Put your nose to the grindstone and work!
October 24, 2010 12:33 PM   Subscribe

Tips to maintain a healthy work life balance when you need to put in 10 to 12 hours per day for a couple months? Things that can be automated and save time, but help me stay healthy.

Not that background info is needed, but this time of the year I can pull in a lot of $ if I just do the work (and I need to do this, because there have been and will be slow months in the future). So for the next few months, ideally, I need to work ~10 or 12 hours a day. The bad part is that I notice that I eat junk food to tide me over, stay stuck at the computer until the wee hours of the night, etc.

Obviously most people have had to do this at some point (as have I). Ideally, I would like to eat healthy(ier), exercise a tad, and just maintain a mental balance. Fortunately I do enjoy what I do (for now) – it is just the ridiculous hours, which I agreed to, that kills me.

Please give me every possible tip that you can think of that would 1) save time 2) make a healthier life, 3) can somehow be automated, and 3) help my put in extreme, productive work hours. I work from home so I can control my own schedule and have access a fridge, etc., but I have to work the hours and complete the tasks.

posted by Wolfster to Work & Money (19 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
a few thoughts

Two Dishwashers - one for dirty dishes, one for clean dishes (rotate them so you never have to put dishes away)
Roomba for each room on a schedule -
Maid service every two weeks -
Laundry Service -

- Bean Salads store well
- slow cooker dinners
- microwave egg cookers for breakfast
posted by Brent Parker at 12:41 PM on October 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Hire someone to clean your place. It'll keep it from getting disgusting.

Make sure the only snacks you buy are healthy.

Cook a bunch of stuff in bulk and keep it in your freezer.
posted by grouse at 12:44 PM on October 24, 2010

Best answer: During this period, be honest with yourself that a true work/life balance is fundamentally impossible when work is taking nearly half your time, and don't waste time beating yourself up about "working too much" (in my opinion, natch, but my life would be completely out of balance if I worked that schedule for months on end, and nothing but the end of the long hours could fix it).

Set a definitive end date for the 10-12 hour days. Like an actual calendar date.

Plan something that will require the life side of work/life to be ascendant the day after, ideally remaining so for a period of no less than a week.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 12:58 PM on October 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

I can totally sympathize - the entirety of my free time for the last year has been sucked in by a freelance project which I am hugely enjoying and pays well, but has reduced me to a mindless gibbering code-writing zombie.

Do not underestimate the value of a disciplined break schedule: You need to be getting enough rest to keep working at this pace for an extended period of time. Keeping regular sleep hours helps a lot. Working out is also a huge boost, it relaxes the brain.

Sometimes work sucks you in and you want to stay glued to the screen until four in the morning, but the real result will be that you spend the next day stumbling around, and the work you did at three in the morning is probably crap. The smart thing to do is call it a day at your scheduled hour, then wake up early and get back to work. The flip side to this is you are not allowed to take any unscheduled breaks or goof off during the day, or things won't get done.
posted by Dr Dracator at 1:05 PM on October 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

Seconding laundry service and cooking in bulk.

When I'm doing this, I always remind myself that it's temporary and let things that don't absolutely have to get done slide by the wayside a little bit. Because of this, I think you can forgo a maid; they're only going to do the big background tasks that aren't as important. Maids don't usually do your dishes or your laundry, and the rest can probably slide a little.

I think that unless we are talking about a whole lot of money here, installing two dishwashers might be so expensive that it would cancel out any time saving benefit. If you live alone and REALLY want to save time, get a countertop dish rack and hand wash, using the same few dishes over and over so that you never have to empty the rack.

My biggest piece of advice? Give yourself permission to say no. Prioritize the tasks that need to get done, using your own personal metric, and don't listen to anyone who gives you shit about those priorities.
posted by Sara C. at 1:05 PM on October 24, 2010

Oh, and if you are doing this over the course of a seasonal change, I highly recommend taking the time right now to make sure you know where your winter gear is and that it's clean and good to go for the eventual morning when you will wake up and it will be cold as fuck outside and you have no idea where your long sleeved shirts even are.

