It wasn't that long ago that I was spending the best part of four hours commuting in and out of London to head to a magazine HQ for my role of Lifestyle Editor.
Sometimes I miss those days; I had a dream team around me, a bustling office smack bang in W8 and I got to meet some pretty awe-inspiring people. Weirdly, I even miss the crazily stressful weekly deadlines and the adrenaline rush that came with hitting them, but most surprisingly, I miss the commute. I never thought I'd say that- it was a killer, but I ended up making it work for me. I set a rule for myself; on the way in to London it was work time (emails, planning, sketches for shoots), on the way home the time was my own. For the most part, I'd stick to it.
Quite early on into my commuting life, after the novelty of being able to watch a whole episode of Homelands on catch up wore off. I did the maths. I realised I was wasting nearly a day a week of extra time to myself - pretty much the equivalent of a work week per month. Which is why I set myself another rule.....that homebound commute had to be used for something constructive, something that would benefit me long-term and NOT just Candycrush/Solitaire or watching catch up TV on my iPad. It was far too valuable.
I wrote a good portion of my first book and planned my second on my homebound commute; I made my way through the reading list for a course in horticulture I was studying at night school, I drew out plans for our cottage renovations and sourced most of the materials online from the comfort of my train seat. I managed to get so much done in that commute time that it became central to me achieving my goals.
You see why I miss it now don't you? If I'd had a particularly punishing day, I'd use the time to dream up visionboards, pulling together images in my notebooks and when I was too shattered to even think, I'd sit back and listen to a podcast or an audio book. I know my commute was on the extreme side of things, but if you're a commuter, do the maths on yours. Those half-hours, forty-five minutes or whatever add up. They matter.
Making such great use of all that 'lost' time taught me something that has been central to my productivity ever since. Time really does fly and by tackling a long-term goal bit by bit, little by little, over the weeks, months and years - it's amazing what can be achieved. I'm now in the habit of setting myself one long-term personal goal every two to three years that I chip away at. It's so easy to over-estimate what can be achieved in the short-term, yet we almost always under-estimate what can be achieved in the long-term.
Which brings me to all those other snippets of time we so freely give away each day. Those time-warp half-hours scrolling that feel like just three minutes and don't even get me started on TV.........just do the maths. It's jaw-dropping.
Need a little help? These are the things I look at to claw back my time whilst working, raising twin boys and running a home:
Switch of the telly
At a work dinner many moons ago, I was sat next to the formidable Jo Fairley, journalist and serial entrepreneur and co-founder of Green & Blacks. She was inspirational. Amongst the many questions over the course of a particularly fine fish supper (memorable not only because of Jo, but the fact it was in the Ile de Re, France) I asked her how she did it - where did she find the time to set up this hugely successful business whilst also holding down an editorship at the same time. Her answer? In a nutshell: No TV and no booze on a work night.
Apparently, the 'average' person in the UK now watches 24 hours of TV per week. That's nearly three working days sat on the sofa. Tot up your own viewing time. Be honest with yourself. Yeah, I was shocked at mine too...and nope, I'm not telling you what my weekly total was, but let's just say I go a little easier on the Netflix boxsets now. What could you achieve if you switched off your telly? I studied at night school over the course of two years during term time. That course enabled me to write my second book. It was just two hours on a Thursday.......I would have just been sat at home watching Peaky Blinders.
Cut out/down the booze (at least on a work night)
Alcohol interferes with your sleep patterns, causes any sleep you do get to be of inferior quality and makes you less efficient the next day as your body deals with that post-booze fog. I gave up alcohol completely over a year and a half ago whilst I was writing my second book - I needed to claw back more time to work.... I don't think I'll ever go back. I get so much more done and have much more patience with the boys now too.
Be mindful of your screen time
It's so easy to be pulled down a rabbit hole on Instagram/facebook/twitter only to emerge and an hour (or more) as disappeared in what feels like minutes. Have you ever looked at how much time you're actually spending on your devices? I was flabbergasted the first time I checked and thought there must have been some sort of mistake (there wasn't). If you can, set yourself a limit on your screen time or at least for some of the aps that suck you in the most - or delete them completely as a friend of mine just has. She says she feels 'liberated'. I got rid of Spider Solitaire from my iPhone as it was just too tempting for me. Be cruel to be kind to yourself in this way - just as you would for a child.
Protect your head space and energy, so that when you finally do get time to yourself, you'll actually feel like doing something productive with it
It's not neccessarily the actual time you're saving sometimes - it's more about your headspace and energy levels. My aim is to get past the boys' bedtime with enough energy that there's actually a chance I'll do something more productive that evening than just slump in front of Suits on Netflix.
At the moment, in our house, my husband and I have made a deal that after he picked up the slack for me whilst producing my last book, I'll return the favour -it's his turn to focus on work for a while. Which means most of the domestic chores are falling to me at the moment (whilst I'm also working). Getting all the boring, non-negotiable stuff organised has helped. I've swapped a round trip of an hour and a half doing the main weekly shop for an online delivery. I meal plan for the whole week so I don't waste ten minutes every mealtime staring into the fridge thinking 'what the hell am I going to cook?'. I meal prep a lot on Sunday afternoon for the coming week whilst I'm cooking a roast. Before I did that I used to feel I was trying to reinvent the wheel every single mealtime - three meals from scratch a day, for four people; two kids, one vegan, one carnivore.....it was exhausting. Work through the things that drain your energy and try to figure out ways you can change things for yourself.
Develop a rhythm to your domestic life that works for you
Ok, you may absolutely hate this idea, but it works for me...and yes, I know it's pretty boring, but it helps me keep control of the chaos and helps me claw back time for me. I do the same things at the same time (roughly) each week (mostly). Different parts of the house get cleaned at certain times during the week; all beds changed on a Sunday evening, the bathroom blitzed on a Saturday morning; the dog beds washed on a Friday morning (I told you it was boring, but bare with me). There's now a certain rhythm to the week and it helps. It's easier - I just go into auto pilot and don't waste time thinking about what needs doing and when I'm going to be doing it.
Lower your standards - focus on what really matters to you
I've given up trying to keep everything pristine. We live in the countryside, with a dog and two kids - it's just not realistic without sending me insane. I've now let certain things slide that perhaps I wouldn't have done before because there simply aren't the hours in the day. And you now what? It's ok. It's good enough. Sometimes, good enough is good enough. It lets you get on and do other things - much more rewarding things. Things that matter.