Why I Am Only Going to Work 100 Billable Days a Year…
By: Virginia Hamilton, Strategic Advisor & Unsettled: Bali alum
“I’ve decided to go to Bali in April,” I said to my daughters last fall. While it is not unheard of for me to announce that I am traveling, this time it felt different. Usually, I’m heading off for some work thing in DC or an unglamorous US city; my choice to go to Bali for a month to participate in an Unsettled retreat had nothing to do with my job. I just had the urge to go.
Once I arrived, I immediately knew I had made the right decision. For one thing, everything was beautifully taken care of. As someone who makes choices all day long about everything, being picked up, having a place to stay already arranged, a group of awesome people, and activities, restored my decision fatigue immediately. And then there was Bali itself!
About three weeks in, I realized that I LOVED being in the same place for longer than a few days’ time. It was incredibly settling! (Ironic?) I began to think about all the things I could do if I were in one location for a month, or even longer. Imagine if I had this kind of time every year, to spend a month here or there, maybe working or maybe doing whatever I wanted?! What would I do for pleasure?! What would I do for work?! Whoa, mind blown.
It occurred to me in those moments that if I had that kind of time, I could spend it working with people I love on the kinds of projects I live for: teaching design thinking, facilitation and building participatory culture; bringing people’s creative and innovative spirits back into work; and designing experiences and events that help people reframe problems as puzzles to be solved.
A seed had been planted. I finished up my time in Bali, loving the people, the place, the massages, and my Unsettled experience!, and headed home to California. A few weeks later, my friend Rohit came to visit. I shared with him my thoughts about the “month-at-a-time” idea and he was intrigued. He thought I might be onto something. He then started questioning me about my current work/life balance.
“How many days do you work a year?” he asked. “300, including nights and weekends,” I said.
Wow, saying that out loud was shocking! I couldn’t believe I worked that much. He couldn’t either.
“What if you worked like 100 days a year?” he asked.
Hmm, I thought, 100 billable days. Has a ring to it. I bought the URL.
There is an elegance to 100 days that resonates with me. What if I worked on high priority impact projects, but for fewer days, and spent the other time getting better, smarter, and faster at new things? Of course, I would have to crunch the numbers to see if I could make it work, but I was loving this idea. We went on to design the whole year: 100 billable days, 30 learning/conference days, 25 days of business development, 20 pro bono days, 15 days of writing, an Unsettled month, and a quarterly self-reflection.
Alright, I had a plan. I was starting to feel more confident about this idea. I realized I would have to reconsider my relationship with traditional work in order to give this a go, but having a clearly organized way forward made it feel less risky. I help organizations innovate and think differently, and if I could frame this as a new innovation project, an experiment if you will, I could make this happen. Also, designing for 100 billable days would take away the usual frustrations of starting a consulting business – like having to say yes to less than ideal projects in order to make ends meet and overcrowding my schedule because I need the work.
Two weeks ago, I resigned from my job. One week ago, I did an intense brainstorming session to get organized. And now, here I am getting started. I’m going to try out this new lifestyle and see what comes of it. I’m incredibly excited! I’m also terrified.
Throughout my conversations with friends about this idea, I’ve come to understand the “old economy” way: go to school and learn first, then work, and then retire, was out of sync with the new economy, in which people do all these at the same time: working, learning, and playing. (H/T to Gary Bolles) I realized that I’d actually like to be doing all of these things at the same time. Some days working hard on a project I’m passionate about, some days learning something brand new, and some days relaxing on a beach. Lather, rinse, repeat.
What can I learn from doing this experiment, you might ask? I hope to learn how we might actually organize for the future of work, how to design a new model for life that anyone can live if they so choose, and how to manage the fear and uncertainty of economic stability while learning to navigate the world of independent consulting. I am setting up a framework, canvas, and space for experimentation and reflection. I plan to write about my experiences along the way, the exciting moments and the terror that will inevitably come. I hope you’ll consider joining me on this journey.
Thank you, Unsettled, for giving me the time and space to calm my mind and realize that there is more than one way to live this life. 100 billable days a year. Let’s do this.