Is a nervous breakdown an option?
April 8, 2011 10:26 AM   Subscribe

How can I arrange my life so that I feel less overwhelmed?

I work 32 hours (4 days) a week, but I also have a fledgling freelance writing business on the side, which I spend another 16-24 hours on each week. I make enough to live on (but not a whole lot more) at my day job. So far I haven't made much at all writing but revenue is slowly increasing and I totally love and am dedicated to it. It's At Long Last, Without a Doubt, What I Want to Do With My Life. The problem is, I can't seem to get a hold on the other aspects of my life - I never have enough time to clean - I do laundry only when I literally have nothing to wear, I feel like I'm neglecting my friends and family, sometimes I miss bills because I just didn't have time to read my mail, etc., and I feel like a wimp, because I know a lot of other people work longer hours than I do and still hold it together. One exacerbating factor, is that my day job has me work an opposite shift one day out of the four so it's forever throwing my sleep schedule out of whack. It's not a bad job, but it's not great either. Honestly, the only reason I stay there is because they let me have a four day work week and keep my benefits. My husband also works full-time and does all the cooking and helps out as much as he can but he has his limits too. He also makes enough to survive, but neither one of us makes enough at our jobs to support the other. We keep our expenses pretty low and strive to live within our means. We have no kids, so we really don't have it that bad, I guess. We have a dog and two cats though, two of which have (so far) minor health problems.

What I really want to do is quit my day job and just work full-time on my writing business. I imagine myself being so much happier and less stressed that way. But if I'm being realistic about, I know that would be a very bad idea right now, since I'm currently not anywhere near making enough money to support myself. And I've heard so many horror stories about people quitting their jobs and never finding work again. I also know that I have a tendency to make impulsive decisions sometimes based on whims or feeling rather than rationality.

So I guess my question is, to those of you who have moonlighted at something, while holding down a regular job, how did you deal with the rest of your life? Should I just accept that everything's going to seed for a while? If so, how long will this period last? Are there any magic tricks for keeping your shit together when you've got a lot going on?
posted by Jess the Mess to Grab Bag (16 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Schedule everything, and start out scheduling more than you think you need. Chart the time it takes you to get ready in the morning, get to and from work, and then fill in all the other things that need to happen. Figure out with your husband how you can work together to make life less hectic, which may require him to start a detailed schedule along with you, so you can see how your times mesh together, and so you can remind each-other of deadlines. Hopefully you can develop new patterns, but if nothing else, you'll have the dull-as-dishwater schedule to fall back on.

Ideally, you'll also figure out things you can do in bunches or batches to save time, and schedule in time for family and friends. But if your new, ideal line of work will take time to become your only line of work, tell your friends that you aren't ignoring them, but you're trying to set yourself up so that life can be easier (and more full of friends and family). in the near future. If you try shoving social time in where it doesn't fit, you might feel more frazzled because you're thinking of things that need to be done while you're trying to relax, making the time unrelaxing and not too social.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:34 AM on April 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

And if you have projects or tasks that require many steps to be completed at specific times, allow me to introduce you to the Gannt chart.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:36 AM on April 8, 2011

I totally agree with flt that a schedule is going to be your best friend to get things under control. Basically you have 168 hours in a week - 56 spent sleeping, 56 spent working and the other 56 need to be scheduled to make sure you have a good balance in your life. This is going to include - time with family & friends, time alone, time doing chores & errands etc.

One of the first things I'd recommend is to start doing all of your banking online and reset all of your bill due dates to come due around the same time of the month. The transition might make finances a little tight at first but it's nice to have everything come due around of the 1st of the we pay bills around the 24th once we've both been paid. For the essential bills we go ahead a set up minimum automatic payments so we never get screwed if we mess up or forget...this is especially useful on credit cards. One missed/late payment can cause a cascade of hell to start so it's best to take this potential problem out of the equation.

Basically, having a clean house* and clean laundry will go a long way to helping you feel like you're in control and having a schedule will help get this process started.
posted by victoriab at 10:44 AM on April 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

*my definition of a clean house has changed dramatically since I got a husband, 2 kids, a cat and an insane job, so it's okay to redefine "clean" based on your current circumstances.
posted by victoriab at 10:48 AM on April 8, 2011

You may not have enough money to support each other financially, but do you have enough to bring someone in to do the drudge work for the two of you--the cleaning and laundry--so that when you do have time off you can spend it with each other, family and friends? That might help make this all easier until you get to a point where you can quit you day job.

I have to put in one caveat here, though, and that is that freelance writing is a tough market that is only getting tougher when it comes to financial stability these days.
posted by misha at 10:50 AM on April 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Resist the urge to over-commit. Figure out what you HAVE to get done on a given day (or in a given week) and make sure you've set aside time for those tasks. Respect the fact that a certain amount of downtime is going to be on the "HAVE TO" list, because you aren't a robot, and working too hard becomes counter-productive past a certain point anyway.

