Monday, May 18, 2015

On Being A Writer: The Art of The Juggle (Part 1)

Sundays are my days for getting my life in order. 

Well, the Sundays where I'm not traveling back from a performance. 
Or the Sundays that I don't have a late family event.
Or the Sundays that I'm just not up to it. 

See the inconsistency here? Yeah, that used to be my problem. 

I've been getting a lot of emails requesting a detailed blog on how I balance my life. I've done pieces on this before, but the information varies, as does my schedule and habits of balancing do, in real life. 

Why? Because life is filled with unexpected events. Sure. I have routines, protocols, and rituals that I'd love to adhere to. The truth? I don't always get to. 

Juggling is about sacrificing and bargaining, weighing your priorities, and adding/subtracting until you reach your goal. There's some practice involved. But don't beat yourself up, if you slip. An accomplished juggler is one that knows how to rectify, post mistake. 

I'm usually awake around 7am. I live near the train and I could hear its faint roar, collide with my neighbors getting their children to school and hustling to work. They are my alarm. I'm the director of an arts program that closes at 8pm, so I go into work a little later than most.

My clothes are usually out, my gym and work bag, keys, and metro card are in the front foyer. After an hour routine, I'm usually ready to go. 

But not before I check the lights, water, and stove three times, because of my anxiety.
Not before I run back, because I forgot it's going to rain today.
& definitely not before I've found my headphones.

Under a comforter.
On the floor near the door, tossed in last night's exhaustion. 
Hidden in the deep dark recesses of my work tote. 

I calculate, as I go along. 

"Erica, you've just wasted fifteen minutes on searching for your phone. This means you've lost fifteen minutes of email response time, when you arrive at the office. Utilize the fifteen minutes that you're above ground, on the train, to begin."

I've now sacrificed some of my leisure reading time.

I get to the office, after an hour, I switch my flats to heels, I get to work. I usually check emails, review my calendar for the day, and decide if I'll take lunch based on my tasks. 

My friends are texting. I glance at my phone to see if it's urgent, I return to my work. Some of my companions are idle, because their jobs allow time for this. Others are freelancers and have a little more leisure time than I do.

Sacrifice conversing, until later. 

After lunch, I immerse myself in tasks and/or my students. I'm disrupted often, by knocks on my door, last minute requests, and/or emergencies. This is my job. I take this in stride and calculate again. 

"You spent 30 minutes dealing with a crisis. You'll have to stay 30 minutes later. Take an Uber home, to get some of your time back." 

I leave the office around 7 or 8 or 9....sometimes 10pm. Before I leave, my bag is repacked in accordance to the evening's tasks.

If I have a performance, I switch into another outfit.
If I'm too tired to cook, I'll grab Chipotle on the way. 
If I have errands to run, I'll handle them before I get home and too situated. 

I handle what's going to make me most comfortable, before I get to my front door, because this is when the real work starts. 

I find myself in my home office, living room sofa, and/or bed, in front of a laptop. I sit dinner next to me, I schedule and write posts, work on my book, and sometimes answer my texts. I fall asleep.

When I write this out, it sounds easy. It seems like every hour is accounted for and I am able to easily maneuver around the unpredictable. 

This is not true.

I have friends that are peeved about my inability to answer a ton of texts at once.
I have a beautiful apartment that I don't get to spend much time in. 
Something always falls to the wayside, a little neglected than whatever is at the forefront of my mind.
I sacrifice outings that I would've loved to go to, but would rather make deadline instead. 

It's difficult. 
But this is the age to do it. 
This is the age where you gather all the things that are brought your way and later on you'll allow them to drop one-by-one, when your destiny comes to fruition.

This is the age of the hustle, the juggle, the mythological superwoman. It's an art that takes understanding, smiling through the chaos, and recouping when it seems like you can't.

But it's possible.
I do it, every day. 

1. Prepare in advance. 

On the Sundays that I have ample free time, I fill in my calendar for the entire week. If I'm not able to do it on Sunday, it's definitely done early Monday morning. My planner is quite full. Instead of just logging when things are due, I also block out time to write them. I pack days before a trip, so I can just grab my bag and go. I often find myself on Amtrak, headed to another state, right after my last meeting. As a full time educator, performer, consultant, designer, and writer (good lord), I've got to be extremely deliberate with planning. 

2. Take advantage of the gaps.

A lot of folks spend their train, bus, or cab commute texting, playing games, or listening to music. I spend almost two hours on the train, per day. It's the perfect time for me to catch up on editing, planning, and more. If the train is crowded, I use my Evernote app on my phone, while standing. 

Folks are always late to meetings. I've spent several hours waiting on folks and playing around with the free time they've accidentally given me. Now, I always have a notebook, laptop, or phone on me. I'm able to work on things, while waiting on the latecomer. 

3. Put things front and center.

I'm a serial forgetter. I often leave items home that I promised I'd bring somewhere and have to make do without them. I've gotten into the habit of lining the things I'll need up, on my foyer table. I'm forced to see the items, as I'm rushing out of the door. 

4. Turn it off.

Phones, social media, and more. There are literally apps for this. One is called SelfControl, because LORD KNOWS sometimes I don't have any.

5. Treat yourself.

Take an Uber home, grab some food on the way. Sometimes, taking a few tasks off of your plate allows you to be more productive. I spent $45 total on this evening, but will probably get hundreds of dollars worth of work done.

6. Know your priorities, arrange them accordingly.

This is a tough one. Family and friends always come first, but sometimes their needs get in the way. You have to be able to discern between emergency, sustaining, and leisure. When these three ideals get'll find yourself wasting time. 

7. Make bargains with yourself.

If you know you've dropped the ball on something, pick it back up by creating a plan immediately. 

I know, I know. You're looking at this list and you're thinking...where the hell do I start?

I got you.

Here's a little homework, something I do myself, and we'll follow up on it on Thursday, right here on this blog:

For one day take note of everything you do. Hour by hour. If you spent five minutes talking to a it. If you took lunch and stayed out a little longer than it. If you sat in a meeting and it started extra late because you were waiting for folks to show it. At the end of the day, total up how many hours (or minutes) you think lost. We're going to talk about how you could've utilized that time. Ready to be honest with yourself and really get that hustle up? Let's go.

Want more detailed advice? I definitely do some freelance consulting & I've seen folks blossom with the time they've managed to find. Email me for rates at

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