The Zero Hours…and hustle.

It’s been hard to nail this train of blog thought down as it rides like a see-saw. 

Did you bring a cup of coffee? And a whiteboard? 

Admittedly, I had a super exciting week while on vacation in Savannah a few weeks ago. Yes, we did errantly steal a house cat, but that wasn’t the only big event. 

It was while learning the history of the area and looking for lurking alligators that one of my blog posts landed on the front page of a humor-based site in the United Kingdom. Yes, the United Kingdom!! The one that is across something like ten time zones, according to my husband (though, I believe he meant in getting there and back). 

So basically, if you do some quick math (and I have), the Queen herself has probably read my article over tea and crumpets. Her Majesty may very well be midway through having an envelope stamped with her seal – soon to be mailed with my name on it and including an invite to come across the pond for a visit.

Am I beyond a shameless plug? Have you met me? Please visit Funny Pearls to check it out. You may as well bookmark the site as I have latched onto the editors. Finally, finally, I have found a virtual neighbourhood that gets my humour. No, they did not insist on adding the letter “u” to anything specific. Still, I am wourkshopping it.

But back to me.

Upon the posting, I shared the exciting news with a few people, including my nephew who also enjoys writing. After offering a load of well-deserved adouration, he then asked a simple question, “How the heckle did you manage that?!?!

The answer was also simple: I hustled. 

Years ago, when I decided I wanted to branch back into writing, I dabbled at the keyboard fairly inconsistently. Less years ago, when I felt like I wanted to do more than dabble, I did what every healthy, OCD person with anxiety does: I bought a brand new notebook, made several lists, and put myself on a completely unrealistic writing schedule. Today, that schedule is much more realistic – partly because I gained some sense but mostly because, as my writing muscles became more toned, my “writing time” became more productive. 

Those beefed-up writing muscles also enabled me to dabble into more serious goals like, yes, writing a whole book. If you’re currently searching your coffee table for my book, calm down. Evidently, it takes much longer to get a book to shelves than to do the actual writing. At this moment, there are a few preview copies floating around being edited by people with red pens (though I hope they actually use purple or pink). With the book in the hands of those editors, I found myself with a load of open real estate in my writer’s brain. To fill that space, I started writing and submitting articles to various magazines and websites ~ mostly for zero pay. 

Why submit? Primarily to keep flexing those wordsmith muscles by finding people who wanted articles by a given deadline. Why for free? Primarily because writing is not for those who also want to afford to eat, so why get caught up in the financials?

As I started to see my name (MY NAME!) in occasional print, I would do age-appropriate jumps for joy. I have always loved writing, but to have others confirm that I wrote well enough for a byline here or there was pretty dang cool. And also terrifying. As in “I wonder if I’ll be the next Anna Quindlen?” or “What if this ends with a bucket of blood over my head at prom?” 

I even dusted off my LinkedIn account to add some minor details about my writing journey (agreed, I hate that word as well). I didn’t make any major profile changes, just a blurb about some freelancing parked next to my actual job description. Really just a tiny accolade or acknowledgment that I was having success at something extracurricular. 

Admittedly, I hardly knew how LinkedIn worked when I added that blurb. I did not know that my every contact would get an update and that the blurb would auto-bump ahead of all my other work histories including, yes, my actual job. I did not know that my account was defaulted to send notifications out with such a change, either. When I signed up for LinkedIn (a thousand years ago) we were both babies – I’m not even sure notifications had been invented.

Long story, short (is it though?), within about five seconds of proudly updating my LinkedIn profile, I got dinged at my actual job in what I would say was completely out of the blue. It was my first significant workplace ding in the dozen years I’d been at my current company and one of maybe three dings in my entire work-life history. FYI, the other dings were most definitely warranted and I was still in my twenties at the time and yes, I’m talking to you, Pete. 

Once I got over the shock (and the days spent obsessing over it), I began to put the pieces together. This sleuth work was fast-tracked when I opened LinkedIn to find about a bajillion congratulatory notes on my new job and half as many questions about when I’d left my current (read: actual) job and OH HELL! 

