanks 4 your YouTube/ blog!

    MATH: Likewise, 20 min with 20 min break is effective! So 40 min per hr (or 40/60 =2/3
    SO 8 hrs – lunch 0.5 hrs =7.5
    X 2/3 [0.667]=4.5 hr actual work!

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