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How do people with two jobs actually get them both done?!
April 6, 2010 4:32 PM   Subscribe

I know that what I'm trying to do - work one boring full time job and one creative part time job at the same- is not unusual. I know millions of people do it every day. But the combination of tiredness, poor time management, and procrastination is making it seem impossible. Help!

I'm a freelance writer and I guess you could say permanent temp. This way of paying the bills while not being tied down for too long to any job or location works out great in theory. In the past it's even worked well in practice too. But at the moment I'm having a lot of difficulty.

My current temp gig is a full time, mostly data-entry job in an office. This is exactly as mind-numbingly boring as it sounds. Sometimes I have nothing to do all day, but unlike other assignments I've had I can't do my own work when I'm not busy, I have to sort of pretend to be working. Other days I have a ton of work to do; the work is very detailed and you really have to use your brain (if not exactly your intellect) to do it right. The job sucks in a thousand little ways, but I've had worse, and I can't really complain. It will be over in about three months, after which I plan to write and travel for a while before going on to another temp thing. In order to do that, I need to line things up now. I need to be writing, researching, and querying after work and/or on weekends. But in the three months I've had this job, I haven't been able to get nearly enough done.

I know why this is, I think. I just don't know how to fix it. Here are my problems:

1) Sheer tiredness. The boredom of the work and the low-level stress of the pretending-to-work are draining. I get home around 5:30 and by the time I eat something, catch up on what I've missed in the outside world that day if I've been busy at work, wash dishes, get my stuff ready for the next day, etc., I want to go to bed. I usually fall asleep at 9 or 9:30. I think a normal person would stay up writing until at least 10 or 11 and still be able to get up at six the next morning, but I feel like I just can't do it. I know I'm wasting at least part of those four evening hours, but I feel too tired to really do anything with them. I'm very motivated to do stuff but physically and mentally I'm just too friggin' exhausted.

2) Time management. I'm bad at it. At first I figured that if nights are out, that at least leaves weekends. And some weekends I do get a lot done. But after three months in this job I've realized that most weekends are spent wasting time. This is because: a) I'm running around doing the chores I have to do but can't do during the week. (I have a 1/2 hour lunch and nothing is close enough to my office to do chores then, nothing is open before work, and I'm too tired after. Also, I live in a semi-rural area so if I need to buy something like a sweater or a magazine that isn't Cosmo or Deer Hunting Monthly or whatever, I have to drive an hour to a mall and back.) And b) On some weekends I want to do something fun. Like see a friend, or visit my family, or go for a walk. I don't want to give this up, I mean I do want to live occasionally! But then I get nothing done all weekend and I go back to work and I'm stressed and feel like I'll be doing data entry all my life and never publish anything again.

3) Your standard procrastination. I've always done it, but I've never really had a problem getting things done that need to be done. I know the tricks. I make lists, I do little tasks first and get them out of the way, I eventually force myself to do the big things, etc. I think I'm within the realm of "normal" procrastination and though there's
a lot of room for improvement, I don't feel like this would be that much of a problem if it wasn't combined with tiredness and the scheduling.

In short, the combination of these factors is like the perfect storm of unproductivity. (If that's even a word.) I could manage one or two of them, but all together...argh. Most of the time I'm too tired to work, when I'm awake I have little time left over after doing all the things I need to do, and what little time is left after that, I fritter away. And even if I let it go this time, there's a good chance I'll have this problem again with the next temp assignment. If anyone has been in this situation, or similar, and has any tips for dealing with it, I would be very grateful!

Preemptive answers to questions you might ask: I'm 33, female, basically healthy. Because of the tiredness and other physical problems (including foggy-headedness, which doesn't help with any of this) I've been tested numerous times for thyroid problems. The tests and Dr's always say I'm normal. For the most part I eat very healthy, a lot of vegetables and fruit and whole grains, very little processed anything, etc. I'm considering giving up (or cutting down on) sugar, to see if that helps. I had to give up coffee last year (tragedy!!) so my tiredness is not a caffeine-crash thing, and I can't just drink coffee for extra energy. I don't drink much alcohol, don't smoke or do drugs at all, not on any medication. I drink a lot of water. I definitely sleep enough. I don't get as much exercise as I'd like (really long story) but I'm not a complete sloth. I'm probably leaving something out...

