I turned my phone off yesterday.
I can’t remember the last time I deliberately did that. Dead battery? Yes. Airplane mode? Yes. Block every unknown incoming call? Also yes. But I can’t remember when I just turned it OFF.
I originally turned my phone off because I was hungover. I came down to the coffee shop at 8AM like I always do, opened and closed the same Word docs for three hours, went back to my apartment to take a call, then just laid down in bed.
And as I was laying there, this is what I thought:
You spend so much time dealing with all the negative things that come with working on your own, worrying about the next client, the next payday, or the next project. You never stop and enjoy the GOOD things about being a freelancer.
And taking a day completely off in the middle of the week because you did beer before wine, is definitely a good thing.
I ordered Shake Shack. I watched Season 2 of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. I did not touch my Mac or my phone.
I missed multiple text messages from a client. I rescheduled a coffee date with a friend. I’m guessing I missed calls too.
And here’s why I don’t feel bad about any of it.
I told you about taking a walk with my friend Cam recently, asking her to organize my life. One thing that really stuck with me is the subject of—air quotes—urgent priorities. That all these little things you think need to be done RIGHT NOW prevent you from doing big things you want to do LATER.
Read Cam’s advice on how to project-manage your life, here
At the last job-job I worked at, I took one day off. Ever. I stayed at the office frantically typing until 11PM on Monday, just so I could be off on Wednesday. My friend Danika was visiting from Nashville, and I took one day off so we could go to the African American History Museum. Which, as anyone in DC knows, is almost impossible to get into. The waiting list is six-months long, with a limited number of same-day tickets going on sale at 6:30AM and typically selling out by 6:32.
But we got in.
We spent four hours there, knowing full well it would be two years before either of us made it back. And I spent one of those hours sitting on a bench on a conference call with my boss, going over a project I can’t even remember now.
That happened just over a year ago and I couldn’t tell you what that emergency phone call (and associated texts) was over.
All I know is it ruined my day. I don’t remember the project but I remember how I felt and how my boss spoke to me. And when I started working for myself I promised that no person or situation would EVER make me feel like that again.
Which of course didn’t happen. I break that promise allllllll the time.
I told you about setting really big goals for myself in 2018, and my fear that 2019 will come without accomplishing any of it.
The thing about BIG goals is they usually come with big timelines. There’s a lot of groundwork that comes with it. Groundwork that appears to have zero sense of urgency or payoff on the surface, except three months later when you’re so happy you laid it.
And “urgent priorities,” that are really not priorities at all, get in the way of laying that groundwork.
I left that job with absolutely zero sense of accomplishment. Nada. I allowed myself to be sucked into pattern of now-now-now, emergency-emergency-emergency, fire-fire-fire.
Short-term priorities come with a short-term payoff.
Your boss might be thrilled with you for coming through, or you might be proud of yourself to have something off your plate or a box to check, but that’s it. The day is over and so is your urgent task, and now you move to tomorrow where more urgent tasks will take their place.
The entire time I’ve typed this, my wifi has been off and my phone has been in airplane mode. I have yet to respond to all the same-day, urgent tasks requested of me yesterday when I decided to ghost the world.
And I have absolutely no remorse about it.
I do, however, wish I’d turned my phone off in that museum a year ago. My boss would have been pissed. But whatever issues I resolved (again, that I cannot even recall now) probably would have resolved themselves. Or waited until the next day.
If something is important you don’t learn about it the day it’s due.
I can’t turn my phone off and ignore the world every day. I wouldn’t have any clients left to make a living.
I’m just trying to make the argument that urgent tasks are not priorities. Priorities, by definition, are important. You work for months, if not years, to accomplish them. Which means you have to carve out time to do so—and you can’t carve out time if you get caught up in the small stuff that supposedly needs done now.
Urgent tasks are distractions.
They are distractions from things that take a very long time to build. And if you don’t control the distractions they will control you—just like they controlled me at my former employer.
Write down your goals. Everytime you get sucked into an urgent task, ask yourself, “Will doing this get me there?” If it doesn’t, it can probably wait.