Last week, our co-founder Lisa shared why her everyday is far from typical. Today, our second co-founder Victoria (who runs the design studio VMS) is sharing what her typical workday looks like. While a little more traditional than Lisa's (Victoria's an early bird while Lisa is a night owl!), working from home still offers a few unique twists…
I will be the first to admit: I burned myself out last year. If I had written this post, say, last October, the listed workday end time would've been much later than 6:30, and my best explanation would've been “STRESSED OUT. TOO MUCH TO DO. MUST. WORK. MORE.” This approach, like typing in all-caps, was not sustainable.
So this year, I've made a concerted effort to restructure my days and figure out a better balance.
Oh, and a side note on the elusiveness of “balance.” If you work for yourself, I firmly believe that finding balance is a constant struggle, and its definition can change as your life and biz evolves too. For me, I think balance means feeling good about the focus of my life overall—do I feel nurtured in work, home life, friendships, and personal time? If so, I'm probably on the right track. It's not easy to do, but if every decision you're making pushes you in that direction, you're doing okay.
With all that said, here's how a typical work day is looking for me lately:
5:50am // On workout days, my first alarm sounds. I use the bedtime function in the iOS Clock app to set this first alarm, purely because I like the wake up sounds better. If you've never experimented with this, trust me — the alarm sounds are far more pleasant. I set a second alarm for 6am, so that if I happen to snooze the first, the second will blast me awake a minute later.
6:15am // I'm off to the gym! Don't judge, but despite a 15 minute walk, I drive (this early in the morning? Every minute matters). I'm a member at a local training center that focuses on HIIT workouts only. Every day of the week offers a different workout, which then repeat week to week. Each month, the workouts change. It's a great way to work on particular skills, while still having crazy good diversity in your exercise.
7:15am // I've finished up the last bit of stretching at the gym, and head home.
7:45am // I'll cop to it—on non-workout days, this is usually about the time I will get out of bed. I try and make it to the gym three weekdays, and on the days I don't workout, I'm usually awake by 6:45am and too lazy to get out of bed for another hour. This is when I'll read the newspaper, check websites and blogs, and get a first glance at email and Instagram.
Workout days? I'm home by this time, I've hit the showers, and am working on making breakfast for Joe and I. We tend to workout on the same days, and I think it's mostly because we like the ritual of making a proper breakfast on the days we do. I'll make us simple things like scrambled eggs with salsa and a side of fruit, or some days if I have time and I'm feeling fancy, it might be a dish like leftover roasted asparagus with fried eggs and parmesan. He always makes the coffee, and I'll take about 1/4 mug's worth (as much as I love the ritual of coffee, I think I'm more into the smell of it brewing than I am downing it by the cupful).
8:30am // At work. In the mornings, I'm usually settling in for about half an hour, trying to go through emails, or take care of small admin tasks. I'll usually check our <em>press helpline in the mornings and clear out any spam or account notifications, and scan for help requests that can be answered quickly. Similarly, sometimes messages have come through for me over Slack or Trello, left from clients who either pinged me the night before, or have already been at it on the east coast. I don't know what it is, but I have to start my days this way—getting all my ducks in a row. I've tried structuring my days where I tackle the creative stuff first, but my brain just doesn't work that way. It needs time to ease in, I guess.
I usually prefer scheduling calls in the morning, and will nearly always suggest 9am as the earliest start time. This way, I can guarantee that regardless of when meetings start, I'll have time to get in a workout, breakfast, and get my head on straight.
All morning long // If I'm not on calls, you can find me working through studio tasks, coordinating follow-ups with clients, and generally trying to knock as much off the to-do list as I can before lunch. On days that are particularly busy, I will assign myself a set number of tasks, and make it a game: everything on that list has to be finished before I can leave the desk for lunch. Most days I can “win” the game; others, I just get hungry. 🙂
Noon to 1pm // Lunch time. I always watch TV during lunch; maybe this isn't the most productive thing I could be doing, but to be honest, I have found I need that hour to completely zone out, and as a line of demarcation, separating my day. Sometimes, if I'm in the middle of a book I can't put down, I'll read that while I eat instead. I usually don't like to spend a ton of time prepping anything special for lunch, so I'll meal prep on Sundays and part way through the week to make lots of items that are easy to mix and match, and/or can heat up quickly. Soups, different types of roasted chicken and vegetables, and picnic style salads are popular around here!