(Oh, and I hope this question hasn't been asked before; I read a bunch of related questions, and found some helpful things, but couldn't see this exact problem.)
posted by DestinationUnknown to Work & Money (13 answers total) 48 users marked this as a favorite
 
1) Sheer tiredness. The boredom of the work and the low-level stress of the pretending-to-work are draining. I get home around 5:30 and by the time I eat something, catch up on what I've missed in the outside world that day if I've been busy at work, wash dishes, get my stuff ready for the next day, etc., I want to go to bed. I usually fall asleep at 9 or 9:30. I think a normal person would stay up writing until at least 10 or 11 and still be able to get up at six the next morning, but I feel like I just can't do it. I know I'm wasting at least part of those four evening hours, but I feel too tired to really do anything with them. I'm very motivated to do stuff but physically and mentally I'm just too friggin' exhausted.

Step one: don't beat yourself up over what a "normal person" would do. Every writer has his or her own habits, and all that matters is that you find a set that works for you. Personally, I'm like you- can't write late at night. Here's what works or has worked for me:

a) Write in the morning before work
or
b) Bring a laptop and write at lunch
or
c) Stop at a coffee shop ON THE WAY HOME and write there for about an hour. I don't go home, eat dinner, do anything, until I've written.

On the weekends, writing is the very first thing I do in the morning. That leaves the rest of the day for chores, friends whatever. I find that once I get into the whirl of the day I just will not write, no matter how much I intend to "do it later."

It's hard, and it's normal to be tired. You just need to shoehorn it into your schedule. I always say one hour a day is more than enough to get a LOT of writing done, if you do it every day, or as close to every day as you can.
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:42 PM on April 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


I keep repeating myself this week, but there are more hormones than just your thyroid, and you might have a vitamin deficiency or other underlying problem contributing to your fatigue. You might push for an endocrinologist consult, since the thyroid testing isn't turning up anything and yet you don't see any improvement.

(MetaFilter Standard Answer 2.0: "so it's NOT your thyroid!")
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 4:45 PM on April 6, 2010


I know I'm wasting at least part of those four evening hours, but I feel too tired to really do anything

Oh and don't do this to yourself. We used to have this blowhard guy in this writer's group I'm in. At one point he took it upon himself to chide the rest of us for not writing enough. When we said we were busy, he said, "well did you watch any TV this week?"

This idea that you "should" use every spare waking moment on your art is just unhelpful crap. No one does that; no one is capable of that, and if they were, what they wrote would suck. You need boundaries between work and leisure, and your writing is surely work!

Four hours where you stress over not writing is, in one sense, four hours wasted.

But one hour scheduled for writing, and three where you let yourself relax, is four hours well spent.
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:49 PM on April 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


(This is another reason I write in coffee shops* and rarely, if ever, at home. I need that clear demarcation between being "in the office," where I should be working, and at home, where I can relax.)

*You see, people who like cliched jokes about L.A., it's not because I want people to ask me about my screenplay. I actually mostly hate it when people do that.

posted by drjimmy11 at 4:53 PM on April 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Personally, feeling guilty about not getting enough done makes me get even LESS done. I dick around for hours, doing absolutely nothing productive, because starting and not finishing feels worse than not starting at all. It makes no sense to me, but I've seen it enough in myself these past few months to recognize that's what's going on. In those situations, it helps me to just give up for awhile -- let myself do nothing at all and refuse to feel bad about it. Do the absolute bare minimum in terms of chores, then veg for the rest of the night. The next day I feel more relaxed and energetic, and most importantly less guilty, and I can finally start getting things done.

