I recently went through a phase where I worked myself to the bone. I had fallen into the routine of working from 10am to 3am with a few scattered breaks for feeding and cleaning, but not much else. I hated it.
I hated feeling grumpy and cranky all the time. I hated pushing self-care to the back burner. I hated being so zoned in on work that I forgot to eat something till 6pm and then being too hungry/tired to cook and simply ordering in from whichever restaurant on Seamless had the best reviews and quickest delivery time. I hated not making time for the gym, or dates, or just melting into my couch and being a zombie for a little bit while giving my brain a break. Most of all... I hated the fact that I had put myself in that position.
I quickly realized that it was no way to live my life and I needed to set some personal boundaries. I needed to learn how to say no to late night work emergencies, stop obsessively checking my email, and take some time to unwind. I needed to learn how to turn it off.
REALTALK: When you work yourself ragged and push yourself to do as much as you possibly can, you’re really only hurting yourself in the long run. When we’re overworked, overtired, and overwhelmed .... well, that’s when we tend to make mistakes. And mistakes tend to taint our reputations and fuel our nightmares (or at least that’s how I feel).
Again, this all comes back to that concept of searching for stability and finding the balance so that I’m not destroying my life and then scrambling to pick up the pieces on a weekly basis. I’m done with that. Enough is enough. Let’s quit the surviving act and start the thriving act.
It’s kinda like doing the dishes. Yes, doing the dishes everyday sucks (especially when you don’t have a dishwasher) and it’s boring and monotonous and makes you think “UGH, DISHES AGAIN?” But when you let them pile up in the sink, you’re simply increasing the chaos in your life. Your favorite coffee mug has been at the bottom of the pile for days, you’re trying to eat soup with a fork, and you’re pretty sure that you’re gonna have to soak that pan for 2 whole days to get that pasta sauce off it. And then one day you finally get sick of it (or you’re officially out of things to eat on/with) and you spend an entire 2 hours doing your dishes and cleaning the whole damn kitchen.
All of those problems could be very easily avoided by setting aside ten minutes every night to simply do your goddamn dishes. ADULTHOOD.... IT LOOKS LIKE THIS. Now take that concept and apply it to just about everything in your life and BOOM: ADULTHOOD MASTERED! (In a perfect world....)
Obviously, you can't become a mature, responsible adult who has mastered time management overnight... but I’ve got my whole life ahead of me to work on it.
In the meantime, I thought I’d share some of my favorite tips for learning how to turn off during your work week and how to use your brain power with maximum efficiency:
1. Define your office hours and stick to them. This doesn’t mean that you have to finish all your work before your day is up - no. Not at all. Prioritize your tasks and make sure that anything that needs to be sent to a client for review or approval or to meet a deadline is sent with plenty of time for a response. Keep your nights for level two stuff like playing catch up on your own editorial calendar, getting ahead on client work for the rest of the week, doing research on industry trends, reading important documents, or working on long-term, ongoing projects.
You don’t want to be that girl who is answering emails at 10pm (unless it’s an absolute emergency for something that is launching at 6am the next day.... and even then I say be wary). It’s not OK and all it takes is one late night response to give your clients the idea that it might be OK to send you thirty thousand emails after 6pm. If you’re already working from 10am to 6pm, there is no need for you to be responding to late night emails on a regular basis. Those are totally reasonable working hours. Nothing is ever that important, and if it IS that important, you need to set the standard with your clients early on to let them know that you need more notice next time.
You can’t be expected to be chained to your computer 24/7 in case someone suddenly needs something - that’s not fair. You’re a person. You’re entitled to a life. And nobody is ever going to take care of you FOR YOU, so you gotta toughen up and learn to say NO every once in a while. Find the system that works for you, set your boundaries early on, and make few exceptions. And if anyone tries to give you a hard time about it, you probably shouldn’t be working with them. The best clients are always the ones who respect your time, value your efforts, and understand your needs.
2. Consolidate. Here are some of the ways in which I communicate with my clients: Face-to-face meetings, email, text message, phone calls, voicemails, Skype, handwritten notes in composition notebooks, Facebook chat, GChat, Asana (shared to-do lists), Google Docs, Google Calendars …. and OMG MY BRAIN IS GOING TO EXPLODE.
It’s really hard to keep everything straight these days when we have so many methods of communication. Things get jumbled easily, tasks get forgotten in the madness, and mistakes are made because you're just so damn overwhelmed. So at the end of everyday I consolidate. I write down any meeting notes in Google Docs and organize all my Docs within folders for projects and projects into folders for clients.
I’m all about that OCD and it really does help keep me sane. I also use a tool called Asana online to make larger project task lists and breakdowns, but every night I make a handwritten list consolidating and prioritizing all my tasks for the next day - pulling from my various client lists in Asana. This helps me keep track of which deadlines are rapidly approaching and what needs to get done for them. There is definitely a method to my madness and I highly encourage you to find the system that works best for you and your business!
3. Literally turn it off. If you’re like me and you’re working from 10am to 3am, Monday - Friday (and usually Sunday nights too) you need to recognize that you need a TRUE 24 hour break on the weekend.
Here’s how I practice it: by no later than 10pm on Fridays, I pause my email. And I don’t turn it back on till 12pm on Sunday. Why? Because I live in a hyper connected world where every time I get an email my laptop, my iPad, and my phone all start buzzing and pinging. I love my devices, but they can be really annoying sometimes. HEY. HEY. YOU HAVE A MESSAGE. DID YOU SEE IT? DID YOU SEE IT? DID YOU SEE IT? DIDJA GET IT? HOW ABOUT OVER HERE ON THIS DEVICE? DID YA READ IT? HELLO? MAYBE I’LL TRY ANOTHER DEVICE? HOW ABOUT NOW?
..... It’s great for my work week when I’m bouncing around, but on my day off, I need a freaking day off. If I see an email in my inbox, I have to read it and I will usually respond to it, setting off the chain reaction that leads to a three hour back-and-forth with a client. It’s just the kind of person I am. By actually turning my email off, I am forcing myself to shut my brain down for a little bit to reboot. Sunday afternoons I am almost always prepping for the week to come and trying to get a jump start (or at least thinking about jump starting) on my week so it’s not like I’m gone forever. I’m still working hard. I’m not disappearing. I’m just recognizing that I’m a human being, not a machine… and for that matter, even machines need to be turned off from time-to-time to keep them from overheating.
I will admit that these last few weeks I have nearly burnt out a couple times, but have pushed through sometimes purely driven by the prospect of a Work-Free Saturday. OH WHAT BLISS! A FULL 24 hours to melt into my couch while dying of a hangover or to run through the snow in Central Park or to eat and shop with my girlfriends or WHATEVER! Sometimes that’s all the incentive I need to get my shit together and efficiently use my allotted working hours.
So I’m on a mission to take better care of my brain and remember to schedule in breaks and meals and downtime and things that keep me happy, ignite my passion, and drive me to work harder and be better. I’m looking to create a sustainable lifestyle that balances work and play, not a chaotic one where I will suddenly abandon all my plans because I received a semi-urgent email at 7:30pm. I live for the routine and I know that sticking to these guidelines and systems will only help me work more efficiently and produce better content in the long run.
Will you be joining me on my journey to a simpler, saner work week? I’d love to hear your thoughts on all of this and I’m happy to answer any specific questions you may have about my lists and methods! Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or drop it in the comments below!
System processing, xx Nikbear