A Day in the Life of a Part-time Writer (and a Full-time Data Scientist)
No, you don’t have to quit your job to do what you love.
I’m a private person. I’m a writer. People like me do exist.
Despite being a writer, I’ve kept my personal life aside. I write about data science, work-life, side-hustles, and my personal development journey. Basically, the intersection of something that I have personal experiences with and what I believe will add value to you, the reader.
One of the most asked questions to me is: “how did you manage to do all of this while working full-time?”
The more I think about it, the more I realize there’s no secret to it. It’s just that I absolutely love what I do. Over time, I have picked up a few things that worked for me and stuck with me as my routine. It’s wonderful to enjoy the stability of your full-time job as you experiment with life.
Here’s a sneak-peak into my typical day in my life now.
7.30 am: The Creator’s Winning Routine
I start my day with a walk in the neighborhood, listening to a podcast or book summaries. On days I don’t feel like walking, I’d cycle on the Orbitrack workout machine I bought as we went into lockdown.
The morning movements not only help me lead a healthier lifestyle but also enhances my creativity. I don’t know how to explain this, but my most awesome ideas have struck me when I’m walking or cycling in the mornings.
Morning sweat calls for a shower. After a quick bath, I grab my breakfast and sit down at my desk. Here comes my secret: I pull up a paper and write down 10 article ideas while having breakfast.
Feel free to steal this because I stole it from James Altucher and Ayodeji Awosika. I tried this technique because both these blogging experts incorporated it into their daily routine and saw success.
Initially, I couldn’t come up with 10 ideas. Even if I do, it’ll be garbage. If I hadn’t read what benefits those blogging legends had — I’d have quit. But luckily, I continued.
After few weeks of listening to podcasts, book summaries, and writing down ideas — I did find some solid ideas. Now I seem to have more ideas than I’d ever had time to write about.
Finally, I edit my articles just before starting my work. These would be drafts that I had written the previous night. I tried coming up with first drafts in the mornings, but it doesn’t seem to work for me (more on this later.)
My biggest takeaway for you:
As a creator, the most important skill you need to hone is your creativity. Do everything possible to enhance your creativity in the morning itself.
Derive inspiration from other people’s content. It could be from some of your favorite podcasts, books, articles, videos, designs, photographs, and more.
Coming up with ideas is a proven way to hone your creativity. If you’re a YouTuber, you can come up with video ideas. For podcast creators, list of people you’d like to interview and questions you’d ask them. There’s always a way forward.
9 am: Kickstart a Data Scientist’s Workday
I don’t intend to make you jealous, but I love my job. I wanted to be in data science and artificial intelligence despite knowing it is competitive and evolving.
The best part of being a Data Scientist is that every workday is unique. Not all days are exciting, but challenging nevertheless. When you’re excited about work, you often overwork and spend almost all your day at work.
No matter how exciting the work is, there are more important things in life. In the past, I’ve spent too much time at work only to realize that family, friends, loved ones, and ambitions in personal life are significant in everyone’s life.
So, as a rule of thumb, I try to keep my work limited to the typical 9–5 pm. To achieve this here is some stuff that worked well for me.
Fighting for my time to deep work
Deep work is the foundation where all my pillars stand upon. In his book ‘ Deep Work,’ I was introduced to Cal Newport’s technique, where he talks about focusing in a distracted world.
Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It’s a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time. — Cal Newport
I block 3 hours from 9 AM to 12 noon every day to deep work. This allows me to tick off the most important and urgent tasks for the day. My colleagues are aware of this and rarely ever schedules meetings within this time block.
The idea is to actively focus on one thing at a scheduled time while removing all distractions for that particular time block. To practice this over and over again for a prolonged period that it becomes a norm. The best thing about this strategy is that you get done a lot more work in a shorter time period.
Putting together my personal tasks management system
My personal task management system is a 120 pages book where I scribble down everything.
I write down the tasks based on importance and urgency for the week and tick them down through the week. I take notes while in meetings. I write down as I think during my deep work sessions.
David Allen puts this so well:
“Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.”
Picking my shut-down routine and executing it every single time
Even if everything goes according to plan, sometimes work doesn’t seem to end. What do you do then?
You set boundaries between work and everything else.
I have had a deep working session. I probably have crossed out the most urgent and important tasks for the day. The rest can wait till tomorrow. I execute my shut-down routine.
My shutdown routine is simple: Jot down anything for my tomorrow on my book, pin the tabs I’d need, log out of Microsoft Teams, shut down my work laptop, and finally walk to the fridge.
Sipping my favorite fruit juice is my reward for a challenging day at work.
No, You Don’t Have to Quit (Or Cheat on) Your Job
We hear about people enjoying freedom after quitting their 9–5 to go on their own creative adventure. Good for them, but we don’t see the whole picture. Due to the nature of survivor bias, we never hear from those who failed.
And then we hear from people who encourage to cheat on their full-time job in favor of their creative side-hustles. If I’m getting a stable payment from my employer for my work — I’m supposed to work for it.
I should see ways to add more value and ask for a bigger share. If the workplace is toxic, I should see to switch for a better workplace. Where did cheating even come into the picture?
