One of the main questions I get asked when I tell people what I do is “How do you fit it all in?” Normally I either give them a blasé half-truth, or I try to explain the actual answer. In both cases I’m usually met with confusion or disbelief.
A few years ago I used to do a weekly round-up on this blog, which I revived last year when I was ill so my friends would have a way of checking I was still alive without me having to answer lots of messages. Yesterday I was thinking about this, and I realised it might be a good idea to continue this theme while answering the “How do you fit it all in?” question, because then I’d have somewhere to direct people who ask it.
So, here goes. This is what I did with my week, and how I fitted it all in.
I’d taken the previous week off work, so I got up at 6.15 to give myself a headstart on the backlog I knew would be waiting for me. I was struck by how much I prefer working for my own company than for someone else’s. When I worked in an ad agency, I had to commute into work and I’d be met by an inbox 1500+ emails strong after a week away. On Monday my commute involved climbing the stairs from my bedroom, and then walking down the hallway into the kitchen, which is temporarily housing my home office while I’m renovating my flat. I only had 150 emails, which was still more than I’d like, but much better than 1500.
On Sunday I’d been feeling refreshed and revitalised after my week off, but on Monday my body decided to twist its insides into knots and give me a fun combination of horrific cramps, stabbing pains and feeling like I was going to pass out. Normally when that happens I decide to take a sick day, but I couldn’t really do that following an entire week off, so I decided to soldier on through it. Luckily the London heatwave hadn’t started yet, so I strapped some hot water bottles around me, downed some codeine and tried to ignore the pain as much as possible.
I spent the morning catching up on emails, queueing up content and looking over stuff for my clients, checking in on how things had gone during my week off. Happily everything was fine, because I have a wonderful team of freelancers who do most of the actual work.
At midday I walked around West London running errands, despite feeling like I was about to collapse the whole time. Happily I didn’t, although the people at my business mailbox did ask if I needed to sit down for a while. I declined, just wanting to get back to a space that included a selection of hot water bottles and a giant box of hospital-grade painkillers.
When I got home about two hours later I did some business admin – Monday is the day I deal with the thrilling side of business, like accounts and administration – and then I had a few client calls in the early evening.
By the time I hung up at 7 I wasn’t sure I could stay upright much longer, so I made myself a cup of hot, sweet tea, piled myself under some blankets and hot water bottles, and read Dear Amy by Helen Callaghan. It was good.
I went to bed early, hoping that sleep would help the twisting insides problem. It did, although I woke up in the middle of the night with an inspiration that I scrawled on my hand so I wouldn’t forget it. The following morning I found it mirror-written on the duvet.
On Tuesday I happily woke up feeling less dead. I’d allowed myself a lie-in, so I got up at 8.15 and immediately started working. Normally I potter around for an hour or so before work, but I still had some post-holiday backlog stuff to do. I did a bunch of work for a client, mainly content management, then I sorted out some work for my freelancers.
I caught up with all the blogs I follow via Feedly – this is where I get a lot of my inspiration from, both for this blog and for clients’ websites.
Tuesday afternoons are always booked up with a weekly appointment, so I went to that and then came home and wrote articles for a few hours.
All day while I was working, I was listening to the songs we’re currently learning in choir. We have a concert in June, which seems far away until you realise it’s almost the end of April. We’re singing Vivaldi – the “other Gloria”:
I finished work at 5 and spent a couple of hours trying to get the tricky timing right on these songs. Then I headed to rehearsal. That went on until 9.30, so there was no time for swimming in the evening. Instead I came home, read a bit of Tubing by K.C. McKeagney before deciding it wasn’t worth my time, and went to sleep instead.
On Wednesdays I try not to drink too much caffeine in the mornings, because I have my weekly driving lesson in the afternoons. Unfortunately I often fail at this: I spent a month weaning myself back onto caffeine after the Angry Organ Implosion of last year, and now I kind of wish I hadn’t. Coffee has been such a huge part of my identity for so long though that it felt weird not drinking it, like I’d lost a part of myself.
In the morning I repotted some plants, then I started work just before nine and worked until midday, at which point I took a break for lunch. Over lunch I read a couple of academic papers.
