How I Make it Work #1
How do you arrange your work life so that it works? Analogue vs digital.
I’m Clare Barry from Urban Curiosity
I write and ask questions for a living. Two keys things I do to maximise my time, energy and attention every day is to keep my mornings free from emails, meetings and calls. This is when I am most creatively juicy, so I protect this time as far as possible because writing and making is easier at this time of day. It all gets a bit torturous if I leave the thoughtful, writer-y stuff to later on.
A slow, quiet start to the working day is ideal and will involve coffee, reading a book you can touch and not having to speak to anyone (even people I love). This peaceful time is really important for allowing my ideas to percolate and the words to come when I write. Yes, it is a bit anti-social but I live alone and have a very short commute from my bed to my desk, which helps. I’m not too precious though – sometimes life doesn’t work out like that.
It took me a while to figure out my optimal working hours after two decades working a regular office job on someone else’s dime. Now I have them sussed, I guard them carefully.
EMAIL ISN’T A PRIORITY
Wellbeing and digital mindfulness are key themes of my work, so it’s important I practise what I preach. I turn off all notifications on my phone and computer because I find them so distracting. If I am really up against it, I’ll switch my phone to airplane mode for a while. And I never have my email accounts open in my browser.
I will look at my inboxes within an hour or so of waking but generally I give myself permission to reply later in the day and on my timetable. Emails from others tend to be about their priorities and agenda, not mine. I try to balance the need to respond with my own creative and strategic priorities. I make sure I tell people about this policy when I start working or collaborating with them. If something is urgent, they know to call. If it’s not, they trust I’ll get back to them later in the day or by the next day and I do. The world won’t stop turning just because I stand still for a while. I’m not that important (humph).
AVOID MEETINGS OR SCHEDULE THEM FOR THE AFTERNOON
My energy dips after lunch so this is a good time to take a walk or travel to meetings. BTW I always take a lunch break even if it’s a short one. It puts me into a different mode and my days of scoffing a soggy sarnie in between meetings are long behind me – life’s too short. I find I return to work with a lovely fresh perspective and some of the niggles I’ve struggled with all morning resolve themselves thanks to those few minutes doing something routine like making lunch.
Meetings can be a time suck. I’ve learned the hard way to establish what the purpose is and my role in it before rocking up. As a self-employed person, I am not paid for meetings nor the hour there and back that I tend to lose in travel time. I’m a big fan of walking or standing meetings – they force you to get to the point fast!
Later in the afternoon I might interview a podcast guest from home or lead a walkshop (these are my signature experience: part creativity session, part digital – on foot in a London neighbourhood). My favourite thing is a little mooch about and informal photo walk with my friend Susannah; she wrote a book called Londontown and I love observing what subject matter she’s drawn to.
BATCHING HAS TRANSFORMED MY WORK
I am a big believer in batching tasks. When I am in flow or ‘in the zone’, I can get more done faster. For example, I might spend half a day outlining all my blog posts for the month or listen to a few episodes of Desert Island Discs and sort out images for a week’s worth of posts. I schedule, record and review all my podcast interviews across a two or three-week period, that gives me a 22-episode season ready to go once post-production is done. Crucially, this approach allows me to get into the right headspace to ask good questions and keep fresh other interviews so I can cross-reference or avoid repeating some stuff with two different guests. I get into a better groove this way than when the recordings are more spread out.
MAKING TIME FOR EXERCISE AND STILLNESS
Mindfulness meditation is called a practice because we have to work at it and it can be hard. I try to meditate most days. Sometimes a moving meditation is better for me ie a stroll or a boxing class. Yep, I find boxing strangely mindful. If my mind wanders, my defence slips and I risk getting a biff in the face! It’s often the only hour of the week where my waking mind switches off from all the worries and rumination.
When I lived in west London I loved sessions by Anna from Take a Pop Boxing – she runs sessions across west and north-west London. Now I live in south-east London and I have the choice of Punch Club in Greenwich or Double Jab in Deptford.
Fun or soothing types of exercise appeal to me way more than a gym workout: I enjoy SwingTrain dance classes and pilates from YooPod. A daily non-negotiable is this free app: 7 Minute Chi. I use it either upon waking or right before bed and it feels great!