In Praise of Small


“Why don’t you register and start a company? Formally? Else you are not an entrepreneur… just a freelancer”

“If you have more work and clients than you can handle, shouldn’t you hire more people and train them and… well, basically, gear up for growth?”

“See, you seem to be coasting, even working through weekends to keep up with work demands, which is a sign of growth. So, why not expand and bring in more people. Control boundary conditions and a set of common rules and you are good”

Those statements up there? Some I’ve heard in just the last fortnight from various fence sitters.

While I am blessed to have a pile of work, and being able to hold trust of clients I am working with, I am also running people functions across multiple organisations. The task of shifting gears sometimes throws me personally out of gear.

The last thing I need at that time, is common sensical advice. Because, I didn’t get to my current place of peace in life following the common sense path. I have questioned the “There is only small or scale” thought and am looking for new models. While that is a conversation for another day, this blogpost is written to serve as solace for those who might be going through the same happy circumstances that I am experiencing. To do that, I am first questioning these beliefs others tell me I ought to hold –

  • There are only two models of work – small and growing
  • There are only two kinds of non-employees: employers and freelancers
  • If you are not grasping at growth, you are undervaluing yourself
  • Growth has to come in the form of an organisation, employees, the usual logo-social media page-investors-sleepless days (but so righteous!)-etc.
  • No entrepreneur worth their salt would say ‘enough’. Also, you, Monica Pillai, aren’t one.

Allow me to give you a glimpse of my work life, what I am able to do in addition to doing the work my clients need of me, and what helps me accomplish that.

  • Making hitherto non-existent connections: I am using skills learnt at one organisation in another setting, exponentially increasing “alien” thoughts and helping multiple organisations learn from others realities. For example, at an emotionally intelligent organisation I work at, I hear a lot of conversations around authenticity. This helps me with conversations at a financial planning organisation. The level of Gen Z led articulation in this organisation – email and face-to-face helps me create content for a campus to corporate transition programme for the training organisation I work with. And so on…

What makes this possible? Pockets of quiet introspection time I protect fiercely. What kind of time? 2 hours everyday, minimum. This helps the brain uncoil, relax from the rigours of the day, and truly create.

  • Curator the internet for lost treasures: My quest for adventure may not take me, Magellan-style, towards East Indies. But I do put on my explorer goggles and put aside at least 30 minutes a day to read new material: white papers, research, articles ranging from psychology to measuring organisation culture changes to mental health to safe sports coaching for children. I liberally share relevant learnings to colleagues in the various organisations I am involved with. This helps me build relationships with people, start new conversations and expand my worldview into the minds of people as varied as school and college goers, Gen Z development sector folk, Gen X architects, Gen Y sportspeople and more.

What makes this possible? Conscious allocation of time to learn and grow. This is as important for me at a fundamental and spirit level as it is for me to, in the practical sphere, stay relevant.

  • Meaning in the interstices of non-timeline-slotted days: Most days when I am not required to be in an office or three, I am sitting looking at the plants outside my door, and working on something exciting, till its time for a tea and downward dog break or time for a walk. So, off I go, Blinkist or Audible on, for a jaunt down the road, to my elaneer person or my sugarcane person. On the way back, I walk around to the neighbourhood fruit market, pick up fruits I need for the day. I have been carrying a notebook for the past month, to help my two fruit seller friends with some simple analytics. We look at sales per day, split by time of day, split by unit of individual sales, by social groups etc. I digitise some of this data, make charts, put them on my phone and bring it back to show it to them. We are talking about how to read this information (“This is a pie chart.” “oh. nimdu hesaru… surname-u Pai ah?” and I’m thinking “No, no that is my friend”) and how they can use this to decide what to order and when by, so they have more money in hand. This way, work turns into non-work and back into work.

What makes this possible? Energy and time that has grown out of a habit, which is the almost daily unhurried jaunt. If I didn’t go back for a day or two, the sellers started asking how come I missed turning up… that took us to a conversation about expected versus actual sales, and the rest was history.

  • Giving time to unpaid for services: I can fluidly go from talking about a blogpost for a client, to reviewing a proposal for The Flying Disc School. And put up a rare social media post for Crankmeister during a break in a training workshop… or drop by with doggie muffins for the store mutt. And give time to stalls by friends and family at the much-loved Milton Street flea market.

What makes this possible? The permission to myself that I don’t HAVE to work more than 30 hours a week. I also used excellent advice from Dan Pink’s When to figure out what is my most productive time of day (mornings!) So, there I usually am, with the early birds, clickety-clacking away with a glass of warm water at my elbow. A couple of good and productive hours later, I get started with the day. Once a nice old walk and breakfast are behind me, I start on my second block of productivity: emails, follow-ups (which I suck at, so am making a conscious choice to do more mindfully), whatsapp messages, phone calls, other administrative stuff. Followed by a walk, and its back to productive, depth work again, followed by a break without electronic devices for lunch. Another 2-3 hours of work and I’m good to call it a day around 3pm. The whole day with its possibilities stretches ahead of me!

In addition to all this, I am able to give an hour to my parents, sharing with them what happened at work that might help them, and form further bonds with them. I am able to give an hour to myself for focussed and conscious meditation, and some self-practiced yoga. I am able to pull out 30 minutes for physical exercise. And an hour to cook, clean and general housekeeping. Without compromising on the mandatory 8 straight.

2 Replies to “In Praise of Small”

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