I’ve had a version of this post in draft form for a while, inspired by my friend Julia who did a similar post quite a ways back. (Yeah, that should tell you just how long this post has been on my idea list. Oops.) I always think it’s interesting to see how other people structure their days, and on a personal level to track growth and evolution, how much your schedule changes from phase to phase, year to year, era to era.
I will be the first to admit: I burned myself out last year. If I had written this post, say, last October, the listed workday end time would’ve been much later than 6:30, and my best explanation would’ve been “STRESSED OUT. TOO MUCH TO DO. MUST. WORK. MORE.” This approach, like typing in all-caps, was not sustainable.
So this year, I’ve made a concerted effort to restructure my days and figure out a better balance. I wrote that sentence and then was like Does that sound lame? It hasn’t been long enough for me to assess whether the change is working, right? And then I was like, Oh yeah, it’s May already OMG LOL, and I gotta say, I’m proud of myself for 5 months of consistency.
A side note on the elusiveness of “balance.” If you work for yourself, I firmly believe that finding balance is a constant struggle, and its definition can change as your life and biz evolves anyway. For me, I think balance means feeling good about the focus of my life overall—do I feel nurtured in work, home life, friendships, and personal time? If so, I’m probably on the right track. It’s not easy to do, but if every decision you’re making pushes you in that direction, two thumbs up.
With all that said, here’s how a typical work day is looking for me lately:5:50am // On workout days, my first alarm sounds. I use the bedtime function in the iOS Clock app to set this first alarm, purely because I like the wake up sounds better. If you’ve never experimented with this, trust me — the alarm sounds are far more pleasant. I set a second alarm for 6am, so that if I happen to snooze the first, the second will blast me awake a minute later.
6:15am // I’m off to the gym! Don’t judge, but despite a 15 minute walk, I drive (this early in the morning? Every minute matters). I’m a member at Epic Hybrid Training; if you’re local, you should check it out! They have a bunch of locations on the east coast, too.
6:30am // Class starts. I’m partial to Monday’s Grynd class, Wednesday’s Dynamic Core, and Friday’s Steady Burn, but I’ll fit in workouts whenever I can. This week, for example, I went Tuesday, Thursday, and will go tomorrow.
7:45am // I’ll cop to it—on non-workout days, this is usually about the time I will get out of bed. I try and make it to the gym three weekdays, and on the days I don’t workout, I’m usually awake by 6:45am and too lazy to get out of bed for another hour. This is when I’ll read the newspaper, check websites and blogs, and get a first glance at email and Instagram.
Workout days? I’m home by this time, and I hit the showers, then make breakfast for Joe and I. We tend to workout on the same days, and I think it’s mostly because we like the ritual of making a proper breakfast on the days we do. I’ll make us simple things like scrambled eggs with salsa and a side of fruit, or some days if I have time and I’m feeling fancy, it might be a dish like leftover roasted asparagus with fried eggs and parmesan. He always makes the coffee, and I’ll take about 1/4 mug’s worth (as much as I love the ritual of coffee, I think I’m more into the smell of it brewing than I am downing it by the cupful).
8:30am // At work. In the mornings, I’m usually settling in for about half an hour, trying to go through emails, or take care of small admin tasks. Sometimes messages have come through for me over Slack or Trello, left from clients who either pinged me the night before, or have already been at it on the east coast. I don’t know what it is, but I have to start my days this way—getting all my ducks in a row. I’ve tried structuring my days where I tackle the creative stuff first, but my brain just doesn’t work that way. It needs time to ease in, I guess.
I usually prefer scheduling calls in the morning, and will nearly always suggest 9am as the earliest start time. This way, I can guarantee that regardless of when meetings start, I’ll have time to get in a workout, breakfast, and get my head on straight.
11:00am // This is a seasonal thing based on the light, but around this time every.single.day., Lucy will come over and ask me to move her office bed closer to the window so she can be in the sun. Around 11:30, when sunlight blasts our little outdoor patio, she’ll then move from her indoor sun bed, wait by the patio door until I come meet her, then give me a look that says “Can you please move my patio bed into the sun now?” I’m basically a cabana girl for 7 months out of the year when we get good light. If you ask her, “Is it sunbathing time?” she will immediately run out to the patio and jump on her outdoor bed. Joe and I are convinced she thinks I control the sun, because on cloudy or foggy days, she gets super annoyed with me and will come tap my leg, lead me to the patio, then look at me like “Yo, what’d you do with the light?”
In this scenario, somehow I am both a god who provides sun, and a servant to her. Go figure.
While all that is happening, I’m usually on calls, working through studio tasks, coordinating follow-ups with clients, and generally trying to knock as much off the to-do list as I can before lunch.
Noon to 1pm // Lunch time. I always watch TV during lunch; maybe this isn’t the most productive thing I could be doing, but to be honest, I have found I need that hour to completely zone out, and as a line of demarcation, separating my day. Sometimes, if I’m in the middle of a book I can’t put down, I’ll read that while I eat instead. I usually don’t like to spend a ton of time prepping anything special for lunch, so I’ll meal prep on Sundays and part way through the week to make lots of items that are easy to mix and match, and/or can heat up quickly. Soups, different types of roasted chicken and vegetables, and picnic style salads are popular around here!