  • Piece one: In my excitement of adding a blurb to my profile, I inadvertently launched a missile straight at my actual employer (unintentionally). OH HELL
  • Piece two: The ding was perhaps meant as a warning as it came in two forms:
    • Requested clarification as to how I was spending my workdays 
    • A diminished annual bonus. 
  • Piece three: If anyone at all had just asked, I’d have told them that my writing journey did not interfere with my actual job. I’d even have explained how that was possible.

I am overly careful about how I allot my time, keeping a clear separation of whose hours I am working within. I also work for a blessedly flexible company that highly encourages work-life balance. Do I write during the traditional workday on occasion? I mean, obviously, I won’t answer that but in response…do other folks go shopping or to the gym or out to lunch during the traditional workday on occasion? I have never ceased to give 112% to my actual job, even on those days when I work-life balance myself with a shift in traditional work hours.  

The shock turned to hurt which turned to guilt which turned to “I’ll show them!” I buckled down further at work while continuing to wait for a congratulatory note that my extracurricular activities were unique and interesting. Yes, I know, I went with “buckling down” to prove a point. It doesn’t make sense to me, either…but, again, OCD. Instead, like clockwork, each time I updated that pesky profile with another writing win, I’d get another ding. 

So, how do I manage it all? Thank you for asking.

At the exact moment that I was feeling beaten and overwhelmed by the initial ding and the buckling down, the universe placed a perfect Kelly Corrigan Wonders Podcast into my lap. The guest talked about using your “Zero Hours.” Um, what? Zero Hours. As in, if there is something you really want to do, something you are thinking would be amazing…“but I just don’t have time,” you should take a peek at your Zero Hours. 

I heard this at a time when I really wanted to write more but I also had no desire to leave my actual job. I loved the balance that spreadsheets (actual job) and writing (extracurricular) gave me. I also heard this Zero Hours direction when I was glorying in the new life of being the parent of a teenage driver. As I was no longer forced to rise early to hustle the kids up and out the door, I’d taken to lounging in bed until my workday started. Then I’d approach each day slightly stressed out as I felt behind before I even got to my desk and how would I fit in any writing when I needed to focus on doing great at my actual job but also I really wanted to fit in some writing time. 

Then I heard about Zero Hours. Oh, HELL-O

I was lounging in bed straight through all of the Zero Hours: the zero-six-hundred hour and the zero-seven-hundred hour and the zero-eight-hundred hour and, yes, can I get a zero-nine-hundred?

The light bulb flickered briefly but, geez, I really liked sleeping in. 

Days went by and then weeks and I could not shake the Zero Hours. I woke up more than once at oh-dark-hundred wondering, “Well, what if I got up now and sat down to write?” before continuing my slumber. Then finally, on a random Saturday, I took the bait. I arrived at the kitchen table at oh-six-hundred (with a giant cup of coffee) and spent two hours in silent bliss clicking away. I could not believe the productivity found in those Zero Hours with no children wandering through, no animals looking for a round of fetch, and no husband wondering what was for dinner. 

Sure, by oh-eight-hundred I was mentally exhausted and snuggled back into bed, but that’s not the point. It was a start. I spent the rest of the day feeling thrilled with what I had accomplished.

This has been my pattern ever since. At the start of each week, I jot down my goals, as a writer, and typically wake up for the Zero Hours two or three days of that week. I like to imagine other writers sitting at their favorite spots using the Zero Hours at the same time. I like to imagine we own a secret slice of each day. I can’t say whether the rest end up back in bed hours later, but we all have our process.

An interesting by-product was the mental re-investment into my actual job. As mentioned, writing is not for those who want to wear name-brand underwear. I look at my actual job as the source that allows me to participate in the world of publications. I look at that world no differently than some look at affording a gym membership or joining the golf club. It is a world where I find great happiness and fulfillment and if I get a ding here or there, I guess I’ve just accepted it. 

In my heart, I know I’m not doing anything wrong. I hustle. 

Sometimes, I hustle before the sun comes up in those Zero Hours. 

It turns out I had plenty of time to write – yes, even a book. 

Coming to your courffee table soon.

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