A few months ago, tired of people going “How do you fit it all in?!”, I started a blog series to answer that exact question. It was partly for other people but also partly for me; I wasn’t sure how I fitted it all in either. The answer used to be “I barely sleep” but these days I’m often in bed by 8pm, sometimes significantly earlier, so I knew it wasn’t that.
But apparently I still manage to live many lives and do loads of things. So how do I do it? This week marks week 21 of my ‘How Do You Fit It All In?’ series so I thought I’d go back through them and work out if there’s a direct answer to that question.
Some of the most pertinent quotes that I think go some way to answering the question include the following.
“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 think a lot of people do this if they’ve had a week off, but maybe not if they’ve just had a day where they got a bit behind with things. If I have one of those days, then the following day I don’t allow myself to start on that day’s tasks until the tasks of the day before have been completed. This is sometimes harder than it sounds, because occasionally the day’s tasks are fairly urgent, but that sends the signal to my mind that getting behind on things is not a good idea.
“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.”
This is a big one. Working for myself has made me much more efficient, and although I did manage to hold down a couple of extra jobs while I worked in advertising, it was very difficult and I didn’t give either of them the attention they deserved.
There’s a lot of superfluous crap around when you work for other people. When I’d get back from a week away when I worked in an office, I’d have 1500+ emails, but most of them wouldn’t actually be important. But in order to work out which ones did need my attention, I often had to skim through all 1500. Lots of them would be meeting requests, or minutes from meetings, or people replying to emails where there were seven people in the chain and some of the messages were just one-liners that weren’t important, but buried within them would be the gem of information I’d need.
Nowadays when I get back from a week away, I generally have between 100-200 emails, which is still a lot but nowhere near as much. And on my OOO I tell people to email me again after I return, and most of them do.
The commute into work also isn’t to be scoffed at. I had various commutes in my old job, ranging from one hour to three and a half hours each way depending on where I was living at the time. The commute gave me extra reading time, yes, but it was also exhausting and meant my day started earlier and ended later than it does now. These days my commute is from my bedroom to my kitchen, and that is much more manageable.
“I have a wonderful team of freelancers who do most of the actual work.”
Another big one: a lot of my time nowadays is taken up with running Bohemiacademia rather than doing the actual project work we have. I still do some of it – I write about forensics, for example, and I upload content onto clients’ sites, and I proofread some stuff – but the bulk of the work isn’t done by me personally.
“I went to bed at 5.30pm because sometimes I’m incredibly cool like that.
I got into bed before 6pm.
I was out of the bath and in bed by 4.15pm.”
There were a lot of lines like this scattered throughout the last six months. It’s really helped me, especially after the Angry Organ Fiasco of last year, to be able to listen to my body and do what it needs. Sometimes that’s going to bed at 4pm, which I wouldn’t have been able to do when I worked for someone else. Most days I’m not in bed by 4pm, but I usually am in bed by 8 or 9.
I never used to need much sleep – I was a four hours a night girl for most of my life – but over the last two years that has changed and now my body needs much more, probably because it’s still trying to heal various bits of itself. When I first started listening to it I was worried that this would make me less productive, but if anything it’s had the opposite effect. Even though I’ve lost some hours in which I used to work, the hours when I am working are now much more focused.
“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.”
This is something I don’t do as often as I’d like, but when I do it makes my weeks run much better. Sometimes I’ll spend a Saturday or Sunday making meals for the upcoming week, and when I do that I eat better food throughout the week, and that in turn makes me feel better and be more productive. It also means I go to the pool more because I’m not weighted down by processed crap, and again that makes me feel more energetic and also makes me sleep better, because I’m properly tired when I go to bed.
“I also find it difficult to work efficiently when I have a lot of meetings and calls scheduled, and last week was full of those.”
This was after a particularly unproductive few days. I find it difficult when my routine is disrupted, which happens if I have a lot of calls or meetings, or when I’m travelling. Which is the main reason I don’t particularly like travelling even though everyone seems to think I do.
Again though, this was much more of a problem when I worked in an office. I used to have so many meetings that I’d have to get in early and stay late just to do my actual day job. Now I have maybe one meeting every couple of months, and I schedule all my client calls for the same day of the week so I can get them out the way and focus on work the rest of the time.
The routine goes like this:
- Monday: business admin, client calls, payroll etc.
- Tuesday: blogging, social media, content planning for clients
- Wednesday: queueing up content for clients, and then the afternoon is my learning time for non-work-related pursuits like driving lessons, music practice and languages
- Thursday: forensic work, book writing
- Friday: academic work, and then in the evening I have a standing arrangement for dinner / drinks with a friend, which is handy because it brings my week to a close and makes me shut down my computer
- Saturday: whatever I want; sometimes I do a bit of work if I want to get ahead, but usually Saturday is a reading day or a grocery shopping day
- Sunday: life admin – laundry, cleaning the house, renovations, etc.
