Confession: I am a workaholic. When I quit teaching and started to freelance full-time, it took me a few months to find a structure that instilled balance. I needed to break a habit of always working.
Throwing away my ‘working’ badge
At first, I thought I was ‘hustling’. The alarm went off at 6:00am and I jumped up, fed the dog, made coffee and went straight to my computer. I found ways to sneak work in around dinner time and into the evening. This kind of ‘hustle’ was neglecting time for myself and time with my partner.
A few months ago I was chatting with another entrepreneur about our schedules and work-life balance. I told her I wake up at 6:00 am and jump out of bed. I told her about my stringent hustle and I said it proudly. She paused and then asked if I would still get work done by taking another 30 minutes to wake up slow.
Of course, I said. Her comment stuck with me and I thought about how I had tried to reclaim my evenings after the hustle of teaching and freelancing. I thought about how much time I was spending brooding over assignments. I considered whether or not I actually needed to be doing it. I knew I didn’t.
Slipping into work mode wasn’t something new to me. I have always struggled with work-life balance. The shift of a new job created some pressure to perform. I had decided that if I was always working it must add up to something.
The truth was, I was pressing on the accelerator for no reason. I needed to look at how I spent my hours and start working on systems that allowed me to enjoy life, wake up slow with HisFI, and forget about ‘working’ as a badge of honor pinned to my chest.
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My 5 daily routines that broke my workaholic tendencies
Here are the ways I streamline my day. They create structure and a system for working. Because of these 5 routines, I can create content for clients with clarity and proficiency while still enjoying my life with HisFI.
1. Reading in the morning
Instead of jumping out of bed at 6:00am, I take it slow. I can cuddle with the cats or HisFI. I take a moment to breathe and actually hear my breath before getting out of bed. I look at my morning tasks as a ritual instead of a rushed series of chores. Brush my teeth, wash my face, feed the dog, make coffee and then grab a blanket.
HisFI and I start our mornings on the couch next to each other. We intentionally talk about the day ahead, then I grab a book and read while he scrolls. We have about 45minutes to an hour to do this before he has to get ready for work. It’s also why we set an early alarm because sipping coffee on the couch while it’s hot is life-changing.
In the morning I read a book about craft. I just finished Welcome to the Writers Life by Paulette Perhach. The morning is when my brain is able to fully digest helpful tips and ideas presented in books about the work I do. The workaholic in me likes to think of it as my professional development hour.
2. Daily to-do list
After HisFI leaves for work, I let the dog out and then look over my to-do list.
My daily to-do list is a habit I built when I was teaching. I had a large yellow paper pad and each day made a list of the materials I needed to collect, the lessons I had to write, and which projects I should grade. Before I left work each day, that list needed to be done. This yellow pad of endless lists helped me utilize my prep period efficiently. When it was done, I flipped to a clean page and started the list for the next day. My mornings were less stressful because I already knew what I needed to accomplish.
I use this same method for my business. The list has admin tasks, articles to write or edit, designs to create, and a note about any meetings happening that day. This list keeps me on task and on deadline. I honestly couldn’t work without it.
3. Work in chunks of time
Have you left work feeling like a zombie? Me too. To keep my brain from feeling like it had just been deep-fried, I decided to work in chunks of time. Francesco Cirillo’s famous Pomodoro Technique recommends you work in 25-minute intervals to stay productive and save your brain. 25 minutes was too start and stop for me, especially when I was working on big projects.
I set a timer for 1-hour increments. The bell rings and I find a good stopping point. Then I stand up, do a yoga pose, pet the dog, get some tea…whatever I need or want to do for 5-10 minutes. I even scroll the gram and watch a few stories. I look at my list to see where I am at, and back to work I go.
When I finish work for the day, I still have energy left. The energy I need to cook dinner, read a fun book, and engage with my partner.
4. Exercise and movement mid-day
In the middle of the day, I take a longer break for real movement. I have a standing desk, but we all know that’s not going to keep my thighs fitting into my summer shorts. Two times a week, I go to cycle at 10:30am or 12:00pm. On the other days, I choose a mid-day stopping point and take Henry for a walk or do a serious yoga session in the living room.
Movement in the middle of the day helps me prioritize my to-do list. I choose the heaviest tasks to get done before the workout. When I go back to work in the afternoon, I know I will be checking e-mails, pressing publish, or reviewing a submission. This has helped to break up my day and saves me from getting sucked into e-mails first thing in the morning.
5. Work in ‘zones’ around the home
My desk is fantastic. I can stand or sit, which is a huge plus. But I still found myself getting antsy while I was working. This is when I decided to work in different zones around the home. I always start at my desk. That is the only structure to working in ‘zones’. I move around throughout the day. I’ll research on the couch for an hour. I’ll sit outside in the afternoon to write my next day list. I try to keep my surroundings fresh.
There is some science behind this process. Moving around the room can boost creativity. Our brain craves novelty and stimulation. When I find myself staring at the same sentence for 2 minutes, I know it’s time to move.
You can do this anywhere
As some of you may know, we moved to Arizona on January 1st. We have been in multiple AirBnB’s since our arrival while we close on a home and wait for repairs.
There were definitely a few days I didn’t get much work done. But for the majority of the time, I have been able to stick to this structure. I set up a desk of some kind in each place. I stacked books or boxes found in the AirBnB for a makeshift standing desk. I kept books for the morning and a list of work in my notebook. I used my phone as a timer and designated ‘zones’ for work during the day. I signed up for cycle classes and found parks to take our dog to.
Part of the joy in being self-employed is this kind of flexibility. I can work from anywhere. I get to create every day. By having these systems in place, I also get to enjoy life with my partner. I think this reflects in my work. No. I know it does.