When coronavirus hit, I lost my income overnight.

As a freelance writer and consultant, working with nonprofit organizations, small businesses, and entrepreneurs, I was dragged along in the undertow of the virus’s economic repercussions. In classic domino effect fashion, clients lost their funding/revenue and, in turn, had to let go of their staff and their contract workers, which meant me.

Now, as a slightly under-employed writer making a slow recovery, I have picked up some work, and along with my So, You Want to Move to Portugal sessions, I’m doing okay.

I’m fortunate. I live in a country where I can maintain a high standard (by my own measure) of living and meet my needs on about a quarter of the income I required in California. But by losing all my income so suddenly and being out of work, I realized I had slipped into a zone of complete chaos when it came to schedule and discipline.

In general, I’m not the most disciplined person. I don’t like to be boxed in, and I don’t enjoy being told what to do.

This is just part of my personality; that’s why I’m much better as a self-employed person than I am as an employee. But despite all that, I’ve been in business for myself for nearly 16 years, and I have learned a few things about organizing a schedule and staying productive, even during difficult times.

Looking back on my client load and revenue during the Great Recession of 2008, I breezed by that economic speed bump with little harm. But this recent downturn had me grasping at straws.

Nature Abhors a Vacuum

I didn’t stop working altogether. I continued to volunteer for a nonprofit where I was previously employed. My Move to Portugal sessions stalled but picked back up in May. It wasn’t that I had nothing to do, I just couldn’t get organized. The reduced workload and the space around it seemed to suck up all my time. Recognizing the virus is going to be around for a few years and possibly permanently, it was time to shake off inertia and create a container around my work and life. One that would support my natural rhythms and help me work in a way that’s best for my clients and for me.

I’m not great, as I mentioned, with a rigid schedule; however, a loose scaffolding that allows me to build in flexibility or respond to changing priorities is ideal. It gives me organizational touchpoints throughout the day, allows me to work effectively, and not feel that I’ve wasted the day altogether.

I came up with this work-life daily container idea to corral my oft-competing priorities. It’s a place, a schedule, that’s spacious enough to hold my deadlines and must-dos with sufficient room to respond to other activities that keep me well and inspired (coffee in the park, anyone?).

Wake, Sleep, Repeat

I’ve been playing around with bedtimes and waking times. I used to be a night owl, but I’m not much of one anymore. Sadly, I didn’t turn into a morning person (a lark), but into this multiphasic hybrid.

According to the Lark and Owl theory, a lark is happy to pop out of bed at 6 am feeling ready for the day, and an owl feels best waking up around 11 am. I feel best waking between 7 am to 8 am, a tardy lark or early owl, I suppose. Perhaps I’m just an ordinary sparrow. Whatever it is, I get bursts of energy throughout the day, with periods where I need downtime. I’ve been testing a late morning/early afternoon nap—just 30 minutes seems to recharge my batteries.

Knowing what I know about my sleep and energy patterns, and being open to adjusting for seasonal temperature and light changes, here’s what the work and life containers look like:

Morning Container:
  • 7:00 am-8:00 am: waking, teeth brushing, water drinking, dressing, dog walking.
  • 8:30 am-9:00 am: return from walk, feed dog, make coffee STAT, turn on BBC (potential day disrupter)
  • 9:00 am-11:00 am: read, meditate, write, yoga, more BBC or podcasts, breakfast, more coffee (maybe)
  • 11:00 am-12:30 pm: start work, take dog out again for short xixi break
Afternoon Container:
  • 12:30 pm-2:30 pm: Do I need a nap? If not, work or write.
  • 2:30 pm-4:00 pm: Lunch, walk my dog, likely more BBC/podcasts/YouTube
  • 4:00 pm-5:00 pm: prep for Move to Portugal session if I have one, if not prep simple dinner and more work
Evening Container:
  • 5:00 pm-7:30 pm: Move to Portugal session or phone calls with friends, dinner, a bit of work
  • 7:30 pm-10:30 pm: finish emails/work, read, the last dog walk before bed, maybe watch YouTube/Netflix
  • 10:30 pm-midnight: bedtime ablutions, meditation, then bed

My dream bedtime is 10:30 pm, but it rarely happens. I’m working toward that and will shift my wake-up time as needed to give me a solid 8-9 hours. Currently, I average about 6 ½ hours of sleep—not good enough for this sparrow!

I’ve set up my containers this way because I have clients on the US west coast. This requires me to work later as I am 8 hours ahead of them. As they are starting their day, I want to end mine. That’s where that rest/nap period comes in handy—but I don’t nap every day. Maybe I should?

How do you schedule your day if you are staying at or working from home in these virus times?

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