I am going to turn on my auto-responder, leave my laptop at home and genuinely ‘unplug’ for the first time in 18 months.
Since going freelance at the end of 2010, I cannot recall a time when I’ve not had my phone glued to my person, when more than four hours has passed without refreshing my emails, when I’ve not been expecting a phone call. Any ‘days off’ I’ve taken have been ‘days off’ in that I’ve been away from my working premises with my laptop, or away from my laptop with my Smartphone. This is the joy of freelancing: you’re ‘on’, constantly. Last summer I went to a festival where I spent half an hour crawling around my tent trying to get a 3G connection. This January I went to Paris and spent a fortune in roaming charges trying to download a commission brief while standing outside a blues bar, a little worse for wear. Weekend visits to my parents see me carting my laptop across the country, working on a train and then into the night in my barely Wi-Fi-connected teenage bedroom. I check my emails and the headlines before I even get out of bed in the morning.
I seriously need this break.
There exists, annoyingly, a certain assumption about the life of a freelancer. Lately I’ve come up against a barrage of misconceptions, which has only exacerbated my need for some time out. That I just sit at home all day, lounging about presumably. That I somehow have more ‘free time’. That my job means I’ve no reason to be tired, or irritable. I’ll make no secret of how glad I am not to have to contend with a daily commute (I do it occasionally, it’s horrendous. Hats off to folk that do it every day), and I’m quite aware of the benefits of a flexible schedule. Organising dental appointments is a breeze, and I’m usually around to take care of the tedious household jobs that would otherwise go untackled. But that doesn’t mean I have more free time than anyone else. I just manage it well. Probably better than most, if I’m honest. And I do get tired, and I do get irritable. I work hard, so why wouldn’t I?
Working for myself – and by myself – is both a blessing and a curse. The isolation can be crushing, but I do remember the frustrations of working in an office. I’m reminded daily by a number of friends so irate and stressed by their working environment that they unleash deafening rivers of fury when simply asked, ‘How was your day?’ So, I’m pretty lucky there, I know.
Still, at least they can differentiate between work and home. Home time is down time. For me it all just blurs into a puddle of continual low-level, work-fuelled adrenalin that keeps me permanently wired. I need to switch off, but I’m a bit worried that after all this time, I won’t be able to. So the laptop’s staying at home, but the Smartphone’s coming, just in case.