A Day in the Life of a Free Workerbee

Image by Wagaboy on flickr

I had a jolt of realisation the other day when it struck me that I have been out of work for three months. Three whole months! Somehow I had thought that the time would pass more slowly because my days would be constructed of more parts — not just wake, work, sleep — but would also be filled with more variety and therefore pass more like a joyful pageant than the perfunctory flicking on and off of a TV screen. Of course I remember that my annual leave from work always used to flit by in a flash of exuberance, feeling more like a vivid daydream, a hallucinated trance, than a restorative rest from work. But I thought this more permanent state of “holiday” — a vacation from work as I knew it — would feel less ephemeral, more concrete, more purposeful.

When viewed from my desk during my final weeks in law, the prospect of so much free time seemed impossibly, almost dauntingly expansive. What could I do to fill all that time? Wouldn’t I get bored? And lonely? Since leaving my job other people have asked me the same questions and I see the disbelief in their eyes. What have you been up to?, they ask. What on Earth could you have been doing all day?, their eyes say. Or maybe not, maybe they are just making polite conversation. Maybe I’m projecting my insecurity that everyone thinks I’m a waster. This is the valley of doubt.

The thing is, now that I’ve been at it for three months, I can see exactly where the time goes. I can honestly say that I actually feel pretty productive. Almost as busy as I did at work — amazing, but true. In fact I’m starting to wonder how productive I really was during those days of back-to-back conference calls and meetings. And therein lies the main difference: these days I get to choose how I spend my day. This is an incredible luxury, and one for which I am constantly thankful. I’m acutely aware that it might not always be like this — when I have to take up a serious endeavour and try to earn some cash — so I am trying to suppress the doubt and just enjoy it.

If you’re curious as to what a day in the life of a free workerbee looks like then here it is:

8am Wake up. I wish I could get into the habit of waking up earlier but I’ve resolved to get eight hours sleep per night and I can’t really go to bed before midnight if I want to spend any time with Dan in the evenings. I spend the mornings having a slow breakfast and reading the paper (although my new rule is that I only read the whole paper if I’m remotely interested in anything that’s on the front page – if that’s what they’re leading with and it’s some guff about Nick Clegg then it doesn’t bode well for what’s in store in the rest of the edition). I read my favourite blogs, check Twitter, and respond to emails. Unless it’s something urgent (and very little seems urgent these days) I don’t really respond to emails at other times in the day. I have a shower and generally feel grateful that my head isn’t stuffed up someone’s armpit on the tube. I do not miss the London commute.

10am I try to do something productive before lunch (another resolution). I managed this 20 days out of 31 in January (although weekends don’t really count). This might mean writing or editing a blog post (it takes about two hours to plan and write a post and another two to edit and publish), writing or researching my novel, or some kind of activity like going to the farmer’s market (also a resolution).

12pm Have lunch and do errands. For the last couple of months this has been prime time for getting things done for the renovation next door. Ordering furniture, calling suppliers, listening to the builder’s account of his turbulent and unjust life (has any man been subject to more “Catch 22’s” or more often found himself “between a rock and a hard place”? Incidentally, I have figured out that my Dad, who owns the house being renovated, is the rock, and I, who will be living in the downstairs flat, am likely the hard place). The rock is also retired so sometimes we go for lunch at one of Finchley’s finest cafes.

2pm This is when I usually settle down to three or four hours of solid work. I have always been able to sit down for four or five hours at stretch and work with focus on a single task. I’m not easily distracted so I don’t even notice the time pass. In January this meant writing my novel, and more recently I’ve been using the time to take a course on starting up a business on the online education platform Udacity (the rise of the MOOCs being my favourite revolution of the Noughties/Teens).

6pm If I’ve made evening plans then I’m usually leaving the house around this time since it takes about an hour to get anywhere in London from where I live. On Tuesday’s I’m taking an illustration class at Central St Martins with my sister. If I’m staying home I’ll start to think about dinner. This is one of the big bonuses of having an evening, I get to cook which is something I love doing but barely had a chance to indulge in before. I’ll usually browse one of the dozens of cookbooks stacked up agains the bags, trunks and boxes in the spare room which comprise all the stuff we own in the world (Dan affectionately refers to this as “the avalanche”), which is more a diversion than of practical value because I invariably resort to the tried-and-tested default of doing one of the foolproof recipes from the Smitten Kitchen blog. I might wander down to the shops to top-up on ingredients, which also ticks off another resolution (walk 20 minutes every day).

8pm On good days Dan comes home and we eater dinner and hang out. Of course some days he doesn’t get home until 10pm or later (it’s amazing, by the way, how quickly you forget that in the City 10pm is a perfectly reasonable time to get home from work). On those days I’ll either have made plans or I keep working. Unless he’s going to be really late I’ll stay up to chat to him.

So that’s been my average day for the last few months. There are some variations. I’ve been sneaking up to Scotland to hang out in the beautiful Fife. I also sometimes try to get out of the house to work — the British Library is one my recent finds but am on the lookout for more.

I met a working buddy called Gillian Davis at a women’s networking event. Gillian is an author and entrepreneur and we met up to work alone/together for the first time last week. It worked really well. We started by giving each other feedback on our ongoing projects. She is promoting her new book First Time Leader and giving a talk at General Assembly on how to hire an awesome team for your startup, and I got to watch her practice the talk for free. She gave me great feedback on promoting my novel and also so general career advice, drawing on her skills as a coach. We also worked for a couple of hours, which of course I could have done alone but it was a nice change to have someone else there.

In general I haven’t found working from home lonely at all. But perhaps that’s because I’ve become more sociable during the week, now that I can actually make plans and stick to them. My resolution of being social at least three times a week has been one of my easiest to keep.

I hope that setting out what it is like to leave a City job and work from home is useful information, particularly for those who might be contemplating doing the same. Please feel free to ask any questions if there is any aspect that I haven’t covered. No doubt my routine will change as I take on different projects but right now my days feel pretty well-balanced. I still struggle a bit with the fear that what I’m doing on any given day is pointless; a feeling no doubt rooted in the notion that for something to be worthwhile you must get paid to do it. I’m not sure that nagging feeling of guilt will ever pass but perhaps it is this very fear that continues to motivate me.

Love links, hate distractions. Now that you’re done, here are some internet bits to put this article in context:

There are loads of great courses on Udacity and I thoroughly recommend Steve Blank’s class How to Build a Startup.

Tasty and idiot-proof recipes with step-by-step pictures and instructions can be found at the fantastic Smitten Kitchen blog (thanks to Ali Jones for introducing me to this amazing blog!).

Check out Gillian Davis’ book First Time Leader, which I believe will be out in the UK later this year, and her talks at General Assembly.


One thought on “A Day in the Life of a Free Workerbee

  1. Michelle, Does this work? If not, I’ll get a better email from Shovon. I will be in London — passing through on my way to / from Scotland — twice this month. May I drop by?

    Patrick Hamilton Maison du Chat Blanc Washington DC 20001 Krookut@aol.com

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