Twenty One.

Coping with the ‘cult of busy’.

This week Frankie Tortora and Steve Folland have a chat in response to a question from freelance ‘policy geek’ Elaine Wilson. She says:

“How honest should I be about my current workload?

Like many freelancers I have busier and quieter spells (quieter around the summer holiday period for instance because I don’t have many childcare options and I want to spend that time with my daughter).

For some reason whenever a client, family member or other school parent asks what I’ve got on at the moment I feel really awkward telling them that I’m winding down for the school holidays or that my workload is quiet.

I know this works best for my family (and my own stress levels) and I’m trying to pursue my own creative project on the side during these quieter periods, but I feel like I should be projecting this image of being busy and that this somehow seems more professional not to be. I sort of imagine I should be like Alan Johnson in Peep Show, but I come across as more of a Jez!”

Take note dear listener! We might swear a bit. This one’s for the parents. To be enjoyed at your desk or once the kiddos are in bed.

Here’s what was said in this episode:

Comments on the previous episode:

[00:00:14] – Frankie
Hello. You’re listening to the Doing It For The Kids podcast, where we swear a bit too much and talk a bit too fast about freelance life with kids in the mix. I’m Frankie and this is Steve.

[00:00:24] – Steve
Yes, you are. Yes, I am. Welcome to another one.

Yeah, this whole thing is where we take questions from the Doing It For The Kids community and then do our best to answer them. But, it’s just our opinions, so we love to get your thoughts on them as well. And then, we read them out at the start of the next episode, which means we go back to last week’s episode.

Last week’s question was all about…

[00:00:44] – Frankie

[00:00:47] – Steve
My favourite ’80s hit that never was.

[00:00:50] – Frankie
Yeah, Barney dealing with procrastination.

[00:00:52] – Steve
Thank you for your comments. We had Hannah Ashwell-Dickinson, who said,

“Great episode!”

Thanks, Hannah. Hannah continues,

“I mostly go by the Eat the Frog rule.”

We were talking about that. Hannah continues,

“And then, sometimes asking myself the question, ‘what is the impact of not doing it?’ Gives me a bit of focus ie. if I don’t chase that payment — I will be skint.”

[00:01:16] – Frankie
Nice! Consequences!

Penny Smyth says,

“I am horrendous for this. My biggest problem is low-paid or no-paid fun side-hustling. I made my side hustle, my main hustle, when I quit my job and went freelance. You think that’d be enough, right? No. Now, I’ve got even more creative side hustles. They’re popping up like mushrooms.

The ‘aha! moment for me in this episode is where Frankie says something along the lines of, ‘if he’s spending too much time on stuff for friends, then it’s because he’s excited to do whatever that is’. I think you’re onto something there.

Maybe, instead of berating ourselves for our procrastinatory tendencies, we should be finding ways to get paid better for doing the stuff we really love? Less time spent doing boring work and more time on work that sets us on fire.

Note, this does not work with tax returns. That needs doing or you’re going to jail.”

[00:02:04] – Steve
Dave Smyth, not related to the other Penny Smyth, has been in touch. Other surnames are available.

Dave says,

“After Amanda in the group recommended Station to me, I finally installed it a few months ago and that has been a game changer. I no longer have emails open in a tab. See no evil, get interrupted by no evil.

I’ve added all the sites / apps I normally have in the background to Station, meaning I’m much less distracted. When I check social feeds it’s much more efficient and I’m less likely to dwell on them. Station can also add the website Noisli, which is great for white noise.

Also, something I struggled with previously was needing to see incoming emails from a specific client for a job I was working on. I’d inevitably get distracted by other emails that come in.”

Yes, I know what you mean. Dave continues,

“Well, it turns out that the most expensive plan on the Gmail Boomerang app lets you pause your inbox except for certain email addresses. Expensive, but might be worth it for anyone in that situation.”

By the way, if you’re after it, is the way. Because if you just Google station, it will just come up with a lot of train stations from around the world. Believe me, I did it. So and weirdly, it’s free.

[00:03:25] – Frankie
Yeah. So it lets you organise all the apps that you use in your life and then you can put on ‘quiet mode’ where you turn off notifications from either all of them, or certain ones at certain times. And then the white noise one, I love that, that he uses white noise. I messaged him about this. Basically that is to drown out the noise of his wife and baby that are also in the flat while he’s working!

Our answer to this week's question:

[00:05:48] – Steve
This week’s question comes from Elaine Wilson, who is, and I quote — a freelance policy geek working in arts and culture.

Elaine says,

“How honest should I be about my current workload?