You should take some time off in the evenings. Perhaps a week or so. Do your housework and evenings, but let your creative brain rest. You'll be less tired when you come back to it and hopefully you'll have a new burst of creativity to go with it. Next time you begin to feel overwhelmed don't wait until you're ready to curl up in a ball and cry; take a night or two off and don't feel bad about it.
posted by lilac girl at 4:54 PM on April 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


"... I get home around 5:30 and by the time I eat something, catch up on what I've missed in the outside world that day if I've been busy at work, wash dishes, get my stuff ready for the next day, etc., I want to go to bed. ..."

Make lunch your "main" meal of the day, and make it protein based, as much as you can. Don't ingest a lot of caffeine after lunch - if you're "crashing" at 2:30 p.m., a 5 minute break to walk briskly and stretch will do more to get you through to 5:00 p.m. than a bunch of caffeine, and won't fool with your brain chemistry. Make dinner, at least 4 nights a week, as simple as you can - good food balance at reasonable cost can be found in the deli section of your supermarket, and in the frozen food section. A decent frozen dinner you can nuke, eat, and toss in 20 minutes tops, a rotissiere chicken that you get dinner and lunch the next day out of, a pound of corned beef and a pound of good cheese that makes the filling of sandwiches for 2 or 3 days, are all fast, low effort, nutritious ways of feeding yourself without making a production of it.

Do some walking when you get home, too, even if only 15 to 30 minutes, around your neighborhood. You'll avoid the "plunk down" part of the "plunk down and veg out as soon as you get home" syndrome that traps 50% of Americans into long term ennui, and you'll get a dose of oxygen and endorphins that will carry you, energetically, through your early evening. Do 1 load of clothes on a week night, 2 or 3 week nights a week, and you won't be doing laundry on weekends. Shop for food on your way home on a Friday night, in lieu of doing your normal early evening walk, and you'll be killing 2 birds with one activity - getting a bit of early evening exercise, and getting your shopping done for the week, freeing up more weekend time. Get up 1/2 hour early on Wednesdays, and vacuum and dust, and get all sweaty, before you shower and go to work.

Pretty soon, you'll have all Saturday and Sunday afternoons to do as you like (at least 8 hours a week of quality, rested, alert prime time) and a lot more energy through the week, to boot.
posted by paulsc at 5:23 PM on April 6, 2010 [10 favorites]


Would your data entry employer allow you to work four 10-hour shifts instead of the standard Monday-Friday workweek? Because once you go into the office for an 8-hour shift your day is pretty much fucked so you might as well work 2 more hours since you'll be too tired to do anything other than veg out when you get home regardless.

Then, take your new-found "extra" day per week and use it to focus on building your freelance writing career.

An ideal way to structure this might be work Monday-Thursday, spend Friday daytime on errands and chores (a weekday is best for this because you can take care of everything that has to be done during business hours), Friday night and Saturday on fun stuff / resting, and then Sunday (after you're refreshed from your day of fun and rest on Saturday) focused on writing.

"Because of the tiredness and other physical problems (including foggy-headedness, which doesn't help with any of this) I've been tested numerous times for thyroid problems. The tests and Dr's always say I'm normal."

Have you had your iron tested? And even if it falls within the "normal" range -- at what end of normal? If the low end of normal, you might benefit from an iron supplement. Actually, try adding a multi-vitamin/mineral supplement in chewable or liquid form (solid pills often get pooped out mostly undigested) anyway and see how you feel.
posted by Jacqueline at 6:53 PM on April 6, 2010


