I was chatting with my wife the other day, as husbands are apt to do from time to time, and the conversation turned to the work that I do as a blogger and a freelance writer. It was late in the evening, the baby had gone to sleep, and I was feeling pretty drained. I told her I had neither the energy nor the focus left for the third shift and I was going to hit the hay. I asked her if she could take care of the kid solo first thing in the morning. That way, I could write up a blog post for Beyond the Rhetoric in time for my 10 o’clock deadline.

She agreed… but she also questioned my line of thinking. What was so important about 10 am? Why that specific time? Why did the blog post have to be ready before 10 o’clock? Well, it’s one of the many arbitrary rules I’ve set for myself and they exist for my good. Let me explain.

Invoking the Spirit of Office Space

Consider your traditional 9-to-5 kind of job. Under those circumstances, you’re expected to be in the office promptly at 9 o’clock in the morning and you’re expected to leave at 5 o’clock in the evening. There may be some flexibility, but that schedule is reasonably predictable. In at 9, out at 5, probably with a one-hour lunch break that starts right at noon. That’s the standard formula.

Your office probably has some other standard rules. There is a specific protocol you need to follow if you want to order more stationery. You’re expected to get a certain amount of paid vacation time each year and you need to make your vacation request a particular way through a particular channel. There are rules, set by somebody, that everyone else is expected to follow.

But I’m an entrepreneur. I’m a solopreneur. There is no one “above me” on the pecking order to establish such rules and there is no disciplinary action taken should I break any rules.There is no set working schedule. There are no firmly established office hours. It’s easy to feel compelled to work all the time, because I can… whether it’s 11 am on a Tuesday morning or 11 pm on a Saturday night.

The Freedom to Set Rules

The “free” in “freelance” seems to imply a kind of free spirit, a freedom unencumbered by conventional shackles. But a lack of definition, a lack of structure can easily lend itself to chaos. As such, I’ve set all sorts of arbitrary rules for myself.

  • I must publish Beyond the Rhetoric posts at 10 am.
  • I must write at least X number of posts each week.
  • I must work X hours every day/week.
  • I must earn X dollars each day/week/month/year.
  • I must complete XYZ project by such-and-such a date.

But none of these are real rules in the conventional sense. They’re absolutely arbitrary and there is no one to hold me accountable but me. If I break any of these rules, as I’ve done numerous times already, it’s unlikely that anyone would even notice except me.

A New World Order

On a recent episode of The Walking Dead, the villainous Negan reminds us that there are rules for a reason.

Negan: I wish I could just ignore the rules and let it slide, but I can’t. Why?

Crowd: The rules keep us alive.

Negan: That is right. We survive. We provide security to others. We bring civilization back to this world. We are the Saviors. But we can’t do that without rules. Rules are what make it all work.

Most of us probably wouldn’t condone the specific methods employed by Negan to “bring civilization back to this world,” but he has a point. A society without rules, whether written or simply understood, cannot function effectively. A business without rules cannot succeed.

“There are rules for a reason. Nothing matters if you’re dead.”

Arbitrary Rules for an Arbitrary Purpose?

For me and my work, the rules are there to prevent (or at least hamper) the slippery slope. I don’t have to get this blog post done today. I don’t have to publish it right at 10 am. But if I let that rule slide once, and then I let it slide again, it won’t be long before you’ll only see a new post here once a month. That was (and still is) one of my greatest fears when I decided to adjust the frequency of posting here.

Bend the rule once or twice and you effectively grant yourself permission to break it over and over again.

Rules provide order. Rules foster discipline. Rules give the false sense of urgency I need to get the job done. Realistically though, all rules are arbitrary. It’s just a matter of whether or not you want to follow them.