Discover more from Flygohr’s
Working, eating and sleeping in a small room for six years
Or what I learned surviving burnout in the same confined spaces for prolonged periods of time
☕ This is an article from the Flygohr’s Ramblings. Here I help creative people with productivity, growth, and inspiration. Tips, guides, links, and articles come every few days.
👋🏻 If you’re a new reader, thanks for stopping by! You can take a peek at the about page to know more about this publication.
📬 To get future articles delivered to your inbox, enter your email below:
Buckle up. This became a post way longer than I initially envisioned, and a lot more autobiographical, too. If you can’t see the whole article because your email is clipping it just open op my page and read the full article in the browser. I'm also leaving lots of useful links at the end of the post, make sure to check them out if you want to dive deeper into the issues discussed in here. This post has a lot of bo-hoo at the beginning, but it gets better and there’s a lot of yee-haw at the end.
Me IRL 👤
Heyo, I’m Gabriele - in art Flygohr - and I always wanted to make a living off my creativity. I’ve been drawing since I was able to hold a pencil and I started getting paid for my services at 15. It wasn’t much, but I already had my website and I was a lot into character design.
If you knew me IRL you'd know I'm an introvert and I tend to keep to myself. I don't go out much, and if I take part in any social activity - even hanging out with a close friend for a few drinks - I then need a couple of days to 'recover'. Sometimes weeks.
It's not that I don't like my friends, it's the environments 'normal people' meet in that usually stresses the shit out of me. All the city noises, the people chatting in the background, the smells, and all the stimuli get to me making it really difficult to concentrate, think, and talk fluidly. That's my OCD right there, I think.
My very own room 🏠
Now, with that still in your mental picture of me, imagine that I also just got into my first rental apartment, with a few friends. I’ve been couch surfing for years now, I even used to sleep in the street, so this is a big leap for me. Common areas of the house soon get too noisy for me, I need to be alone with a closed door to function at my best. So essentially, there's really just a room for me, and that's 5 meters by 4. In that room, I sleep, consume most of my meals, read, play video games and have sex. But I'm just starting out as a freelance illustrator, my hourly pay is ridiculously low, and I need to pay my share of bills and rent. So I spend most of my time in that room working.
Months go by. Initially, I don't notice it. I work 12 to 16 hours a day in front of the computer. I spend some nights at my gf's from that time. I see some friends for a drink or two, but that happens once a month or even less than that. Some months I make so little money that I need to live off pre-packaged noodles and plain pasta for days and still need to ask my flatmates for some advance on the rent or bills. So I put in more hours, say no to more friends, and crunch myself into more work. Sleep, eat, work, eat, work, eat, work, repeat.
Eventually, as you can imagine, it hit me. Fucking burnout. Something that forever damaged me, my ability to focus, and the workload I'm able to take on at any given time. I will never get back to my levels of creativity and productivity from my before-burning-out. Or at least it still seems like it, after almost five full years of self-care and proactive self-improvement.
So listen to someone that's been through it: take care of yourself before it's too late. See it as an investment, it will pay off over time.
My ears started ringing. I always have had some light tinnitus, but now it was covering voices, and sounds, I could hear that ring even in the middle of a crowd. I started putting on weight, something that I never managed to do - in fact, I've been underweight for the most part of my life. I started having trouble sleeping, I started missing deadlines, stopped replying to texts from my friends. I shut myself in, even more than before.
I grew up very poor. Even tho I was making more money in comparison to the beginning of my career, enough to get by at least, I couldn't reduce my workload. I was worried that I would've lost pace, I would've fallen behind. I wouldn't take any day off, I needed to work or it would've been the street again for me.
Inciting accident ⚡
I won't go into the details here, mostly because I would need too many trigger warnings and I don't want to scare you away. But things only got worse, until I had some sort of 'inciting accident'. It was pretty dark, and it was a signal that my mind had hit rock bottom. Zero socialization, a relationship that was getting cold, too many work responsibilities, bills to pay, drawings, administrative work, social media management, and taxes. OCD started hitting me hard around here. I was feeling alone, burned out, and crushed.
