I live a Good Life, Sybil, School Day model of ‘Refusing to Choose’
I’ve been forging and living a hard-to-describe typical workday since I first started hybrid self-employment mash-ups when I was 16, 36 years ago. A book serendipitously discovered early on in the pandemic gave me names and concepts for how I’ve already been living: Barbara Sher’s Refuse to Choose! Use All of Your Interests, Passions, and Hobbies to Create the Life and Career of Your Dreams*.
Models of ‘Refusing to Choose’
Three work-life models from Refuse to Choose aptly describe how a day in my life as a creative multipreneur and coach/consultant is oriented.
The Good Life Sher says jack-of-all-trades “have many talents, but they have to admit that their greatest talent is knowing how to live a good life,” calling the idea of consciously configuring your work life around this ability, “The Good Life Model.” Exploring what constitutes the good life has been a guiding principle for me before, during, and ever since my days as a college philosophy major.
My low tolerance for misery, complaining, self-pity, and following bad authority figures made self-employment a natural fit for me from the beginning. Though it took much longer, figuring out how to normalize happiness — and not just avoid things I disliked — eventually came. This model allows me to easily adjust my schedule around what matters, especially my son’s school or summer or Age of Covid schedule.
A Sybil Approach Named for the 1970s book and movie about a woman with multiple personalities, a Sybil approach to refusing to choose means that those of us with multiple interests and projects take on several of them at the same time.
A School Day Schedule When those of us with many projects pursue them a little each day on roughly the same schedule, Sher calls that the School Day model. Our day is divided up somewhat like the classes of a school day — we work on one thing until the bells rings and we move on (minus the bell).
A Day’s Schedule
With those big-picture orientations in mind, here’s what a day looks like for me.
Writing The first thing I work on after breakfast for one to two hours, my best time of day for focus, is writing articles, primarily on this site. Freelance writing has been a recurring source of side income for three decades, but being a writer was actually the first thing I ever wanted to be when I grew up. I learned about book publishing — and veered off to that path and entrepreneurship permanently — when trying to establish a writing career after college.
Project management The next part of my morning is tending to any project management tasks for clients, taking anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes, so that these things can be moved along early in the day. Mostly I oversee bucket-list type books for businesses and high-achieving older adults, start-to-finish self-publishing projects — conception, editorial, and design through to printing. Having been a book publisher for most of my career, this takes minimal effort to do well. I make money for my time as well as a small markup on printing and the time of freelancers I hire.
Maintaining a business while closing it down Over the last three years, I’ve been slowly closing down the book publishing business and its three imprints that had previously been 50 to 100 percent of my income. It’s slow because I’m trying to extract as much value from it as possible, because it’s hard to let go (both an identity and a reputation thing), and because I’m steadily filling up my days with new things. In the 30 to 60 minutes before I break for lunch and personal errands, I chip away at this, which means doing things like filling orders, selling down inventory, customer service, marketing and sales tasks, rights sales, organizing and purging years of digital and physical items, and various final acts of letting go and shutting down.
Coaching/consulting calls After lunch is when I typically schedule coaching and consulting phone calls or video calls — no more than two a day — some of which I hope to turn into walking meetings soon. Keeping these calls limited not only allows room for all the other things but ensures that I keep the quality of devoted attention required for such calls at a high level. Most of my coaching is with those working in book publishing or running small businesses, but it recently has extended into conflict management and supporting women in their first major leadership roles.
Consulting calls are primarily “One Hour with a Publisher” calls in which I answer aspiring authors’ questions on the book publishing industry and its options, giving them advice on the best path/s forward for them, marketing suggestions, and nitty-gritty financial and scheduling details. I share my template for these calls for others to adopt in their areas of expertise. If I don’t have calls scheduled, I work on marketing and business development for these services.
Entrepreneurial book publishing Later in the day is when I dabble in entrepreneurial publishing projects. Once a publisher, once an entrepreneur, always a publisher, always an entrepreneur. Yes, it was time to move on from my indie book publishing base, but I may never quit it entirely. Right now I’m working on two separate projects. One is a joint effort with neon photographer extraordinaire Matt Hucke, for an art book of his Seattle neon photography, which we are funding with a Kickstarter project in August or September. (See here for successful creative financing models for book publishing projects I’ve used multiple times.)
My second project is an eight-year-old project that has recently been resurrected for the third or fourth time on someone’s prompting: Carbituaries. Obituaries for your beloved and departed cars. I’m collecting them again online (if you care to submit one) with the hopes that enough good ones will surface and can be turned into a book with an automotive publishing partner.
Building a new business Publishing is a grueling business but I loved it, especially the building of it, one piece, one system at a time, then tweaking it. I long wanted to try my hand at building an easier business (versus offering new professional services), as well as building small businesses then selling them once on firm footing.
Mid-2020, I found an opening with just the right starter project: an ecommerce business devoted to my love of big earrings. The URL bigearrings.com, which I had been watching for 15 years, became available and I took the chance to set up shop selling secondhand and vintage big and big-personality earrings. I spend about an hour a day filling orders, working on the website, and promoting the biz.
I’ve learned some key things already: Even an easier business is not easy. Even with years of business-building experience and know-how, one hour a day is a very slow route to growth. The psychology of this hobby business is also different as I both have less driving ambition and financial need for it to prosper. Still, it is fun and, after I hopefully sell it in a year or two, I have a list of three other very small and two somewhat bigger business ideas to choose from for my next go-around.
Recently I used Clockify to track my time and discovered that despite a kid at home most days this summer and a range of other obligations competing for my attention, I still averaged five hours of real work-work on weekdays, and that was enough for me. On any given weekday I hover around work and my computer or phone six to nine hours, but the remainder of time beyond that five is spent answering non-critical emails, reading news, following social media, personal errands and phone calls, spur-of-the-moment summertime fun, or throwing in laundry or other household tasks.
Regardless of day-to-day fluctuations and a focus on not letting stress catch hold and keeping contentment front and center, the work gets done. The many benefits others discovered working from home this past year? I’ve been enjoying them for the last ten years. They’re worth hanging on to! (Here are the enduring productivity hacks from 30+ years of self-employment that keep me sane and organized.)
Takeaways for You
As a creative entrepreneur, you may not have to choose among multiple appealing options. Read Barbara Sher’s Refuse to Choose to learn what type of scanner (juggler of multiple things) you are and what life-work models and tools work well for you.
Living the good life is a talent in and of itself and there’s a model for that!
One way to pursue the many things that interest you is to systematically work on them a bit each day.
Schedule the work that requires the most concentration at your peak hours. For many, this is first thing in the morning.
Schedule other work around other natural schedules — other people’s needs, shipping times, etc.
Consider a mix of products and services, creative and technical work, light and challenging tasks, solo and collaborative projects, people-centered and idea-centric activities.
Starting new things up and phasing older things out can each take months or years. Build in stable income generation around these things.
Use time and income tracking tools to keep yourself honest and also to guarantee you’re bringing in enough to make a living. Some work will be paid immediately, some on terms, some as residuals, and some down the road.
Explore and experiment until you find out the activities, the schedule, and the productivity hacks that work for you. Build a cushion into everything because nothing goes perfectly and flexibility is always nice.
It’s your life and you only get one, so make it work for you.