As I have been repeatedly whining about in this space, I’ve had a couple of weeks of particularly irregular schedules; I’m excited to be back to normal as of yesterday. I like schedules. I read this book recently, The End of Illness, which is a great read if you’re interested in actual, real, scientific information about your health that isn’t overblown and silly. The author, an oncologist, gives very practical advice and doesn’t pull punches: He thinks vitamin supplements are a crock. He thinks sleep and exercise are good. He thinks we’ll have Star Trek-style body scanners and other way cool ways to customize our health care in the near future. He thinks health care kinda sucks now, and cancer research is stalled.
In his most surprising bit of advice-dispensing, he spends and entire chapter on one topic: Having a regular schedule. Really. This, he says, is as important as getting enough sleep and exercise and nutritious food. The body adapts to expect certain things on a daily rhythm. If you mess with that rhythm, the body freaks out trying to figure out what’s going to happen next. If you feed it too late, it’s already gone into starvation mode thinking that food is no longer available reliably. We all know what happens when you mess with your bedtime. The more regular your patterns, the calmer and cooler your body will be. No stress hormones, no starvation hoarding, no unexpected exhaustion. This, I think, is great advice, simple to follow, and something that makes sense to me: I start to get really tired and stressed when I’ve been running around at odd intervals, and I crave being at my own house on my own schedule when I’ve been traveling a lot. It made me think of this amazing, life-changing article I recently discovered, a classic Tom Junod Esquire piece about Mr. Rogers. There are myriad things in this piece that will imprint upon your soul, but one of the many wonderful images is of Mr. Rogers’ monk-like daily schedule: He rises at the same time every morning so that he can swim before work. He weighed exactly 143 pounds for decades, absolutely zero change in the scale (which he stepped on every day).
All of these factors came together to make me very proud of myself for a simple tweak I implemented in my freelance-writer life last year: a daily schedule. When I first started freelancing in June of 2011, I was intoxicated by the freedom of it all. I got off a little on the variety of my days. I still worked, mind you; people are always warning you that you’ll forget to work if you go freelance, and you’ll spend your days in front of the television or out shopping or whatever. I didn’t exactly do that. I was still putting in at least eight hours of work every day — I had a book to write, after all. But as a longtime “night person,” I started to invert my days: I’d watch TV and eat in the morning, work out in the afternoon, and start working just before dinner … or maybe after dinner … Next thing I knew, I was staying up until 4 a.m. working, having a hell of a time getting to sleep (working until the minute before you go to bed = not conducive to restfulness), and sleeping in until noon. Still productive, just not terribly healthy or functional.
So I finally sat down and made a list of all the major areas I thought I should at least touch on every day: self-promotion, correspondence (email, phone, Facebook, Twitter), blogging, writing, pitching, and getting people who owe me money to send it to me in a timely fashion. Oh, look, that’s six things, so if I work from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. like a semi-normal person, and I give myself an hour for lunch, it works out to an hour for each. Perfect. Nowadays, I get up around 7:30 with my domestic partner, who has an office job, and, most days, we meditate for a half-hour. (Having a partner is a huge benefit to freelance writers, so much so that I told my writing class on Tuesday night that they should work on their love lives if they didn’t have one. I’ll write about this in a post soon.) Then I like to have a glass of water and watch NY1 for 15 minutes or so — to get the Weather on the 1s, see what’s going on, and hopefully listen to Pat Kiernan read me the newspapers. (So soothing.) Then I work out and eat while watching, most likely, the previous night’s Daily Show or Colbert. Then it’s around 10 and time to start the work day, which now looks like this:
10-11: Focus on self-promotion, which would fall to the way side if I didn’t do it first thing. This includes posting links to my own work, others’ work on my blog, news about my upcoming books, etc. It also, these days, includes booking events for my upcoming book releases.
11-12: Returning texts, phone calls, emails. Checking on Facebook and Twitter, and sometimes peeking at my websites’ analytics to see if someone important has linked to us and sent our traffic skyrocketing. Generally communing with the outside, electronic world.
12-1: Now I’m ready to blog — here and on SexyFeminist.com. (I’m a little early today, as there wasn’t much corresponding to do.)
1-2: Lunch break!
2-3: Focus on book projects. Writing, editing, proposing.
3-4: Pitching ideas to magazines and websites.
4-5: Focus on current magazine/website assignments. Reporting, writing, editing.
5-6: Spend time invoicing for finished assignments or gently harassing editors at publications that still owe me money.