On top of that, add some flatmates drama. I changed apartment to go live with an old friend of mine, but the house was actually really wasted. I still have nightmares about its flooring, windows, dirty and old appliances. Think the house where Tyler and Jack go live in Fight Club, but waay smaller and cramped. We quickly informed the landlord that we wanted out, and barely made it to a new apartment. So that's two full moves in less than a year and a half for me, too.
I needed to stop. Luckily, something that I kept doing since I started getting my shit together in my late teens (a story for another time) was consuming productivity tips, self-improvement books, and motivational videos. I knew a lot about how to get back on my feet, I was just very bad at putting it into practice. That needed to change.
So, here's what I did to recover - a process that's still ongoing today.
Key takeaways 🎯
I started meditating and working out. Boring, I know, but it worked wonders
I divided my room into fixed compartments and designated one for work only
I implement boot-up and shut down routines to clearly separate my work time from personal life
I tried to schedule me-time for proper rest, even if it was just for gaming, for a walk or to grab a drink at the corner pub I would still put it in my calendar
Certain advice is popular for a reason 📈
I always dismissed meditation as if it was some New Age mumbo jumbo shit straight out of The Secret. I was so wrong. The change came when some science channel I was subscribed to - can’t remember which one - started listing the countless benefits of meditation in a scientific way. Did you know it prevents your telomeres from shortening? It means it can make your life longer. And that’s insane.
I started doing it for 15 minutes a day, and I kept going ever since. Life changer. If I could give just one piece of advice to people that are struggling with stress, burnout, life, whatever, it would be to start a practice of meditation. I’d say this on my death bed, believe me.
I already knew the benefits of physical exercise. I used to walk a lot, but truly a lot, before I had to start paying rent and FOMOing over my work hours. It was really difficult to get out of the house for hours of walks tho, so I discovered HIITs. With just 20 minutes a day, I started feeling a spike in my energy levels and I started sleeping better.
I went physical with my boundaries 🙅🏻♂️
I couldn’t afford a secondary workspace. I couldn’t afford to commute to a library or café every day to work there - and it would’ve probably worsened my conditions, too. Even if I had liked to have my flatmates around me all the time, I couldn’t occupy all the common space in the house with my work stuff all the time. I just had my room, and that had to suffice. Even before the popular “Spaceship You” video from CGP Grey I had started dividing my room into sections.
I had the work section, where I would do work only. I wouldn’t work anywhere else in the house. I wouldn't check emails on the couch, in bed, or in the bathroom. If there was work to do, there was my workstation only.
I didn’t have a console and I did my gaming on my PC, the same device I used to work. That’s a big no-no, but I couldn’t do otherwise - I didn’t have space for a console nor the money. So I used the second monitor to set up a secondary ‘station’ on my desk I would move my chair to when I wanted to game. Again, I wouldn’t do work there, just gaming.
I had my workout area, where I always had the mat laid down ready for me to exercise on.
I had a cushion on the floor for my meditation area. You can guess what I was doing there.
My bed was my rest area, as I didn’t have any other space left in the room. I would also read there.
Later on in 2021, when I could afford to rent an apartment all by myself, I could expand my system to actual rooms instead of just corners. Now I have a studio room for work, a bedroom for rest, a kitchen for eating, and a small balcony I use to reset and read.
Bottom line is that having clearly defined areas for life and work helped me detach my mind during my off hours and properly recover, even if I was still in the same location. It helped a lot in combating work thoughts, anxiety, and FOMO.