Like many freelancers, I have busier and quieter spells. Quieter around the summer holiday period, for instance, because I don’t have many childcare options and I want to spend that time with my daughter. For some reason, whenever a client, family member, or other school parent asks what I’ve got on at the moment, I feel really awkward telling them that I’m winding down for the school holidays, or that my workload is quiet.

I know this works best for my family and my own stress levels and I’m trying to pursue my own creative project on the side during these quieter periods. But, I feel like I should be projecting this image of being busy, and that this somehow seems more professional?

I sort of imagine I should be like Alan Johnson in Peep Show, but I come across as more of a Jez. So how honest should I be about my current workload? Tell me. Frankie and Steve, tell me.”

[00:06:52] – Frankie
I find this question very conflicting. Half of me is like, “Oh, just fake it till you make it. Tell them you’re really busy when you’re not”. No freelancer wants to look like they’re struggling, et cetera. Right? Success breeds success. There’s some logic to that.

But, the other half of me is quite aggressively going: “What the fuck?” No. Honesty is the best policy. Why should you be ashamed of that? Everyone has quiet spells, whatever they do. I find it quite a difficult one, which is why she’s written in, because we all find it a difficult one to deal with, right?

[00:07:29] – Steve
There’s quieter spells and then there’s deliberate quieter spells as well. I salute you for the fact that you are deliberately winding down your work in order to spend that time with your family in a less stressed out way. I try that. I sometimes fail, but it’s totally an awesome thing to do. And I think, actually, a lot of people, if you say it to them — they should be impressed, for want of a better word.

[00:07:58] – Frankie
Could not agree more. She talks about two different kinds of situations in the question. One is around when she just doesn’t have much work. The other is actively choosing not to work, to be around with the kids more. That should be celebrated. That is nothing to be ashamed of whatsoever.

[00:08:11] – Steve
You might find that another mum or dad at the school gates who goes to a full-time job would be like, “Oh, God, I wish I could do that”.

[00:08:18] – Frankie
Totally, yeah.

[00:08:19] – Steve
And, you know, if they’re not, if they then think somehow that makes your job less worthy of anything, then see episode five for my thoughts on them. Two word phrase, very simple.

[00:08:32] – Frankie
Yeah, there’s a massive subplot here about how our society views looking after kids, right? And, particularly women’s work, motherhood. We don’t as a society class that as a particularly worthy job, or of value, which is utterly ridiculous. Technically, when you’re doing your paid gig, freelance stuff, you’re working two, maybe three jobs. So, you then not doing the paid stuff is just taking it down a notch, but you’re still bloody working. You’re still raising humans, et cetera. But it’s not like you’re not working. That’s just not even vaguely true, but we’ve all internalised that narrative. Fine. (Not fine, but we’re all guilty of that).

But really, well… back to your original point. It should be celebrated and something that we all should be working for, right? We all want flexible working. We all want to be able to dip in and out and be around more with our kids. I could go on. Shall I stop?

[00:09:28] – Steve
Oh, no, I like it. There’s-,

[00:09:31] – Frankie
You’ve frozen. You’re like a big petit pois. Hello. Hello, frozen pea.

[00:09:38] – Steve

[00:09:38] – Frankie

[00:09:41] – Steve
That was weird.

[00:09:44] – Steve
Well, as you said, fake it till you make it. Like, that whole projecting that you’ve got loads of work on.

[00:09:49] – Frankie

[00:09:50] – Steve
I agree to that to a certain extent, in that if people think you’re busy, then-,

[00:09:55] – Frankie
You must be good!

[00:09:57] – Steve
That’s less, maybe, talking to random people but more aimed at your client. “Oh, I’m fully booked for the next two months” might make people go, “Ooh!”

[00:10:06] – Frankie
“Better book you now, then.”

[00:10:07] – Steve
I think it kind of depends on what your work is though. Because, equally, if you don’t really have any work on, then you could say that and people go, “All right, I’ll go and find someone else then”.

Yeah, I agree with you being honest as well, though. What’s so wrong with that?

[00:10:21] – Frankie
But that’s different, though, isn’t it? If she’s chatting to someone at the school gates or like, extended family that she doesn’t see very often or whatever, it’s a bit different, isn’t it? You’re trying to uphold-,

[00:10:31] – Steve
A facade.

[00:10:33] – Frankie
Yeah. You want to be perceived a certain way. But then the narrative around the ‘cult of being busy’, busy bragging, et cetera is pervasiv. It really is. Particularly at the moment, particularly on social media. I know we mention social media every episode, but it really is the hustle.

F*ck the hustle.

[00:10:59] – Frankie
But, yeah, particularly in the female boss, girl boss, mum boss, blah blah stuff. The hustle is REAL, you know. I’m calling time on that. I really am. It’s everywhere. It’s absolutely everywhere. So if you’re not seen to be ‘hustling’ and working really hard and doing the three, four, five, six jobs at once — you’re perceived not to be successful, frankly. We pin success on being busy.

