Over the past few weeks, I’ve increased my productivity levels exponentially. Up until that point, it had been an ongoing battle to get everything done. There was nothing I wanted to give up and yet I couldn’t cope with everything I had to do. I needed to start training for a triathlon I’m doing in June but I was ready to pull out because I couldn’t find the time to do it.
Reaching crisis point
Back in 2015 things had reached crisis point. I was working from home and fitting my hours around the children. I was there for all their milestones and I was also bringing in a reasonable income. Pretty much living the dream. Except that I wasn’t.
My husband was in hospital, then he was at home but unable to help out. Libby was in nursery a few afternoons a week and Lia was with me all the time. And I was still having to work close to full time hours. I used to regularly work until 3 am and beyond. I’d be up at 7 am on a good day with the girls, and between those hours Lia would often wake me up.
Productivity step 1: Making the most of my skills
Back then, most of my freelancing involved audiotyping. I’d type transcripts of interviews, conferences and court cases. It was well paid and there was plenty of work available. And until my husband’s accident, it suited us. I’d take on extra work whenever I could and we were doing well financially, even putting a bit aside to do up the house.
But when our lives were thrown into turmoil, I realised this line of work wasn’t sustainable. My earnings dropped despite my efforts to work into the early hours to keep us going. It wasn’t enough and we had to remortgage the house to make ends meet. I had to find better paying work and quickly.
At the time, I was already blogging as a hobby. I also did a little bit of freelance writing and I’d done some social media management. The money was better for doing that sort of work, and aside from that I enjoyed it. I knew there would be no way of getting much time for myself for a little while. So doing work I enjoyed gave it value in terms of my wellbeing in addition to earning money.
It was risky. The jobs wouldn’t be delivered to me on a plate like the audiotyping. But it was time to be brave. So, I emailed companies I wanted to work for. I applied for freelance writing and social media management work. And I found time to blog as well. And before long, I had enough work to keep me going. I was earning a similar amount, getting to bed by 1 am most days and enjoying work. It was the right decision.
Since then, work has evolved again. Freelance writing and blogging turned out to be the most lucrative areas of work for me and that’s what I stuck to. But as with everything, it becomes mundane and productivity levels drop. Blogging is very involved. It’s not just about writing paid blog posts. There are the unpaid ones in between that keep my blog relevant and personable. I hope those ones are useful and informative and in fact – for me – the unpaid posts are in the majority.
Then there’s the social media. I didn’t last long managing other people’s social media because I realised I’d much rather put the time into my own. And whilst blogging makes up the majority of my income now, I still write for other people. I work reasonable hours, usually getting to bed by midnight. I often work in front of the television so I can spend some time with my husband. Even if there is always a laptop that comes between us.
But recently, that hasn’t been enough. I wanted to blog more regularly, make YouTube videos and widen my niche. And I want to get back to being me. Me the swimmer, water polo player, triathlete and insufferable drunk. Not just the working mum.
Productivity step 2: Saying goodbye to dead time
The first thing I’ve done to increase productivity is to make use of what I would call ‘dead time’. The time I spend in the car when I’m not driving. The time I spend on trains (I’m writing this while I commute to London). Those illusive minutes of trying to get back to sleep and ignore my alarm. And of course, the horror of time wasted while the girls want to watch something awful on television.
I’ve started to make lists of what needs doing and try to tick something off during dead time. I’m often on twitter while I’m walking the dogs. Instagram comments might be done while Lia eats her lunch. I reply to emails on my phone while I’m at playgroup or waiting for one of the girls to finish a dance class. And I try my best not to pick up my phone if I’m not doing something useful. I spend less time on Facebook and turn off other applications while I write. When my alarm goes off, I get up and work for 20 minutes before I go for a run. Just doing that has given me an extra hour and a half per week.
Miraculously, this all seems to be working and my productivity has increased. I’ve found that I’m at my most productive when I’m using time that would otherwise be wasted. I wrote three blog posts last week on a on the car journeys to and from Bath while my husband drove. This morning I’m on a train and this is the second post I’ve written. I haven’t been on Facebook or even had a coffee, and yet I’m functioning.
The extra time
At last, I’ve started exercising a bit more. I run a few times a week and I’m now cycling and swimming a bit more as well. This weekend I’m hoping to play water polo for the first time since I was pregnant with Lia. With the increase in productivity I’m managing to blog more and keep up with social media. When I’m with the children, I give them my full attention. I’m not constantly checking my phone or trying to get things done, because I’m on top of everything.
There’s still a lot more I need to fit in. We have home improvements to do and I really need to do lots of little things around the house. But I’m hoping that as time goes on, this new method of working will free up progressively more time. And eventually perhaps I’ll achieve that illusive work-life balance I’ve been after all along.
How do you balance work and family commitments? Do you have any other ideas about how to make best use of your time?