Ask Me How I Know...
posted by Sara C. at 1:07 PM on October 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: A friend of mine had just graduated from culinary school and was starting out as a chef. During an extremely busy period for me (similar to your month or two) he cooked 5 healthy meals/week for me and my husband, all at once, and left them in our fridge while we were at work, in neatly marked disposable tupperware.

We paid for ingredients and an hourly labor rate. He did the shopping and menu planning, and we just left a check on our counter when we went to work, in exchange for having 3-minute healthy food we didn't have to think about magically appear in our life. We'd do it again in a heartbeat.

If you don't know a personal chef, I bet you could find a culinary student willing to make this sort of deal. I can't recommend it highly enough.
posted by nadise at 1:11 PM on October 24, 2010 [5 favorites]

You might look at some of the recent posts from new moms and dads about how to deal with life when baby gets home. There are oodles of tips from people about prioritizing, making healthy food, etc.

I second the idea of not buying the junk food in the first place. Don't fool yourself into thinking you won't eat it, because you will. So buy lots of healthy, easy to eat food like apples, bananas, and carrots, and leave them on the counter or in your office, in plain sight.
posted by bluedaisy at 1:40 PM on October 24, 2010

Have you already started you busy time? If not I'd do all the prep I could now - take some time for fun like visiting friends and then prep your home. You could set up now for maid service, laundry service, grocery delivery, depending where you live you might be able to sign up to get premade healthy meals delivered, you could also find pharmacy to deliver in any prescriptions or drugstore stuff, and see if there are other jobs you might outsource to taskrabbit.com or something like that. Of course you don't want to be a shut in but with you free time so limited this would keep a lot of that open for relaxing and exercise.
posted by oneear at 1:52 PM on October 24, 2010

One more thing - figure out how to set up reminders on your computer to try and force you to take some small breaks & remember to eat and exercise.
posted by oneear at 1:55 PM on October 24, 2010

You just described how I got through college while also working full time and being a single mom... I've started taking a couple pieces of string cheese with me to eat when time is short and Burger King is tempting. I still may buy a diet coke, but eat the cheese instead of a burger and fries or something sweet. Protein takes a few minutes longer to kick in with me, but I don't get the crash afterward that I get from carbs or sugar.
posted by northernlightgardener at 2:22 PM on October 24, 2010

I wished that my working long days for months straight ended up with more money (I'm non-commissioned/hourly) but I made a point of taking at least one hour a day to do something that I enjoy - fortunately, that ended up being cooking. I made myself leave work before a certain hour (7pm) and didn't let myself continue to work from home until I had cooked dinner/next-day's lunch.

Some days when I was working from home, I'd set up some jerky (turkey thighs are good starting material, less great than drumsticks, but an order-of-magnitude less work) to dry in the oven, or started foods like stews, briskets, and stock in the morning and worked while they cooked.

Fruit is better than junkfood; but its harder to come by this time of year. Dried fruits are less messy and more "junky" without being unduly unhealthy. I don't know if Dan-D-Pack markets in NYC, but they're pretty high quality, not too expensive, and there is a lot of variety.

Let your friends know that you might be dropping out for a couple of months - make the effort to meet up for lunch or at least have a phone call every so often. It's incredible how verbally venting to someone can reset some of the stress. Sort of like a reality check.

Take a mid-morning, mid-afternoon, mid-evening stroll around the block outside just to get out of your chair and let your brain subconsciously work on those little random things.
posted by porpoise at 2:47 PM on October 24, 2010

Exercise. It will give you the energy and stress relief to get everything done with minimal disruption to your psyche.
posted by jasondigitized at 2:55 PM on October 24, 2010

Reprioritize every week. On Sunday, identify your must do's for work, home and self. With the nice-to-do's, make sure you rotate which one does not get accomplished each week. Meaning...if it is nice to do expense reports for work on Friday and you drop it this week to finish your 4th work out...drop the 4th work out next week (if it comes to that).

When weeks get tough, reprioritize every day. During bad weeks, I repeat the above process, but just for the day.

Who am I kidding? Sometimes I repeat it for my "before lunch hours".
posted by beachhead2 at 4:31 PM on October 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

You're describing my last couple of months.

