Like so many people who are balancing a day job while building their dream job—not to mention balancing their home lives—I have struggled with managing my time. There are days in which I feel burnt out and pulled in a million directions. I needed to add some structure to my writing life. I also needed to feel like my day job wasn't just getting in the way. Finally, I needed to feel like I was living in the moment.
What Was Going On?
Before I tell you the steps that I took to integrate sanity into my busy life, let me give you a glimpse into what I was putting myself through. Let me know if any of this looks familiar to you.
I did not begin to take myself seriously as a writer until 2016. Before then, writing was something that I thought I was good at and something that I loved to do, but not something that I would be able to build a career out of. It had felt more like a dream that I let pass me by and that it was too late for me to try. I have so many positive voices to thank for changing my way of thinking about this because now, three years later, I can really see my writing career taking shape.
So, when you hit a crossroads and make the decision to follow your heart and take a different career path, you will find yourself having to wear multiple hats, at least until your new career is stable enough to let you kiss your old one goodbye. That's where I am—multiple hats— but I was doing a terrible job of compartmentalizing it all. The result left me exhausted, irritable, and burnt out. It made me hate my day job more than I already did. It made me snap if I didnt get enough help at home. I had moments in which I felt like I dropped the ball as a mom. Oh, and the guilt that comes with the days where you feel like you just don't have it in you to dedicate some time and energy to your new dream? That guilt burns!
My Moment of Epiphany
A great friend, and a mentor to many, told me about his own moment of realization. Like me he has a day job, and after work he is building his start-up. Right around the corner is his first baby. Time already felt elusive, and when this baby gets here, he can kiss free time goodbye. He knew he wasn't mananging his time right; he was sleeping 3-4 hours a night, he was losing focus at his day job, and he felt off-centered.
That's when he found the book Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport. The subtitle alone gets me: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World. My friend said that he used an app to help him gauge how many hours he spends on social media or internet surfing. It calculated that he was averaging 7.5 hours a day! A day! In his words, "How can I expect to teach my child to minimize screen time, or limit youtube, when I spend a ridiculous amount of time on some smart device myself? Seriously, I can't even read a book without having the TV on in the background. What is that even about?"
Suffice it to say my friend had had enough. He took serious measures to limit his time on social media, TV, and electronics in general. It changed his life so much that I decided to take some drastic measures myself.
Here are the changes that I made, and how it impacted my life:
I Broke Up My Routine Into Segments
My working life is made up of my day job, novel writing, and copywriting. My main goal was to make sure that I had enough time to address each activity efficiently and to leave plenty of time for my family and myself—never neglect me-time! So, I set aside specific weekdays for each activity. At the moment the day job takes up most of the days, but I have full intention on changing that.
Next I Addressed My Screentime
My friend's average of 7.5 hours a day was eye-popping. I didn't even bother verifying my own because I knew it would be double—at least. I couldn't even sit through a movie anymore without grabbing my phone for a quick check on Instagram or Twitter. Before I knew it, I'd be browsing through Safari or emails.
I made a decision to limit my social media use for work-specific purposes only. That meant no checking social media during the day job as my author accounts have nothing to do with my role there. I whipped out a calendar and chose the best days AND times to dedicate to my social media accounts and those that I am running for my client.
The next piece was equally as difficult. I had to limit my need for having the news on in the background during my writing sessions. I have become quite the newsbuff of late, and I get serious FOMO, but my friend pointed out in his frank manner, "Dude, they repeat the same shit every hour. And, as the 'breaking news' comes out, there are always new developments or corrections to the story. By the end of the night the story is different and likely more accurate. Doesn't it just make sense to wait until the end of the night, and hear it right once?"
He's got a point.
I gave it a shot. During my last scheduled writing session I chose music over the news and I kid you not I wrote five times more than my word count goal.
It was very important to me to make sure that I set aside time for personal growth and me-time. Reading is something that accomplishes both for me. I blocked out days and times for that too.
All other free time is just that: free time. I refuse to check social media. I watch movies with my family straight through without a gander at Twitter. I pay better attention to what goes on in my house, and I'm helping my daughter to be better oragnized too.
Here are a couple of other things that changed because of my newly scheduled agenda:
I have more energy.
I've been more productive at the day job.
I have gotten more sleep and feel so rested.
I'm less stressed and irritable because I no longer feel like I'm neglecting any part of my life.
Most notably, I realized I have ample time for all the things I need and want to do.
I am so happy that I've made these changes in my life. It's worth trying for yourself. If your dreams and goals matter that much to you, don't sacrifice the NOW just to get to the future. The NOW matters just as much, and the future will be that much sweeter if you get there without a burnout or high blood pressure.
The difficult part, I've found, is avoiding the temptation. You will find yourself reaching for that phone. Fight it because you are fighting for you. The habit of reaching for my phone had become ingrained. I still look for it, but I've gotten better at putting it back down without pressing my thumb down on the home button.
I fully expect these changes to increase my writing productivity exponentially.