I try to be productive at work — so I don’t even need to cheat. I have more than enough time to take care of my creative side-hustle (more on this in a bit).
Have you ever noticed that in the end, what people care about is the results you produce and not the time you put in to obtain them?
You’re a creator. You can have a stable full-time job. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
6 pm: For The People Who Matter The Most
When I’m done with work, I try spending time with my loved ones as everyone is generally done with their work, studies, and other commitments.
There is no fixed plan for these hours. We’d have dinner together as a family. Sometimes we’d play Ludo, carrom or just chit chat at home.
Sometimes I’d call and talk to one of my university friends who’s in another country. Sometimes I’d catch up with my ex-colleagues.
You get the idea — if I get everything else right and don’t spend enough time with my loved ones, is it really worth it?
9 pm: Write, Read and Repeat
I’m sorry I took so long to actually tell you about the part of the day where I create. But I do it in the night — and I thought I’m supposed to follow the day’s natural flow?
No matter what happens, you’d see me at my desk writing when the clock strikes 9. As William Faulkner famously put it:
“I only write when inspiration strikes. Fortunately, it strikes at nine every morning.”
I’ve tried writing in the morning; it doesn’t seem to work for me. So I settled with nights. When you write doesn’t really matter. What matters is that you have dialed in a daily schedule where you sit down to write irrelevant of your motivation levels.
I get inspiration to visit me every day
It’s hard to write when you’re not inspired to write. I have tried but failed multiple times. Here’s what I do to get me inspired into the flow: Consume inspiring content from various platforms.
- I go on to TED Talks and watch a relevant talk. I mostly keep it to one or two. Most TED Talks are inspirational; experts deliver them with personal experiences. For starters, watch Adam Grant talk about the habits of original thinkers.
- I read relevant articles on Medium. I read from my favorite writers, friends, and stories that catch my attention in my own niche. This helps me understand the trends on what works and what doesn’t.
- I use Blinkist to hear audio summaries of books that were recommended to me by someone. My “Books I want to read” list is too huge, and I suspect I’d never finish it off.
More often than not, I get into the flow when I consume content mindfully.
I do this before I write a single word down
I have seen Zulie go live on Twitch and start writing just like that. I’ve come to terms that everyone has their own writing style, and for mine — I need to organize what I’m about to write before I write. Here’s what I do about it:
- I pick a title from my pool of ideas. Remember the creator’s winning routine? Yes. I’ve already done the work. So now — I’m just going to pick one and go ahead with it.
- I create a mind-map of the article. I write down the main points I want to convey in the article and then sub-points under each. Pointers on how I’d like my introduction and conclusion to be. Basically, it serves as the skeleton of the article.
- I research for the article. Unless you’re Elon Musk or Andrew Ng, you’d need supporting facts and research for the points you make. This involves reading more on multiple tabs, collecting statistics, and finding relevant quotes for the article.
And then, I have to write
Honestly, there’s no substitute for writing. By now, I have picked an idea, title, mind-mapped the entire article, researched for supporting facts and quotes. Everything I’ve done earlier was only to make this part easier: to write the first draft. Once the time comes, I just write.
I won’t lie; there are days I still can’t seem to write anything. I don’t have a solution to this. I try and accept that it’s not my day and do my thing again the next day.
I don’t write and edit at the same time. It’s a blunder. Writing and editing require a different mindset, and doing them both will affect the quality of the final piece.
A great writer reads a lot too
Yes, I do listen to book summaries, but there’s no substitute for actual reading. I am fascinated with the idea of borrowing someone’s brain, and books help you do exactly that. How cool is that?
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” — Stephen King
Normally I grab my physical book and read for about half an hour before I feel sleepy. I’m a slow reader; on average, I read only one or two books for a month. I’m considering buying a Kindle, so if you’ve used it, let me know about your experiences too.
12 Midnight: A Good Night’s Sleep
My sister is obsessed with sleeping well, and that got to me too. I’ve done all sorts of sleep hacking and experiments with sleep. As scientific it sounds, it works.
I try to sleep consistently around 12 midnight and wake up around 7 am. This is what has worked for me, and I still haven’t found the need to wake up at 5 am.
If I can fall asleep instantly and wake up without any alarms, feeling fresh and energetic, what more do I want?
Final, Personal Thoughts
This isn’t one of my typical articles. Normally, I’d write something that adds value to the readers within my niches, submit it to a publication, and move on. I’ve avoided writing about me on a personal level at all costs.
Today is different. It’s 12.23 at midnight, and I’m still contemplating if I should publish this. Am I too honest? Why does this feel too revealing? Will people judge me for my routines? What would my employer think if he reads this?
As self-doubt crept in, I shared the draft with a friend and asked for feedback. He said he couldn’t speak for my readers, but he found my typical day valuable and would try incorporating some of it into his day too.
If you’re reading this — somehow, I decided to publish.
That brings to my last point as a creator; self-doubt would creep in every once in a while. Don’t hesitate to reach out — we all know how hard it is to be consistent as a creator. Contrary to popular belief, many are willing to help us.
Being a writer has added a lot of color to my daily life — I hope it’s the case with every one of you too.
For more helpful insights on breaking into data science, honest experiences, and learnings, consider joining my private list of email friends.