“Shutdown complete” 🤖
I tricked myself into having a set of modes, like a computer. A computer can’t go wrong if properly programmed. You might think that’s insane or creepy, but that works for me 🤷🏻♂️
I created a boot-up routine to clearly mark the start of my workday. I don’t have a boss, timetables, or fixed hours. You might think it’s a blessing, but as any solopreneur will tell you, work-life balance becomes a mess real quick. The routine includes getting some healthy breakfast and some exercise in as well as reading and meditating. I have to get those out of my system in the morning, or they will never get done later during the day. I also formulate a plan for the day, check my calendar, my to-do’s, everything. So, with this routine in place, I would discard any work thought prior to executing it, as I knew I had all the steps in place to catch up and get ready to work later on.
The idea for a shut-down routine came years later and I will forever chastise myself for not thinking of it earlier. I always had trouble when it came to stopping working and enjoying the rest of my day, evening, and night, worry-free. As with the boot-up one, this one marks the end of the workday and allows me to enter life mode. In this routine, I take care of grabbing my outstanding notes, to-do’s, and links and reviewing my material as so to make sure I’m not letting anything slip through the cracks.
And by that, I mean my mental cracks as well. I can’t allow work-related anxieties to haunt me after my day is over, so it’s better for me if I catch them all here and I put them to rest in a trusted system. I also take care of resetting my workspace, so I can get a fresh and tidy start to the next workday. Clutter can really hurt your productivity, and you don’t notice until you start putting away all those boxes and cables and plastic bags of long spoiled snacks. Finally, as silly as this may sound, I say out loud the words “shutdown complete!”. I’m not crazy, check the links at the end of the post for additional information on this strange bit.
I also take care of disabling any notifications that could be related to work and reward myself with some candy, chocolate, or a dumb YT video. So with this in place, if any work-related thought pops up during the evening (and they usually do) I can just tell myself that I went through all my steps and everything is ready for the next day. I can relax. It takes some practice but it really works.
Scheduling me-time 📆
Even if I wanted to spend an hour or two on video games, I usually ended up doing just 10 minutes and then FOMOing again into a work downward spiral. One last thing that made a big difference for me was starting to put such “useless” events in my calendar. Until then I used the calendars for work stuff only and it never crossed my mind I could also use it to plan for me-time.
By putting gaming, walks, reading, self-care, time with friends, etc. into my calendar I was keeping myself accountable. I was also being conscious and intentional about my time, and that reduced stress too.
In 2021 I managed to earn enough to afford the full apartment rent. No more flatmates. Things have gotten significantly better for me now that I have multiple rooms to myself. I can finally afford some travel and weekends off. The habits and routines that I picked up in the past two years are stacking up and delivering results, too. Overall, I'm grateful for my past hardships, because they allowed me to get more from myself. Even though I'm still suffering from the consequences of my burnout, working through it made me stronger and more resilient. Hopefully, you can make something out of this read.
May burnout never reach you.
Inspiring links 💡
Spaceship You is an inspiring video from CGP Grey on how to survive the lockdowns, but this contains loads of good advice for people like me
The original article about the work shutdown ritual from Cal Newport. I found it a bit watered down, so here’s a Google search with lots of interesting articles in it to expand on the topic
Weekend Wednesday is another interesting CGP Grey video on how to switch up your work schedule if you don’t really have any timetable to follow for yourself
How to get out of a rut in 13 minutes helped me the most during my dark times. Additionally, here’s a video by Thomas Frank on the same topic, one and another one from Better Ideas, and one from Better Than Yesterday.
Tinygain is the app I used to set up my routines. I’ve since switched to my own custom app, but this one is solid. On top of that, I will always recommend Habitica or Loop Habit Tracker for tracking daily self-care actions.
Stoicism picked me up with a spoon and gracefully put me on a path of self-actualization. No more bo-hoo from me.
The best motivational video I ever watched. Still sitting on my desktop to this day.
If you enjoyed this article, I'd really appreciate it if you could forward it to a friend, or colleague who you think might like it too. If they are a creative type, they’ll surely find value in what I have to offer.
You can also help me by sharing this on your social networks. That’s always a big boost for me!
All the best,