When I started this blog–back in 2007–it was called The Art of Staying Up All Night. The name seemed fitting at the time. I wanted to talk about the things that kept me awake until the early hours: films, books and music. I’ve always been a bit of a night owl, even as a child, and as an undergraduate I fell into the habit of staying up until stupid o’clock (sometimes all night) watching film after film, finishing a book (and then starting a new one, because I always have to have a book on the go) or listening to albums on repeat and feeling identified with cringeworthy lyrics. Well, not anymore, so I’m glad I gave the blog a name change.
Last week Linkedin gave me a kind reminder that it was my work anniversary (seriously, who cares?), which means that for the past year I’ve been juggling two part-time jobs and, PhD, a social life and a relationship that for the first half of that year was long distance. Now let’s all take a deep breath, because just writing that made me feel anxious. Somehow during my last months as a twentysomething real life hit me and decided it was time for me to grow up a little bit, and one year later I’m still readjusting.
I was used to starting work at 11, which allowed me to indulge in my old habits of staying up late doing the things that I love the most and still wake up fresh-faced and full of energy. Now I had to wake up at six in the morning ready for a long commute to another town, where I was to teach English to future English teachers who were not that much younger than me, have a quick meal at a time which was not my usual time, and run to work again, this time selling furniture and accessories that I can’t afford. This left me with two afternoons a week and weekends to prepare my classes (one of which was in a subject on which my knowledge wasn’t great), mark assignments, supervise dissertations, look after the flat, visit my grandmother, see my friends and, last but not least, work on my PhD. Time for another deep breath.
I am used to hearing questions like “how can you do so many things?” and “where do you get the time for all that?”. I’m sure all the professional jugglers out there are more than familiar with this and will agree with me when I say that very often, more often than I’d like to admit, my modus operandi is the following:
1. Think about how much I have to do. Then think about it some more. Start thinking about the following day’s tasks. Calculate at what time I’ll be done and then calculate how many hours of sleep I’ll get. Wonder if it’s all worth it and if I’ll ever finish anything.
3. Work as if my life depended on it.
Thankfully I sometimes have the ability of working quite fast, and that’s what saves me, but most of the time I’m just wishing I was doing something else. When I’m preparing classes and marking papers I wish I could be working on my thesis and maybe even writing my own papers. Whenever I read a really bad paper I feel sad that that student is wasting her time and daydream about how much I could get done if I had as much time as a full-time student. When I’m at the shop and there are no customers I can often be found marking papers, working on my German or reading something for my thesis. My commute is usually spent wishing I was in bed, twitting about how much I hate waking up so early or reading a book, this time pleasure reading in order to avoid building up anxiety. Basically the only times when I’m 100% focused on what I’m doing are when I’m teaching (because that requires my full attention) and when I’m working on the thesis, unless I start thinking about how I wish I had more time to spend on it, then sometimes I panic. This train of thought and constant feeling that I should be doing something else is not healthy. I mean, at the beginning I burst into tears at the shop because I found it hard to find the right time to wash my hair. I know, right? I don’t do that anymore (bursting into tears, I mean, my hygiene is top notch).
So most of the time I find my mind is not really where it should be, and as much as I wish I could take Ron Swanson’s advice and “whole ass one thing” instead of half assing a million things, that’s not really possible. I could go back to my old job and spare myself the commute, but that’s not something I want to do for the rest of my life, and teaching at university is, so that experience is crucial to my future. Besides, despite how incredibly hard the first year was, I really like it and I think that one day I could be very good at it. Working at uni full time is not an option without a PhD, so that one is out of the list too. There is no way that I could quit my PhD. Although if the b-a-d times sometimes make the thought cross my mind, I am hopelessly devoted to my topic and I love it so much that I know I couldn’t stop even if I tried. The shop job? Easy, I can’t survive with a part-time job, I need the money to live and fund all my unhealthy habits. Thankfully I have an amazing mother who not only gave me a job in her business, and let me get everything I want from it for free, but also let me cut my hours to see if that would also cut anxiety AND sends the shop’s cleaner over to do my ironing every couple of weeks. I don’t think I could manage without that.
Seeing as I have to carry on with this lifestyle, I’m doing my best to keep calm. This (academic) year, with my anxiety levels a bit more stabilised and hopefully going down even further, plus a year’s experience on my back, I am taking some measures to make it work and try not to be a professional multitasker, but rather someone who performs different tasks in different moments of the week.
- I set a “go to bed” alarm that will ensure I get at least five hours of sleep, so I no longer go to bed thinking “oh god, I have to be awake in three hours,” which really helps. On top of that, my doctor makes sure that I get good sleep quality.
- Before bed time, I lit candles, make myself a cup of tea, turn on some low lights and spend some time doing something for pleasure. Reading, surfing the web, watching something or writing this blog post. This means that when I get into bed my mind is not in work mode anymore and I can relax.
- I don’t set myself high expectations for the days when I wake up at six. I try to make sure all my lessons are prepared before Monday, get used to the idea that my nap will be long and I will be exhausted, and talk myself into thinking that it’s ok to spend that evening just reading in my PJs. That way I don’t feel bad about not being the most productive person those days.
- We try to plan meals so cooking is more a pleasure than a worry.
- I rely more on to-do lists with items I can cross out to feel more satisfied.
- I manage my work chunks better, particularly when it comes to research. I’ve learnt to forget about the bigger picture for some hours to focus on what needs to be done next.
- I take weekends off going out after one or two. I love hitting the bars and everything, but being too tired or hungover to prepare my week on Sunday really takes a toll on my mood for the week.
So far these are the changes that I’ve made, and they’re all successful. And you know what the best thing about them is? Something I just realised when writing them down; I never set out to make changes, they just happened. Hopefully I’ll manage to keep them going for 66 days and they will become habits.
This post was inspired by some work e-mails that nearly made me push the PANIC button. And it really is something I should have put into words a long, long time ago. I feel a lot more calm and I am ready to face my inbox without panic. It’s times like this that make me think the past year would have been better if I had been blogging about it. Congratulations if you made it so far, now I’m just writing some extra words in order to reach 1,500. There.