Last March my partner and I joined the ‘home owner’ club.
It’s a fun place to be for the most part – getting to work on your very own property, and seeing all the Pinterest boards come to life is exciting!
But it has been equally exhausting and stressful, especially since we had a very tight deadline to get the flat in liveable conditions for us to move in quickly.
A little background about us: we are organisational freaks . We have a process in place for everything that allows us to live a more time-efficient lifestyle. Our calendars are updated by the hour, and we very much like to budget everything on excel sheets. We are guilty of being micromanagers by nature – but for this experience, it’s exactly what was needed.
Friends and family thought we were nuts for planning house works AND a move in just 8 weeks. The bet was that we would miss our deadline by 2 months, but alas, after tears, blood, and constantly chasing workers and suppliers, we managed.
The only reason we managed to get through it all, though, is the flexibility that our jobs allowed us to have. Here’s why.
A standard day during that 8 week period looked like this: virtual meetings, pitches, deadlines, launching mass-market campaigns, project managing, and dealing with 459 different suppliers for the flat works, DIY painting of the entire flat, improv-DIY fixing of water pipes, and keeping up with approximately an average of 60 work emails per day.
I found a good routine that allowed me to manage everything and still end the day with fewer than 5 unread emails in my inbox (which, believe me, is a huge personal success).
What I started doing was working 4 hours first thing in the morning, where I’d fit in as many internal and client meetings as possible. For the rest of the day, I’d get my hands dirty (quite literally) on house prepping – sanding, painting, dusting, cleaning. I’d then shower, have dinner, and get back onto my laptop where I’d catch up on all the emails and action points.
I won’t lie – those days were long, and there was nothing else in my life. It was Switch, house works, repeat. I’d start at around 7am and keep going till around midnight-1 o’clock.
But having a deadline to work towards (which we were really in no position to postpone) gave us the determination to make it happen.
Although my job gives me plenty of flexibility, I need to keep in mind and respect the people I work with. There are projects, deadlines and meetings that still need to happen between the regular 8-5, and I make it my priority to make it to those. Flexible working adopts the same rule as a relationship: it’s a “give and take”. I can’t allow my personal commitments to interfere with a colleague’s or client’s needs – if my input is needed for someone to be able to continue their job, it’s my responsibility to deliver these promptly and not keep anyone waiting.
And this was also the case during the house move. I’ve joined meetings with jeans covered in paint, but a clean top, or reviewed proposals whilst sitting on a camping chair and using a stool as my desk.
In any other 9-5 job, where I wouldn’t be allowed to walk into the office after 8:30am (irrespective of whether I clocked out at 10pm the evening before) I wouldn’t have been able to achieve this balance of getting the office work done, while getting the house job finished on time.
It really is all about finding the perfect balance between getting your work done properly and on time, without having to give up on your personal life and projects, while still being present and helpful with the rest of the team.
Not that I am planning on going through another house move any time soon, but I must admit that it has been a pretty insightful experience.
So here’s some key lessons that I’ve learnt over the last few months of balancing work and a house move:
One of my weakest points is delegating work – I am totally guilty and aware of it! Not because of mistrust in others (far from it!), but because I tend to bite off more than I can chew. I am not the best at pushing back if someone asks for help or if projects fall on my lap, which often leads me to take on more than I can handle. This goes for both my professional and personal life. But with this house project, I have learnt to delegate work more in the past few weeks than I had in the previous five years at the agency. And the best part was the feeling of it. Having colleagues that you can rely on blindly and know will step up for you when you aren’t available is one of the most amazing feelings you can experience while working in a company. It’s the true meaning of teamwork.
Be intentional with my time
I’ve often fallen into the trap of believing that because I worked X hours of work throughout a day, it meant I was productive. The oh-so-overheard ‘today was a crazy day, I’ve been in meetings all day and only starting to go through my inbox now, at 8pm’. I guess it’s a little white lie we tell ourselves to make us feel better about the fact that we’ve worked for over 10 hours but actually ticked off very little from our to-do list. By cutting out some unnecessary meetings, delegating a little more, and being more aware of the time that I could focus on work, I managed to achieve more in less time than I would have on a regular workday.
Learn that it’s not the end of the world
I work closely with clients, and I take each project to heart – which, I suppose, is one of my strengths, but also my greatest weakness because if something doesn’t go exactly to plan, it doesn’t go unnoticed:it will haunt me for months to come. I have often woken up in the middle of the night panicking because of an email that wasn’t sent on time, or spent an entire weekend annoyed because of a typo on a client’s artwork. And although these are all human errors that are bound to happen (and I am the first to tell everyone that these things happen and it’s okay and they shouldn’t let it affect them), I wasn’t capable of giving myself the same advice. What happened in those two months though was exactly that – I learned that it’s okay if an email doesn’t go out on time, or correcting myself for something that I haven’t done quite right. There were a few hiccups or delays that happened, and the world didn’t end. It was alright. And so I’m learning to cut myself some slack – not to the point where I just stop caring, but just enough to learn to balance it all out (and no longer experience 4am panic wakeups).
Oh, and the 4th thing I’ve learnt during this period, is that I might have mastered the skill set of plumbing – I fixed a water drain all on my own, and it felt freaking awesome.