After lunch // If I have big, energy and focus consuming design tasks, now is when I’ll dive into them. Something about having the back half of the afternoon to sit and focus just works for my creative juices. Occasionally, this is disastrous because the ideas won’t come and it can create panic towards the end of the day (that feeling of, shit, I didn’t finish what I needed to). But it usually works out fine. If I’m not working on a custom project, this is often the time I’ll work on blog posts, or writing.
2 to 3pm // If Lucy’s home, we’ll try and get out for a mile long walk twice per week. She goes to an off-leash playgroup other days of the week, so on those days, the house is quiet all afternoon and she’ll roll in from joyriding with her friends around 5.
6:30pm-ish // After years of it being a thing (and rightfully so), I try to keep a consistent end-of-day time so that I don’t drive my husband insane. If I can’t end at 6:30, I’ll always let him know how late I think I’ll be, so we can make dinner plans accordingly. But really, I do try to end work by 6:30 most nights. On Fridays, I’ve been working on ending at 5. This is because whenever I end work, it takes me a good half hour or so to switch gears from work-life brain into home-life brain (keep in mind, I literally walk out of a second bedroom that’s used as a studio space, and am suddenly “at home” with Joe). He noticed that if I wasn’t ending work until 6:30 or 7 on Fridays—despite the obvious downside of missing most happy hours—I wasn’t really in a “weekend’ mindset until 7:30 or 8. This led to more than one argument on our way to a dinner reservation, I can admit. We realized that ending work a little earlier on Friday would help me ease into the weekend, put a clear break in between work life and home life, and would get me in a mindset to be a better (read: way more fun) dinner date. Also, let’s be honest: nothing vital is happening after 5pm on a Friday anyway, and so many of my clients are on the east coast that it REALLY didn’t matter. Priorities, you know?
Dinner + after // We’re on a tear right now where we’ve been trying to eat weekday dinners at the table. For literally years and years, we have eaten in front of the TV. I think we both recently noticed it kinda destroyed any chance at weeknight connection—there would be weekdays we barely spoke to each other in the evening because we got sucked into whatever dumb thing was on TV, plus looking at phones (ugh!). So now we try and eat dinners at the table during the weekdays, and if we want to, we can couch it on weekends. I cook for us at home at least three nights of the week; an average week would be 4 dinners at home and then Friday out, but sometimes we’ll sneak in a Taco Tuesday or Wednesday out of the house if we’re feeling like it.
After dinner, depending on the day of the week, we’ll either hang out and watch TV, or get in bed to read and wind down. On a really good night, we might be asleep by 10, but I’ll admit, this is pretty rare. Most nights we’re definitely asleep by 11; if it’s any later than that and the next day is a workout day, you’re screwed.
Employee of the Month 6 years running: Lucy on her indoor sun bed. 10 minutes after this, she asked her cabana girl to move the party outside.
Ok, so that’s the basic skeleton of the day to day, but there are some big things woven into all that dictating how my weekdays are structured. Call them insights I’ve learned after working for myself for a long time; they’re necessary to keep a disciplined schedule and staying as on task and focused as you can:
+ I really prefer to NOT accept meetings out of the office. Sure, sometimes they’re necessary (I’ve had clients come in from out of town and they can only meet at such and such place at a particular time; OR some meetings require the parties get together to present and share information). But I’ve really found that most things can be solved with a phone call, in which no one has to plan transit time (or pay for it, either). Basically, I’ve kinda come to the conclusion that most meetings outside of the studio are a huge waste of time. You have to really weigh whether the time and expense of getting to a place is worth the outcomes of the meeting.
+ Same with lunch dates. I try to avoid these at all costs, because it’s not just the hour+ you spend at lunch, you have to factor in travel time and zone out time because the whole thing is very disruptive to your day. I always feel like the last half hour before I need to leave for a lunch, nothing gets done, and for the 30-45 minutes after I get back home and settled, nothing gets done. #timesuck As much as I love connecting with friends or fellow entrepreneurs, I’ve found I’m more into it (and less anxious about getting back to work) if we plan an after work drinks thing, or maybe an early morning coffee.
+ Most of my clients don’t live in San Francisco, so the above two items aren’t an issue. It does mean, however, that I take and make a lot of phone calls. For calls, I try to schedule them on specific days, and also block out times based on when people are scheduling. For example, if clients used my meeting scheduler and I had 3 calls in a row in the morning, I usually prefer to block out the afternoon so no other appointments get made, and I can focus on other tasks. If I don’t, the day is kinda shot, because you’re essentially just waiting for the next call the entire day. I usually only like to schedule calls on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, though will often schedule custom client feedback calls on Fridays (I’ve actually found these are a great way to end the week—getting that feedback and completing another round of work makes me feel like the week is tied up with a nice little bow).
+ I batch like tasks. I respond to inquiries on Fridays, and rely on canned responses and multiple inboxes in Gmail to do so. Emails that arrive via my website’s contact form are automatically routed to a separate inbox that I barely even glance at until Friday morning. They never appear in my main, top Inbox, so they don’t distract me. Those emails get an auto-responder letting them know I’ve received the email and will respond later in the week, and this system works great!
So that’s an average day for me, in a nutshell! Do you have any productivity hacks I should know about?