“I spent some time sorting out the folders on my computer: I do this once a week, clearing out stuff that’s no longer needed and archiving things into the correct folders.”
I think this is a big one, and it’s probably one most people don’t think of as having as large an effect as it does. But because my folders are very structured and I have a weekly clear-out, I don’t have to spend much time going through reams of files before I find the one I’m looking for. This is also true of other areas of life: I mostly do little bits rather than one huge chunk of work. For example, I usually do my accounts once per week. Likewise my business admin. A lot of people I know leave these tasks for a long time, and then they have several months’ worth of accounts to do and it becomes this huge thing.
“I looked at my list and realised I’d finished everything for the day! And it was only half past one. I have a weekly appointment at 2pm on Tuesdays, so I went to that and then afterwards I was like, well why would I go home and continue working when I’m on top of my to-do list? So I went for lunch at the garden centre and then took myself for a walk along the river.”
Rewarding yourself for a job well done is no bad thing. Sure, I could have gone home and started on my to-do list for the next day, but it was a pretty afternoon and the river was calling and so I answered.
“Following lunch I went and sat under a tree for a bit and stared at the light dancing over its trunk.”
I quite often take some time out of the day to go and wander around in nature. I live in London, so there’s not as much nature around as there would be in the countryside, but there are quite a lot of trees, and there’s the river, and several parks, so there’s normally somewhere you can go to reset your head and get yourself away from the screen.
Also sometimes in the middle of the day I find myself just staring blankly at my computer. When I worked in an office that meant I’d end up having an unproductive afternoon, because I was contractually obliged to be in a certain place for the next eight hours. Nowadays if that happens, I don’t allow myself to stay sitting at my desk. Instead I get up and I usually go swimming. This takes a couple of hours, and by the time I come home again I’m refreshed and more able to focus.
“I got up at 8.30am, feeling rested after a weekend spent in bed in my pyjamas, and started work. At 9.30pm I finished work, looked at the clock and thought, Shit did I just work a thirteen-hour day?
This is very representative of how my life tends to go: two days in bed doing sweet FA, then a day of absolute flat-out working, then two days of not very much… etc.”
This might not work for everyone, but it works for me. I usually work a long day – ten to twelve hours – on a Monday, because I want to. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are shorter, then Thursdays are a longer day again, and on Friday I often clock off at midday and begin the weekend there. Again I can do this because I work for myself. Working for someone else means you have to work certain hours, which is ridiculous. This is why I like working with freelancers rather than employees: as long as they get the job done, why would I care where they’re working from or which hours they work?
I’m also pretty good at knowing when I should and shouldn’t push myself. It annoys me that people think I’m bad at this because I do more with my life than they expect. Sometimes your body is whining and it needs you to push through; sometimes it genuinely needs a rest. When that happens, I take a day off. This is much easier to do when you work for yourself, because you don’t have the pressure of bosses and colleagues judging you when you don’t go into the office. And the fact that I’m not surrounded by people who come into work when they have colds means my immune system isn’t constantly fighting something off, and that means I’m less tired and more productive in general.
Other points of note:
- In the last six months I have been to 31 social occasions. That’s about 1.4 per week, and it’s more than I’d like, but if I did less than that I wouldn’t be able to maintain my friendships. Ideally I’d go to a social occasion about once per fortnight, but when you join your local choir and you have friends outside of that whom you still want to see then you end up having to go out at least once a week. Having said that, I will cancel social occasions if I feel like I need to. I used to not do that because I’d feel obligated to go, but these days I believe my main responsibility is to myself, so if I know something’s going to make me too tired to be able to work efficiently for the next few days, I will often cancel it.
- There are only four instances of actual procrastination over the last six months. So it does happen, but it’s rare. Sometimes I can’t bring myself to do any work, but I also can’t be bothered to do anything else, and I rebel against my “if you’re not working, go swimming or for a walk” rule. When that happens I have an unsatisfying day and then go to bed grumpy and insufficiently tired to sleep well. But since it happens so infrequently, these days I try to just embrace it: last time I was feeling unproductive I just decided to take the rest of the day off, watch Netflix and paint my nails. Sometimes you need that, and sometimes you need a kick up the arse; being able to tell which is which is important.
There are some other things that aren’t such changeable aspects of life that also help me to work several jobs at once, for example:
- I am a very fast reader, so I can generally get through a book each day. If I’m proofreading it takes longer, but probably still not as long as it’d take most other people.
- I type very fast too, which means knocking out a blog post doesn’t take very long.
- My dependents don’t live with me. I do have people who are financially dependent on me, and who to some extent need a level of care, but they live elsewhere and I check in with them once a week to see how they’re doing, and pay them each month so they have enough money to live. If I had a partner and children, I would have less time. Even when I had a cat, I had a bit less time despite her being just about the least demanding animal you could wish for.
So that, in summary, is how I fit it all in.