Wednesday afternoons are my designated learning time. At the moment that mainly means driving lessons and trying to teach myself to sight read music. The driving’s going OK; the sight reading not so much. I learn much better when I have a teacher, because I hate disappointing other people but I don’t mind disappointing myself. Anyway, I did some driving and then some singing, and then I came home and got in the bath, because I still wasn’t feeling great. I read Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge. Predictably, it was very good.
I went to bed at 5.30pm because sometimes I’m incredibly cool like that.
When you tell people you work for yourself, they inevitably think that means you can just bunk off work whenever you want and decide not to do anything for a day. That’s not actually true: you need a huge amount of discipline to keep yourself in check and hit all your deadlines, otherwise you don’t make rent and you end up having to go back to an office job *shudder*.
Thursday was very hot. I don’t like hot. I opened all my windows and sat in the coldest room directly in front of what little breeze there was.
In the morning I worked on my clients’ projects, checked my emails and did some necessary admin. I stopped that just after midday and went over my plan for the next book I’m writing. I think it’s looking pretty solid. I also asked for feedback on Twitter and made a note of the things people said. The acknowledgements section in this book is going to be lengthy.
As you’ll know if you read this blog regularly, I review books on here. Generally I don’t get paid for that, I just do it in exchange for the book itself. Sometimes, however, I’ll review a book on a client’s website, and normally I do get paid for those. I was sent a book about setting up a business in Hong Kong, which I’m going to review on an expat website, so that was on my list to read on Thursday.
Although you do need discipline as a freelancer, it is true that you can have some flexibility. You just have to know when it’s OK to take time off and when it’s not. So when my friend sent me a message on Thursday so say she was taking the rest of the afternoon off and did I want to join her on her roof terrace, I said yes. I took the book with me.
I read half the book on the journey to her house, and half on the way back. In case you haven’t worked this out, I’m a very quick reader.
We were joined on her rooftop by one of our other friends later in the afternoon, and we sat there drinking champagne and watching the sun go down.
I woke up a teensy bit hungover. It was still very hot outside. I did a minimal amount of client-related work in the morning, then I decided the best way of cooling down would be to sit in a cold bath for the rest of the day, so I did that. Whilst in the bath I read some books: The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan (which I put down after a few chapters); We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler; Blacklands by Belinda Bauer; and Blood Harvest by Sharon Bolton.
I got into bed before 6pm and read Cast Iron by Peter May. I’d been hoping I’d fall asleep while I was reading it, but I didn’t, so once I’d finished it I continued binge-watching Friends on Netflix. I woke up on Saturday morning next to a dark computer screen with books strewn all around me.
As you can see, my bed is currently surrounded by boxes, because I’m renovating my flat. That’s what I did on Saturday.
Refusing to be put off by the hot weather, I spent Saturday stripping stuff and making decisions about heating. When it’s warm outside it’s easy to be like, “Oh I don’t need great heating options even though I only have single glazing now that I’ve removed the internal windows” but it’s important to remember what it’s like in winter, when the boiler breaks and it takes the heating engineer several days to come and fix it.
Decisions made and paper stripped – I’ve so nearly finished stripping all the wallpaper! – I spent the rest of the day vegging out in front of Netflix.
I spent the morning making food for the upcoming week: one large leafy salad; one potato salad which turned into mashed potato because I put the potatoes on to boil and then forgot about them; some dressing to go with the salad; and a few filler bits for wraps.
During my week of renovating I’d accidentally defrosted the freezer and ruined all the food, so at 1pm a van arrived with a load of food to restock. At least I won’t need to defrost the freezer again for a while.
The BFF showed up at 3pm – she works for herself too, and she’d been at work all morning. She dragged me outside to have a picnic on the green in the sun, which despite my grumbling I actually loved. Once we’d baked our skin for a couple of hours we went to the garden centre so I could stock up on plants, and then we went for dinner and then she went home. I was planning to get up at 6 on Monday to go swimming, so I went to bed early with Friends again and ended my week on a nice relaxing note.
And that, my friends, is how I fit it all in.