1) Definitely batch-cook. I have found that keeping a batch of mirepoix on hand (sauteed finely chopped onions, peppers and maybe some mushrooms or peppers) forms a good base for a quick breakfast frittata or one-dish lunch supper (brown a bit of meat, add mirepoix, a bunch of baby spinach leaves, one small measure of raw grain like rice, bulgur or quinoa, and 2 measures of water, broth and/or vegetable juice, then bring to boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 10-15 minutes).

You can get veggies, beans and/or whole grains, and seeds/small nuts via something like this chow. Ingredients and proportions are up to you. It takes about 30 minutes to make a large batch that will be a quick and tasty source of veggies for several days.

2) A messy house is a depressing and distracting house. I finally gave in a couple of weeks ago and hired a housekeeping team to come in and do a long-neglected deep clean. I find that I can maintain what they've done, and also find that a bit of scrubbing here and there is a nice mental health break from work. If this doesn't work for you, a weekly or bi-weekly maintenance clean will be relatively fast and cheap after the deep clean. If you're making solid money right now, it should be worth the investment.
posted by maudlin at 8:30 PM on October 24, 2010

Nth'ing the housecleaning service and bulk cooking. My service comes every two weeks, and all I have to do between their visits is laundry, clean-up from cooking and a swipe at the bathroom. For meals, I do a marathon cooking session every few weeks and package it up in single servings in the freezer. I generally stick to one-pot meals like soups, stews, chili, etc where I can just add a salad and bread, but I also cook up a bunch of boneless, skinless roasted chicken breasts periodically just to have on hand for variety. Cereal for breakfast is quick and easy. Frozen grapes are a great snack, but I also have to have a little chocolate every day. Drink lots of water. Take breaks during the day (getting outside if you can) even if just for a few minutes.

I work in IT, and the above keeps me going during crazy time gearing up for a release.
posted by JaneL at 8:36 PM on October 24, 2010

Best answer: I did 16 hour days for 3 years (left at 8am to day job, finished at 5.15pm, and went to operate small business from 6-10pm and teach dance). It meant I never saw my house in daylight, and was never home before 11pm. In addition, my dinners were at 11.15pm.

Here is how I coped.

1. Absolutely housekeeping service every fortnight. You have no idea how tiring even changing your sheets can be, and how wonderful to walk in at the end of a long day to a clean home.

2. Cook and freeze meals en masse NOW, or do what Nadise said. I would do that in a heartbeat too.

3. Don't try and "plan" your downtime too much. Often on a Sunday (my only day off) I would lie on the couch till 5pm, then just get up for dinner, and straight to bed again.

4. Laundry service, for sure. Perhaps your cleaning service can do laundry too!

5. Treat yourself - when working such long hours, it's really hard to get any downtime, or feel like it's worthwhile (even if the reality is a pool of money to swim in at the end). I survived 3 years by online shopping (a long day is broken up with a parcel delivered!), spending lunchtimes reading books and listening to podcasts, and made sure I spent all my spare time doing things I wanted to.

6. I did let my friends know about my schedule, and they were all super understanding in working around me - and usually popping over to my house since often, going out was just too overwhelming. We also had weekly email threads with everyone's updates, so I never felt too far out of the loop.

7. When working SUCH long hours, it can be hard to get to sleep at night due to a mind that has been racing for majority of the day. i found a glass of red wine with dinner helped, or a glass of port after dinner.

8. Absolutely exercise, and make it high impact! Hours of sitting, concentrating and not switching off can make you very tense, irritable and your body very tight. I dance, so would ensure I got a huge dance workout every week.

9. Get massages. Whenever you can. Seriously. At lunch, on weekends, whenever.

10. You are probably going to eat more, since you'll be working harder and longer. my appetite was enormous during that time period. Eat healthy, and supplement with snacks and fruit, but also indulge once in a while - your body will burn it!

11. Stay organized - I had 2 bags for the entire 3 years, one for day job, one for business. This really helped me not go insane and ensure I had everything. My bags had lots of compartments. Controlling the stress from everyday absentmindedness goes a long way when the days are long.