If your list of essentials is too long to fit in the time frame available, reevaluate the list. You may have to put a few things aside, or change your schedule, or otherwise simplify your life in a way that may not seem appealing at first. But it's better to downsize your commitments than to overburden yourself. I say this as someone who's TERRIBLE about giving myself too much to do -- it always ends up making my life impossible until I give in to the inevitable and shelve a few tasks for a while.

Once you have the essentials sorted out, THEN you can start filling up your free time with other things. If you don't feel like there's enough space in your schedule for activities that are important to you -- like seeing your friends, or cooking, or spending time with your husband -- that may be a sign that you're not in a position to be doing a lot of freelance right now. Again, sit down and reevaluate, and come up with an honest list of priorities that you can realistically make work with the time available.

But seriously, respect your need to relax. I know that it can feel like you should be OMG WORKING ALL OF THE TIME, but people aren't built that way. Don't let your downtime get out of control (ie hours and hours of mindlessly surfing the net or watching television) but don't try to cut it entirely out of your life, either.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 10:52 AM on April 8, 2011

A trick for laundry: figure out how long the cycles take, and time it around other events, like meals or watching TV and relaxing for a bit. Laundry takes a while, but it usually doesn't mean you're actively involved with the laundry that whole time.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:53 AM on April 8, 2011

I've felt like that before. It seems like it is very common. My solution is to try to shred pursuit of perfection and following the principles of a favorite time management cult. Mine is Getting Things Done. I'm sure you can find a cheap copy of the book online.

(We are all works in progress)
posted by UsernameGenerator at 11:15 AM on April 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Read Getting Things Done by David Allen.

Seriously; take this advice; it's not a random/crappy self-help book.
posted by teatime at 11:43 AM on April 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

GTD is good stuff.

At the risk of sounding too Holly Housewife, what is your (and your husband's) attitude toward cooking and housework? I ask because Madison Avenue makes zillions from pushing the idea that any activity besides sitting on one's ass consuming is drudgery. Buying into that makes daily life a misery.
posted by cyndigo at 11:55 AM on April 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yep - GTD. Basically, you need to schedule your life and treat your "free time" that you currently are using for your moonlighting, housework, bill paying, playtime, etc. just like a job that has specific start/stop times. Since you get to make the schedule, work with it several different ways and find one that can work for you to Get your Things Done. Instead of being smothering, using a self-styled, but still very real, schedule will feel empowering.

Don't forget the play time. Everyone needs time for themselves to do with as they please. With the other things actually getting done, you'll find the discipline actually allows for more of that. It works.

Good luck!
posted by Gerard Sorme at 2:31 PM on April 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

The first step is to stop caring that you don't have things 'together' the way you think other people do. You know what you care about, and you're on track on those things.

The second step is to read GTD and to put it into practice in your life.
posted by sid at 3:05 PM on April 8, 2011

GTD is great. I also think you should check out The Now Habit. I suspect you may have procrastination/workaholic tendencies, and the NH changed my life. It's the only way I'm holding down 1.5 jobs and training for a competitive sport.
posted by squasher at 5:36 PM on April 8, 2011

also, either Simple Dollar or Get Rich Slowly (I can't remember which since they're so similar) has lots of posts about the author's transition from day job to writing, which is his main passion. He also talks a lot about the logistics and, of course, finances of the transition.
posted by squasher at 5:36 PM on April 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Regarding your bills, I have all my utilities and insurance took out of my checking account automatically every month, you still get the bill in the mail and you just write it in your checkbook so it will be took off when you balance it. A real time and stamp saver.
posted by sandyp at 7:05 PM on April 8, 2011

Just chiming in here - I've been there; I'm currently down to 21.5 hours in the day job and the rest of the working week doing my freelance business.

Course, I didn't have time to reply to this till now ...

Yes to Gantt charts for the work, and to do lists for the rest.

When I was working 29 hours a week at the day job, we got a cleaner in for 2 hours once every 2 weeks. Made all the difference, esp being tidier to make sure she could clean. When I went to fewer hours at the day job, we got rid of the cleaner and I do that time, scheduled in (and we pay me the money we paid the cleaner, from the joint account) as that takes away from OH doing extra, which he did resent. Really does keep the house clean enough for me. Obvs we do other stuff daily, but the mopping and hoovering etc. gets done in the 2 hours.

I have a rule to stop working at 9pm then we have us time from then on. Works as that's my worst time for concentrating on work.

OH comes and sits in my study when I'm working, with a book or his laptop. Works well.

I meet a friend for a coffee once every 2 weeks, with the laptops - do my marketing and PR and blogging and swap ideas (and we started reviewing co-working spaces) which takes away from the drudgery a bit.

Hope that helps!
posted by LyzzyBee at 2:21 AM on May 22, 2011

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