And also, that’s tied in with how a capitalist society works. Basically, if we’re not making, generating money for the society, we’re therefore not doing anything of value. Which is why the whole like six figure stuff is so… we fall for that line over and over again because making money is perceived to be success and the more money the better. That’s what we’re all aiming for, apparently. But success is so much more than that, and I do think it is starting to change in that the whole flexible working movement — people are recognising that there is more to life than just generating income.

[00:12:00] – Steve
Being able to spend quality time with your family,

[00:12:03] – Frankie
Yeah, should be up there as one of the pinnacles of success. Absolutely.

[00:12:08] – Steve
And so, actually, why not just own it so that you can say: “I’ve had loads of work the last couple of weeks, but thankfully it’s quiet this week so I can work on my side project.” Or yeah, “I’ve deliberately turned work away this week because we’ve got half term coming up and I really want to spend time doing-,” that should get high-fives in people’s heads that you’re saying that.

[00:12:29] – Frankie
It’s true, because you recognise the fact that you have been busy if that’s what you want to uphold, but you’ve made an active choice to celebrate the other bits of your life. Concentrate on those. Yeah. If that is a conscious choice, that’s brilliant. As you say, own it.

[00:12:45] – Steve
And like I say, refer to episode five, because that is my best advice to people who make you feel this way.

[00:12:54] – Frankie
I concur.

[00:13:01] – Steve
So, the other scenario there that she kind of touches on is if you’ve got a quieter spell — not on purpose because it’s not school holidays — how do you then project that to people?

[00:13:15] – Frankie
It depends who you’re talking to, doesn’t it? Massively. Because some people just be like, “Oh yeah, totally get it, blah blah”. And other people, they’ll be that like awkward, “Oh”, don’t know what to say response. And then, it just becomes an issue, doesn’t it?

[00:13:26] – Steve
So what is it? We’re talking to clients, family members or other school parents?

[00:13:31] – Frankie
Clients — you turn it around into a sales opportunity, no?

[00:13:34] – Steve
Maybe you don’t have to say that you’ve got no space at all.

[00:13:38] – Frankie
I’ve just had a cancellation!

[00:13:39] – Steve
Oh, I’ve got a couple of things I need to do for this client this week and then I’ve got the rest of the week available. If you don’t say out loud that you’ve got that availability, then they might not take it from you, they might not go, “Oh, well, I’ve got this thing…”

[00:13:52] – Frankie
Particularly, if you’re often really busy, they start to expect that of you, that they have to work really hard to slot themselves in or they might have to go to somebody else. So, if you don’t tell them you’re quieter, they might just have a means of…

Oh my God. You can hear that, right?

[00:14:09] – Steve
Is that your stomach?

[00:14:12] – Frankie
I’ve only had one piece of Toblerone, so far today. It’s half eleven.

[00:14:16] – Steve
There was almost an opportunity for me to go to Geneva to do a video job in December, and part of my head — when weighing up the pros and cons of it — was thinking: “Imagine the Toblerone!” Which is insane because you can buy it in WHSmiths. It’s not like it grows on trees in Geneva.

[00:14:44] – Frankie
Anyway, right, back to the question…

[00:14:46] – Steve
Well, I guess another thing you could always say is, “Oh, I’ve got a couple of days off this week.” Like, normal people take days off. They have work and they take time off, right?

[00:14:56] – Frankie
Claim it as a day off. Repackage that time.

[00:14:59] – Steve
Yeah, if it bothers you, how you portray that time to some people, you could say: “Oh yeah, I’ve got some bits and pieces of work this week and then I’ve got a couple of days off as well.” I think sometimes we think people care a lot more than they really do.

[00:15:12] – Frankie

[00:15:13] – Steve
They’re so focused on themselves. It’s probably just a glancing conversation, a little nudge in their day. I don’t think they judge as much as we think they do. I think they just walk on by and get on with their own stuff.

[00:15:23] – Frankie
And also, every parent you speak to has that thing that they’re trying to curve around. It’s like everybody’s got their thing that they’re hoping someone won’t bring up. But, yeah, you’re right. It’s more that we’re worried about it than anybody else, really. Nobody else really cares.

[00:15:44] – Steve
Okay, so you know the drill. Those are just our thoughts. We’d love to hear yours.

Do you struggle with how you portray yourself to others? Maybe at the schoolgates or beyond?

What would your advice be?

Let us know your thoughts using #DIFTKpodcast on Twitter and Instagram, and join in the conversation via the DIFTK Community on Facebook.