After lunch // If I have big, energy and focus consuming design tasks, now is when I'll dive into them. Something about having the back half of the afternoon to sit and focus just works for my creative juices. Occasionally, this is disastrous because the ideas won't come and it can create panic towards the end of the day (that feeling of, shoot, I didn't finish what I needed to). But it usually works out fine. If I'm not working on a custom project, this is often the time I'll work on blog posts, or writing.
2 to 3pm // If my pup Lucy is home, we'll try and get out for a mile long walk twice per week. She goes to an off-leash playgroup other days of the week, so on those days, the house is quiet all afternoon and she'll roll in from joyriding with her friends around 5.
6:30pm-ish // After years of it being a thing (and rightfully so), I try to keep a consistent end-of-day time so that I don't drive my husband insane. If I can't end at 6:30, I'll always let him know how late I think I'll be, so we can make dinner plans accordingly. But really, I do try to end work by 6:30 most nights. On Fridays, I've been working on ending at 5. This is because whenever I end work, it takes me a good half hour or so to switch gears from work-life brain into home-life brain (keep in mind, I literally walk out of a second bedroom that's used as a studio space, and am suddenly “at home” with Joe). He noticed that if I wasn't ending work until 6:30 or 7 on Fridays—despite the obvious downside of missing most happy hours—I wasn't really in a “weekend' mindset until 7:30 or 8. This led to more than one argument on our way to a dinner reservation, I can admit. We realized that ending work a little earlier on Friday would help me ease into the weekend, put a clear break in between work life and home life, and would get me in a mindset to be a better (read: way more fun) dinner date. Also, let's be honest: nothing vital is happening after 5pm on a Friday anyway, and so many of my clients are on the east coast that it REALLY didn't matter. Priorities, you know?
Seasonal all-nighters // I'll admit, there are a few times of years when I'll pull all-nighters…and it's nearly always when we are getting ready to release new products for <em>press! Even with weeks of prep and work, there's something about that mad dash to publicizing a new product that always takes more time than we anticipate. From testing checkout, to editing the product page, to finalizing the code and settings, while I do like to finish work at a “normal” hour, an <em>press launch is the one thing I'll pull an all-nighter for. Maybe we shouldn't admit this, but Lisa and I have stayed up until 1, 2 in the morning to finish products before (and that was Pacific time…image what it was like for her in the Central time zone!).
Ok, so that's the basic skeleton of the day to day, but there are some big things woven into all that dictating how my weekdays are structured. Call them insights I've learned after working for myself for a long time; they're necessary to keep a disciplined schedule and staying as on task and focused as you can:
+ I really prefer to NOT accept meetings out of the office. Sure, sometimes they're necessary (I've had clients come in from out of town and they can only meet at such and such place at a particular time; OR some meetings require the parties get together to present and share information). But I've really found that most things can be solved with a phone call, in which no one has to plan transit time (or pay for it, either). Basically, I've kinda come to the conclusion that most meetings outside of the studio are a huge waste of time. You have to really weigh whether the time and expense of getting to a place is worth the outcomes of the meeting.
+ Same with lunch dates. I try to avoid these at all costs, because it's not just the hour+ you spend at lunch, you have to factor in travel time and zone out time because the whole thing is very disruptive to your day. I always feel like the last half hour before I need to leave for a lunch, nothing gets done, and for the 30-45 minutes after I get back home and settled, nothing gets done. #timesuck As much as I love connecting with friends or fellow entrepreneurs, I've found I'm more into it (and less anxious about getting back to work) if we plan an after work drinks thing, or maybe an early morning coffee.
+ Most of my clients don't live in San Francisco, so the above two items aren't an issue. It does mean, however, that I take and make a lot of phone calls. For calls, I try to schedule them on specific days, and also block out times based on when people are scheduling. For example, if clients used my meeting scheduler and I had 3 calls in a row in the morning, I usually prefer to block out the afternoon so no other appointments get made, and I can focus on other tasks. If I don't, the day is kinda shot, because you're essentially just waiting for the next call the entire day. I usually only like to schedule calls on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, though will often schedule custom client feedback calls on Fridays (I've actually found these are a great way to end the week—getting that feedback and completing another round of work makes me feel like the week is tied up with a nice little bow).
+ I batch like tasks. I respond to inquiries on Fridays, and rely on canned responses and multiple inboxes in Gmail to do so. Emails that arrive via my website's contact form are automatically routed to a separate inbox that I barely even glance at until Friday morning. They never appear in my main, top Inbox, so they don't distract me. Those emails get an auto-responder letting them know I've received the email and will respond later in the week, and this system works great!