What I Learned From Working 70-Hour Weeks for Two Months

Writing about overtime hours last week reminded me of last spring when I took on the challenge of working 70 hours a week, every week, between three different jobs.  It was pretty intense.

How did this happen, you ask?  Since there wasn’t much to do at my regular Day Job working at the research greenhouse, I sought out a work from home opportunity (a.k.a. my Secret Work From Home Day Job) that was too good to pass up.  The hours were flexible, the pay was good, and they even offered bonuses (!) for working more than 28 hours a week.  This left me with a few overloaded workweeks, but I figured, “Hey, this is a lot, but you can handle it for a while as long as you don’t schedule anything else, right?”

Then I got offered not one, but two major editing jobs that were also too good to pass up.  That’s when shit got real.

The next two months had me getting up early to drive to the greenhouse three days a week, ducking out as soon as I could, and spending evenings glued to my laptop either on Work From Home Day Job shifts or scrambling to edit the book manuscripts.  The other two days and all weekend long I stayed in, also glued to the laptop for 8 or more hours at a time and racing to meet my editing deadlines before crashing and starting all over the next day.

I worked 33 days straight without a day off, then rested and worked 27 more. Most times those days started at 7:00 and ran until midnight, when I’d crash hard, sleep, then wake up to start all over again.

It was a rough two months, and while I’d rather not do it again, I learned a lot that all Day-Jobbers out there should find useful if you’re ever looking for some extra cash.

 

I use a regular At-A-Glance planner with a hard back and one of those Moleskine elastics. Mine takes a lot of abuse.

 

I Had to Plan Like a Boss

With three different jobs worth of responsibilities, I’d have been lost if I hadn’t been writing literally EVERYTHING I had to do in my day planner so I knew where I had to be and when.  Since each week looked a little different shift-wise, I needed concrete reminders for everywhere I needed to be rather than risk forgetting something.

Luckily, I’d already been rocking the day-planner system for a while and had gotten better at tracking things, so while the 70-hour workweeks were definitely a jump, my mad planning skills made it a much smaller one.

 

I Had to Schedule Time For Creative Work, And It Was Damned Hard

At the start of my new work schedule, I had a simple plan: work on my novel from 8:30 to 10:00 on Tuesday and Thursday mornings before starting my Work-From-Home shift when I’d be at my most alert for writing.  Simple, right?

This worked really well for about two weeks until other stuff started coming up, so Tuesday and Thursdays turned into just Thursdays, then occasional Thursdays when I had time, then a temporary hiatus until the craziness was done and I didn’t need every last minute of sleep I could scrounge.

I got very little creative work of any kind done during those two months, in addition to everything else (fun and work-related) I fell behind on.  Sure I could squeeze in some reading or an X-Files episode at the end of the night if I wanted, but it was almost impossible to keep up a creative schedule.  Something’s gotta give, and what gave for me was my writing.

 

Big Paychecks = Big Confidence Boost

I get paid by direct deposit, which I have mixed feelings about since it makes you think about money in a more abstract way than if you have an actual, physical check to hold in your hand every two weeks.  This argument became a lot less relevant, though, each time I logged into my bank account and found a big fat surprise waiting for me.

Getting paid provided a simple reward: every time I wanted to tear my hair out and collapse into a corner, I’d remember the money piling up and how that money meant paying off my student loans and cutting back on Day Job hours later, which would ultimately mean more freedom.

Those paychecks were a constant reminder that I was working toward a greater goal, getting ever closer to it, and making things work one day at a time.  They pushed me to keep going, and made me feel better at the end of yet another exhausting day.

 

The Constant Motivation Was a Plus

When you’re working all the time, you feel tired and exhausted, but you also feel driven by this urge to keep going.  Part of that’s internal (working toward a personal goal), but a big part of it’s external because you know you’re going to get in trouble if you’re late for work or can’t get everything done.

Having these external pressures pushed me to finish the work I’d started and brought the satisfaction of conquering a challenge every single day.  At the end of the workday I felt tired, but also like I could do anything.

 

My Social Life Suffered…A Lot

Suffice it to say I didn’t meet up with many people during those two months, and spent a lot of time by myself.  When I had a Saturday night free I stayed in doing something low-key, since meeting up with friends felt like way too much of an effort after six straight nights of working.  I had to turn down a lot of text invites to hang out, and it came as a relief when they stopped coming since I didn’t have to turn them down anymore.

I generally like being a social person in my free time, as long as I have free time to spend.  Working so much taught me that I didn’t need that social time to get through my weeks, and that my social world wouldn’t come to an end if I disappeared for a while.  When all was said and done though, it felt good to meet up with people again, and I found myself appreciating that social time even more after going without it for so long.

 

It Was Hard to Get My Regular Life Stuff Done

Not only did I not have time for social stuff, but little things like grocery shopping and taking out my trash also began to go by the wayside.  I started cooking simpler meals and getting pizza more often to save time cooking, and buying larger cartfuls of food from the grocery store so I didn’t have to go as often.  My apartment was also….not clean.  At all.

If you’re working a regular schedule, chores like these are no big deal, but cranking up the hours just makes them harder to get done.  You can put them off for a while like I did, but any work schedule should allow time for handling basic life necessities, or the results won’t be pretty.

 

Splitting Time Between Multiple Jobs Made the Whole Experience Bearable

Spending seventy hours a week, every week at the same job will grind on anyone no matter what that job is.  Thirty hours at one job, twenty-five at another, and fifteen at a third is another story entirely, especially since a good chunk of that time was spent working at my computer in the privacy of my apartment’s kitchen, and I saved time on commuting by consolidating my greenhouse shifts into bigger chunks.

The variety made the whole experience work, since every day felt different and I could slot my editing work in between shifts.  Not only that, but since the jobs themselves involved different parts of my brain (filling pots and spraying herbicides vs. processing info from a computer), I still felt like I was getting different experiences, which made the time go by faster and made up for the lack of overtime pay.

 

And Finally…It Had to Be Temporary

I could do 70-hour weeks for two months, but I couldn’t do them for six months, a year, or an entire career, because then those 70 hours would become my whole life rather than a temp shot at making a mass of money.  I needed to have an end in sight so I could go back to my novel again—and back to taking out my trash on a regular basis.  In short, I needed to get back to my life.

I didn’t plan anything that happened that spring, but when the opportunity came up I ran with it knowing the payout would be worth it—both for the work experience, the contacts I made, and the paychecks.  This is the same reason people fight for internships, work entry-level jobs, and take on the crazy challenge of grad school, because they know it’ll pay off later and that their Day Job work is only temporary.

So if the chance to do something crazy but worthwhile comes up, I definitely recommend taking it—just make sure you get out of it when the time comes.

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