12. When you are sick with a simple cold that usually goes away quick absolutely stay home and rest - when you are working long hours, your body's immunity and resistance is down.

13. Drink a LOT of water - your 2 litres a day is important to avoid fatigue.

14. Savour the simple pleasures, whatever they may be to you. Mine were luscious bath soaps, always having my favourite snacks around, and treating myself to a FANTASTIC meal out once a fortnight. These things helped a lot.

I hope these help, and am happy to provide more info if you need, just memail me.
posted by shazzam! at 9:41 PM on October 24, 2010 [5 favorites]

For exercise, I'd advise:

1. Pack a bag with two small hand weights, either the kind you can strap on or hand-held
2. A set of socks and workout trainers
3. A jump rope and an iPod with good earbuds

Get up every two hours and go somewhere like your parking garage or even an empty conference room and alternate doing 10-15 reps of hand weights with jumping rope for 5 minutes or so.

Jumping rope is extremely good cardio, and getting up periodically will stop your body from going into fat-saving mode; ideally, IIRC it's getting up once every 40 minutes that signals your body to continue burning calories rather than storing them as fat in females.

Five minutes doesn't sound like much but it's A LOT added up and will help you feel energized without getting grossly sweaty. If you have long hair, I suggest ponytails at work.


1. More water, less caffeine. You are likely to get eyestrain if you're not well-hydrated and working long hours makes it hard to remember to drink and move around. Don't rely on coffee to get you through - it could lead to insomnia and muscle cramps.

2. Go through your closet right now and coordinate as many outfits as you can for the coming months and hang/lie them together, one week at a time, so you don't have to think about what to wear each morning. Take photos of the outfits that are most comfy/easiest to put together and flattering; pin the photos up inside your closet for the days you feel crappiest and can't figure out what to wear/wash in the sink out of desperation.

3. MUSIC. Can you listen to music at work? "Treat" yourself with new music as frequently as you can, podcasts are great. Nothing motivates me more when I feel crappy and don't want to work/can't pay attention.

4. This would be a good time to go 100% paperless billing/automated payments for utilities, if you can. One less thing to stress about.

5. Pick ONE night a month that's YOUR night - girls' night, whatever - and stick to it. Make sure you arrange to have an outing or night in with your best friends, male or female, and don't deviate from it. Knowing you have a pre-set option to be social and your friends already know about it alleviates the "oh crap, I can't do X tonight/this weekend" guilt a LOT.

6. Plan a fabulous vacation or week off for the time directly after the project is scheduled to end, pay for it and book it now, non-refundable. Tell your coworkers about it so you have a "hard stop" to look forward to.

Food: If you have a MyFitFoods around you somewhere, you can buy healthy, pre-portioned snacks and meals whenever you like OR have them delivered. Highly recommend - I've never liked that sort of thing myself but this stuff is edible and NOT diet food.

When all else fails, to relieve stress - MASTURBATE. Good luck!
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 11:39 AM on October 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I just wanted to say thank you to everyone for their ideas. Even if I did favorite your idea, it is just because some of these things resonated with me more than others (i.e. I hate cooking, I live in small apartment, so some of the ideas don't speak to me). Nonetheless, someone searching this question in the future may found all of these answers helpful.

I like Lentrohamsanin’s idea for something at the end (day after and for at least a week).

Nadise’s suggestion for a culinary student is brilliant; I did a quick search on CL and couldn’t find one, but I think that I will pick up the delivery menus from a few nearby places that have healthy food and voila, that will become my culinary student for the moment unless I can find something else.Don't know why I didn't think of that as an obvious solution

Unicorn on the cob has some ideas that I will look into (need to arrange automated billing and see if I can find a MyFitFoods, if they are preprepared meals).

I’m really impressed by what some of you have done in the past (Shazzam’s 16 hour days for 3 years?!).

Thanks again and if other people have additional suggestions, please drop them here.
posted by Wolfster at 3:20 PM on October 25, 2010

« Older Sun Ra recommendations?   |   Where have all the Fillable PDF archives gone? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.