early bird special
February 9, 2017 7:15 AM   Subscribe

New job and life circumstances mean that I have to start the day much earlier in the morning than I'm used to. This is affecting my after-work life quite a bit. How can I start the day earlier, yet still keep some of my after-work activities in place?

I've always been a night owl, with plenty of things to do after work (socialising, shopping, chores, creative projects etc). Previously this worked fine with my schedule as my work didn't start till 10am.

Now, I have a hellishly long commute into work which means I have to leave the house at 7:20am to get to work for 9am. If I want to go to the gym before work, which is the only time that works for me, I need to leave earlier - around 6:20am to be safe.

What this means is that my evening activities have been curtailed quite drastically. I'm usually home for 7:30pm which is not too bad, but I don't have the energy for after-work chores, let alone socialising. Which makes sense because I've been awake for much longer. I just want to go home and go to sleep.

I feel like my life is in danger of getting smaller - it's been ages since I got any writing done or touched base with a lot of my friends and a lot of my chores have also fallen by the wayside or need to be done at the weekends. My question is basically, how can I cope with this shift in demands on my time and energy, and continue to be productive and energetic in the evenings? I know that sounds a bit like having my cake and eating it too but I am sure that many of you have similarly early starts but aren't zombified by 7:30pm!

I do have the option of negotiating for a slightly later start time though that means a later finishing time at work which would also eat into my evenings. I don't have the option of moving house or changing jobs.

It is a pretty new job and it may be that with time things will loosen up a little bit.

Thanks in advance for your advice!
posted by Ziggy500 to Work & Money (12 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Can you work out during your lunch hour, or go to a gym near work before you head home (and hopefully shorten your commute back by missing rush hour)?
posted by telegraph at 7:17 AM on February 9, 2017 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I don't think the problem is an early start: This wouldn't be nearly as difficult if you simply left home two hours earlier and arrived home two hours earlier.

The problem is that you are spending more than three hours a day commuting.

Is there anyway to change your commute? Telework sometimes? Shift to a time when traffic is faster? Switch to public transportation, so you can write on the way? Use the time on your commute in some better way, such as napping on the train?
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 7:22 AM on February 9, 2017 [29 favorites]

i've had a similar problem, and this has been my solution:

-get permission to work 8am-4pm
-gym HARD for 45 mins at lunch (i am lucky & have one close by work)
-still get home at a decent hour

with this sched, i'm able to manage evening social stuff & other sport stuff at least 2-3x a week, which feels like plenty.

also consider: if you have the means, hiring a cleaner every couple of weeks. outsourcing chores might make your weekends feel more like weekends, less like catch-up chore-fests.
posted by crawfo at 7:28 AM on February 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

I agree with Mr.Know-it-some the issue is the commute. Is there a way to move closer to your job?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:31 AM on February 9, 2017

Yeah, the commute is the problem. Can you work a compressed schedule? I used to work 9 hour days Mon-Thu and then leave at Noon on Fridays, which was a great time to run errands and get things done. You could even try a more dramatically compressed schedule, like 4 10 hour days per week.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:31 AM on February 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I have a similar early start, but I leave work between 3 and 4 (unless there's some special event), so I have a fast commute home before traffic kicks in, and then I do a bit more work from home most evenings, in and around other parts of my life. I'm generally home by 4 or 4:30. Getting home at 7:30 would kill me, as I do get zombified around 8 on many nights.

I agree that part of this is your overlong hours/commute, not the early start time itself. Can you negotiate work from home days once a week or something, to help buy some of that time back? Maybe not until you've been there longer, but it might be something to work toward. Can you use your commute time effectively if you're not driving, to do something like leisure reading / paying bills / writing or at least taking notes for writing / catching up with friends by email, so that you can buy some time back that way? Can you re-think your exercise routine to something you can do at home so you can skip the gym? Shift some of your shopping online vs. in-person?

You might also get some mileage just from shifting up what order you do things in. My preferred state of events would be to come home and relax for a good long while before getting up and doing chores and such, but I'm well aware that my energy's gonna go downhill fast around 8. So I'm better off force-marching myself through some chores early in the evening, and saving the bulk of my reading / tweeting / TV-watching / hobby time until later in the evening when I'm winding down toward bedtime.
posted by Stacey at 7:46 AM on February 9, 2017 [3 favorites]

Rock Steady nailed it - four 10-hour days. Maybe even more than that. I once worked 3 13-hour days, giving me a four-day weekend every week. The first day is usually a lazy day where you rest and recover, then you have your free day to do whatever, then your normal weekend.
posted by kevinbelt at 7:48 AM on February 9, 2017

This option isn't without side effects, but have you tried caffeinating in the afternoon? Putting some caffeine or other stimulant (specifically, my ADHD meds) in my system around 3 pm has done wonders for my after-work productivity. Caffeine is tricky, but the meds wear off after five hours or so, so I can still wind down for sleep at the appropriate time.
posted by witchen at 7:51 AM on February 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: One other thing to suggest. Is it possible to do some of the things you'd like to do after work in or near your office? Like, stay at your desk after you clock out to write (I've done this occasionally), or meet up with friends near your office. Get that stuff done before your long commute saps your energy.
posted by kevinbelt at 7:56 AM on February 9, 2017 [5 favorites]

You can also try making your rest more intensely restful. Don't "wind down" with TV; train yourself to fall asleep instantly (somehow, I don't know how). Also, when you have a moment in your car, use that to relax, and if you have a spare 15 minutes at home between activities, use that to nap.

I'm not sure how effective this can be, but I have had good results from brief naps and it's worth trying.
posted by amtho at 8:08 AM on February 9, 2017

When I had an hour-long commute, I did a lot of voice dictation (for writing and writing ideas) in the car. Also I wrote on my lunch breaks and did workout stuff after getting home. While I did try the caffeine-in-the-afternoon routine for a while, I found that it worked best for me to completely switch around my schedule. So I would get up at 3 am, work on whatever, get ready and leave for work at 7ish, work 8-5, get home at 6ish, eat/workout/hangout with husband, go to sleep at 8. If I wanted to hang out with friends or go to a night event, I'd go, sleep in till 5-6 am instead of getting up at 3, and then go ahead with my day as scheduled above.

I recognize this probably wouldn't be ideal for everyone, and I don't know how long it would've worked for me in the long run. If you can't push your extra time to the morning, then I would suggest the caffeine route.
posted by pepper bird at 8:52 AM on February 9, 2017

Best answer: Many of my coworkers with long commutes have found that switching their schedule to begin and end on the half hour instead of the hour has substantially shortened their commute time. Everyone in the city is trying to get to the city center at exactly 8 or exactly 9, not so much at 7:30 or 8:30. Same for the drive home in the evening.
posted by tofu_crouton at 10:09 AM on February 9, 2017 [4 favorites]

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