Is there a good-sized bookstore somewhere between work and home? When I first started out as a freelancer I had many of the same problems you mentioned. Once I got home from the job that I hated I felt too mentally drained to do anything but plop in front of the TV and then doze off. So I tried a different tactic - every day on my way home from work I'd stop at either Borders or Barnes & Noble. I'd browse the magazine rack and pick some likely candidates then copy down the editorial info and also make some notes about the content, etc. Then I'd get a coffee at the store cafe and sketch out a rough draft of a query to one of those editors (either hand write it in my notebook or sometimes I'd bring my laptop with me). Then I'd go home, have dinner, unwind a bit and then go to my computer and tighten up and refine that query and either e-mail it away or print it and mail it the next day. I did the brunt of the researching and writing at the bookstore, though, while I was still in a semi-work mode (and none of the distractions that I have at home). Maybe something like this could work for you. You can still have free time on the weekends, you'll just have a little bit longer of a weekly work day.
posted by Oriole Adams at 7:33 PM on April 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


Taking vitamin D completely changed my life. It sounds like you're not outside at all during sunlight hours. Or at all really. Start taking vitamin D in the mornings. It rid me of a lot of brain fog and sloth. Also, during your lunch break - get outside! Don't be staring at a monitor. Don't be under florescent lights. Don't be trying to exercise. Just enjoy not being at work.
posted by stoneweaver at 8:33 PM on April 6, 2010


I can't do my own work when I'm not busy, I have to sort of pretend to be working.
Can you take notes in a format that looks like you're doing work? I recall some author who took notes/wrote a novel in Excel while she was at a boring office job.

But in the three months I've had this job, I haven't been able to get nearly enough done.
It sounds like you're putting a lot of pressure on yourself to get something BIG done. Something brilliant, amazing. No wonder you don't have motivation, your goal is unclear.

Forget these theories about thyroid and vitamin D: try setting a timer every day for 20 minutes (not 30) and writing. You can only write for those 20 minutes. When you're done, you're done for the day. Get a good writing habit going first then worry about other goals. It's amazing what you can get done if you have an enforced limited amount of time (as opposed to a limited amount of time that you spend feeling guilty).
posted by sfkiddo at 9:30 PM on April 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wow, are you me? I do pretty much exactly the same as you, and have suffered the same kinds of things as you. (had the same doctors' tests as well, from the sounds of things!)

1) Make sure you budget enough time for sleep. If you are burning the candle at both ends the way you are, you need the sleep just to repair the damage you're inflicting on yourself.

2) Find ways to multitask, as paulsc mentions above. Bring something to take notes on while you're commuting, or dictate into a recording device if you drive. I have a blackberry, and I'm constantly sending myself emails.

3) Make your crockpot or casserole dish your bestest friend. Take some weekend and make a big whack-load of food, and freeze it in casserole dishes. Heat the oven and bake while you're catching up on the world after work. Or set the crockpot before you leave the house in the morning, and eat dinner while catching up on the world after work.

4) If you can afford it, save up and treat yourself every now and then to a cleaning service, who can come in and give your house/apartment the once-over (get a recommendation from a friend who hires a cleaner - you can often find people in the area looking for a bit of extra work). This will help remove some of the overwhelmed feeling you're getting from facing regular household chores when you'd rather write.

5) As lilac girl mentions, don't beat yourself up about procrastination. It honestly sounds like you're a bit burnt out, and frankly, the best thing you can do for yourself is to give yourself a break. Go out and take those long walks and hang out with friends and family. It'll recharge your batteries, I promise.

Good luck!
posted by LN at 7:53 AM on April 7, 2010


Nthing don't beat yourself up.

I confine my moonlighting gig to the morning because I have the most energy then- I get up about an hour early and do some work. I also do some of the sneaking the moonlight gig into the day job that others have mentioned.

Think of it like exercise. You just have to make the time- in a way that works for you.
posted by paddingtonb at 2:16 PM on April 7, 2010


Thank you everyone. This is my first question and though I knew from my long period of lurking here that I'd get helpful answers, I somehow didn't expect them to also be so, well, nice! I'm not marking any answer as best because I think there's something useful in all of them...though I quite like the idea of writing a book in Excel. Too bad all my work is saved on shared drives!
posted by DestinationUnknown at 4:38 PM on April 7, 2010


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