So this week’s topic might seem obvious, but it’s also so important that I can’t possibly let this blog go any longer without talking about it. That’s because I’ve found that sorting creative time into the right place on your schedule can make all the difference between fist-clenching frustration and sweet sweet productivity.
Here’s a few things to consider when thinking about your ideal creative work schedule:
Time of Day
Do you work best in the morning, in the afternoon, or late at night? A lot of people prefer mornings as the best time to solve creative thinking-based problems. Then again, I’ve done some of my best work in the late afternoon or evening after using a Day Job-filled workday to get me up and focused, especially if I take some time to de-stress after work (see below!).
Blocks of Time
Do you need large chunks of interrupted time to get your creative work done, or do you collapse from creative exhaustion after forty-five minutes of gut-wrenching intensity? Clearly different projects are best worked on under different conditions, and especially for creative tasks that involve a large amount of setup or cleanup, larger blocks might just be more efficient.
Daily or Several Times a Week?
A lot of people recommend writing every day, which I’d like to do but basically don’t, since I like to write in larger chunks and have real-life stuff to schedule around writing (as this really insightful article on creating good habits talks about). I also need time to let my unconscious mind mull over ideas in between writing sessions, which is something I learned from reading The Great Brain books as a kid. Spacing out my creative work over the course of a week works for me, but you might be the type of person who wants to capture the momentum of working on the same project every day to keep your focus up.
Compromising Your Ideal Work Time
The reality is that most of us in the Day Job world can’t always work our ideal creative schedules because we’ve got other shit to take care of. When faced with this age-old dilemma, you’ve got a few choices:
- Complain about it to your friends
- Find a new Day Job that lets you work during your ideal time
- Work around your schedule to get things done
Since I don’t advocate complaining in any form (unless it involves hilarious internet memes) and quitting your Day Job can be a big step, a good balance is to plan a creative schedule that helps you work best using the time you have. Some things to think about to better make this happen:
- If you have to be at your Day Job during your ideal creative time, what’s your second choice time? Or, is it better to harness that ideal time on your day off?
- Is your Day Job worktime set in stone, or is there any leeway for flexibility?
- Does your Day Job leave you feeling mentally or physically tired to the point where de-stressing afterward would help you harness the rest of the day? Or again, is it better to plan your creative work for your days off?
- Finally, if your Day Job involves the often-feared Unpaid Overtime, how much does said overtime interfere with your creative schedule? If the answer is “A lot,” is it worth it trying to make a change?
Habits and Routines Are Important
Whatever schedule you carve out, make sure it’s actually a schedule and not just some “I’ll work when the muse strikes me” copout! Keeping a set schedule not only ensures you can set aside the time you need to get your creative work done, it also makes it easier to start working after you’ve sat down, and helps reduce that awful intimidation factor (ewwwwwwwww…).
One book about this I’ve been meaning to read is Daily Rituals by Mason Currey, where Currey unpacks the habits and schedules used by famous artists and writers. Takeaway: If the masters got work done by using routines, then so can you.
Some Creative Schedules That Worked For Me
My work history has been such that I’ve pretty much been constantly working for the past nine years, and this means I’ve had to move things around when it came to scheduling my creative time around Day Job time. Here are a few routines I’ve fallen into over the years that helped me get a lot done. (Keep in mind that these aren’t schedules that I meticulously planned out, more like ones I fell into based on necessity, trial, and error!)
Japanese Eikaiwa Schedule
9:30am – Wake up
9:30am – 10:30am – Get ready
10:30am – 12:15pm – Focused creative time
12:15pm ~ 9:30pm – Work (including commute)
9:30pm ~ 10:30pm – Make dinner, eat, relax
10:30pm ~ 12:30pm – Less focused creative time
12:30am – 1:30am – Relax/Read
1:30am – 9:30am – Sleep
Weekend: Often used for fun stuff (I was in Japan, after all!) but when fun stuff wasn’t going on I usually spent a half day writing and did most of my unwinding on my other free day.
Thoughts: This was my first real creative schedule that I fell into when I taught English at a Japanese conversation school, and since I was living by myself, it became really easy to follow the routine. Three mornings a week I’d usually study Japanese since studying required a lot of focus, and during the remaining mornings I’d edit a script I was working on. Late-night after-work time I mostly spent working on my first blog or on smaller projects, but I’m not going to lie—I definitely did a lot of crashing and slacking too!
Unfortunately, my job in Japan involved a lot of overtime (sometimes I was home by 9:30, and sometimes it was more like 10:30…) which also lost me a lot of those nights. The best thing about this schedule was that it allowed me time in the mornings when I was more motivated to work, which helped me really get my Japanese down. Ganbarimashita!
Office Admin Work Schedule
6:30am – Wake up
6:30am – 7:20am – Get Ready
7:20am – 4:20pm – Work (including commute)
4:20pm – 5:00pm – Rest/Relax
5:00pm ~ 7:00pm – Focused creative time
7:00pm ~ 8:00pm – Dinner
8:00pm ~ 10:30pm – General free time/Less focused creative time/Other work time
11:00pm – 6:30am – Sleep
Weekend: I usually set aside one intensive weekend workday for creative projects and one day for fun/relaxation.
Thoughts: This system took some finagling after I started my first office job, since I originally tried to get right into the groove of writing after work only to find I was too tired or distracted, which then led to frustration when I couldn’t write. Adding in a half hour or forty-five minutes to chill on my bed after work (and I’m not the only one who’s tried this) helped me de-stress from the day and transition from Day Job Mode to Writing Mode, which I could then hold on to for a solid two hours before dinner.
The other good thing about this system was that because I wasn’t working super-strenuously every night, I generally finished out the week in high energy, so it was no big deal to sit down to write for five or six hours on a Saturday.
Current Schedule for Non-Day Job Workdays
8:00am – Wake up
8:00am – 9:00am – Get ready
9:00am ~ 1:30pm – Focused creative time (phone turned off)
1:30pm ~ 2:30pm – Lunch/Relax
2:30pm ~ 6:30pm – Less focused worktime (phone turned on)
6:30pm ~ 7:30pm – Dinner
7:30pm ~ 11:00pm – Chill time/Social activity/Reading/Light work
12:00pm – 8:00am – Sleep
Weekend: Every week is different depending on how much I’ve gotten done: Sometimes I take weekend workdays, sometimes I take weekend fun days, and sometimes I really just need weekend chill days.
Thoughts: This is my schedule on days I’m not working my Secret Work From Home Day Job. The downside of my current schedule is that my Day Job hours vary from week to week, which means I have to play every week by ear. Generally, though, I can pull at least one or two days that look like this and then squeeze in other work on Day Job days.
I like to use the mornings for novel writing or other intense creative work where I turn my phone off and eliminate all distractions for about four hours. I find I’m most clearheaded at this time and it’s easiest to focus, though if I try to work for too long or for too many days in a row, I tend to get burned out and have to switch things up. I save the afternoons for lighter work like e-mails, editing projects, or keeping up with this blog ;-) and then try to chill after dinner if I can. The evening chill time is important because if I sit at my desk for too many hours a day I get burned out, so doing something else after dinner puts me in a better frame of mind the next day.
So those are a few ways I worked around Day Job work to get things done. I definitely appreciate the flexibility that my current job allows me, and find I’m able to work more efficiently and positively on a semi-regular schedule.
Have any ideal worktimes or tips for scheduling around your Day Job? Let me know in the comments—I’m curious to see what works for you!