Attention, working parents. You probably know the feeling of having to wake up very early in the morning to feed your little one and wanting some distraction, but not being able to find any news articles which weren’t yesterday’s news. Annie Ridout had the exact same experience and like a true Productivity Ninja, turned her own problem into a solution for many other people. Enough from us, let’s find out more about The Early Hour, work-life-balance as a working parent and many more productivity hacks from the inspiring Annie.
Occupation: Writer and Editor
Company: The Early Hour
Location: London, United Kingdom
Other job titles in life: Copywriter, Blogger, PR and Marketing, English Tutor
Can you give us an insight into your career background and what inspired you to start The Early Hour?
I started a blog when I was in my early 20s (I’m now 31) and although it was just a hobby, it started attracting a few hundred visits a day. This was just through social media – I knew nothing about SEO, didn’t do any PR and it was before sponsored posts on Facebook had been invented.
I earned a living through copywriting and journalism but after I had my daughter, Joni, and my full time contract (writing about films) ended, I decided to set up an online magazine. I wanted it to be more about other people than me, but to still be personal and accessible, as this was what attracted people to my original blog.
There was a window of time each morning when I was breastfeeding my daughter and I’d reach for my phone (I couldn’t turn on the lamp, as it would wake my husband) but all the articles were yesterday’s news. That’s where I got the idea to publish an article every morning at 5am. A few months later, I launched The Early Hour.
What’s important about your workspace?
My workspace is the kitchen table. It’s positioned under a skylight and next to bi-folding doors leading out to the garden. In the summer, those doors are open wide and I love listening to the birds singing while I work. In the winter they’re closed but I still have the advantage of masses of natural light.
I’m not sure being in the same room as all the food is great as I’m a bit of a snacker but when I get stuck in to writing or editing, I tend to lose myself for a few hours, so it’s not too much of a distraction. Most importantly: I can help myself to jug after jug of water. I drink A LOT of water.
What is your biggest productivity challenge at the moment?
Time. I don’t procrastinate, never have really, but my daughter is only in nursery two days a week so I have to cram all The Early Hour stuff into that time, as well as other freelance work (I have been writing for The Guardian, and I blog for BabyCentre). I use the evenings, early mornings and nap times too, but as most parents will agree: there is never enough time.
In your opinion, how can employers help their teams to have a better work-life-balance/ work-life-integration?
I think what Digital Mums is doing is amazing – training up women in social media then helping them find work that they can fit around childcare. If working from home will allow a parent to take and pick up their child from school, and that’s what’s important to them; let them. Equally, someone without kids might find working from home a few days a week is great for their productivity.
Everyone works differently. I’m happy working alone, and find I get more done if I’m at home. But a balance is nice: if I were working full time for someone else, I’d like three days at home, two in the office. That way, you can do your exercise class, be around more for the kids or just avoid the dreaded daily commute.
Everyone works differently so if employers talk to their staff and offer flexibility (less conventional work hours, working from home, part time work) everyone will be happier. The idea that people will achieve more if they’re in the office Monday-Friday 9-5 is outdated – technology has made mobile working totally possible.
What’s your trick for when you’re tired or struggling with attention in the day?
I’d like to say ‘going for a walk; getting some fresh air’. But the truth is: on my two working days, I barely leave the desk (kitchen table). I have a swim first thing, which wakes me up and ensures I can focus for the first couple of hours then I’m sat down for the rest of the day.
I’ll break for lunch. I’ll work a few more hours, then have a cup of tea and something sweet (not healthy sweet, unhealthy sweet: chocolate, cake, biscuits – whatever I can find). I plough on until my husband gets home then we collect Joni from nursery together.
Which five apps could you not live without?
Instagram – This is the social platform I’m now focusing on for The Early Hour. I love the supportive parenting community on there, and although I’m a writer, I love the visual side of things too.
WordPress – I check my site’s stats, make emergency edits and reply to comments when I’m out and about.
Hootsuite – I schedule all social through Hootsuite and as it won’t upload automatically to Instagram, I do this manually each morning using a prompt from the app.
Spotify – As a family, we love listening to music. My daughter’s favorite song is Roxanne by The Police so we play this very loudly after dinner each evening and dance around the kitchen. We use Spotify on my phone and play it through a Bose speaker.
WhatsApp – It’s a good way to stay connected to different groups of people. We have a family group (my parents and siblings) where we share photos of the kids and update each other. It’s a very positive group. Then one for my girlfriends. And a few secret ones (!).
What’s your best advice for reducing stress?
Exercise and meditation. I’m 27 weeks pregnant, but I usually run every morning before my husband leaves for work. It’s an incredibly positive way to start the day. Now, I walk as much as possible and swim a few times a week.
Every night before bed I meditate. I’m currently listening to hypnobirthing recordings, which are all about releasing the fear. But they can work for any aspect of your life, not just childbirth. I fall into the most amazing, deep, calm sleep afterwards.
Lastly, I try to make sure that I don’t grab my phone as soon as I wake up. Instead, I’ll list the things I’m grateful for in my life (sounds wanky, but it’s important to focus on and appreciate the good – not just bemoan the bad). And then I’ll grab my phone.
What’s the secret to your productivity?
I’m lucky that I’ve always known (at least loosely) what I want to do. From a young age, I loved writing. I studied English at university, left and wrote for local papers before studying journalism and getting into copywriting and writing for nationals and online.
So the fact that I’ve been on the same career course for so long, loving what I’m doing, makes it easy to be productive. But if I were working a job I hated, I’d find productivity by doing all the things I’ve previously mentioned: exercise, meditation, staying hydrated, being as healthy as possible.
That said, I think some of it is genetic. I’m naturally quite motivated to get things done. I work quickly (and probably make a few more mistakes). Other people are slower to get started but once they do, they are real perfectionists. So being super-productive isn’t always better, sometimes being reflective and considered can be beneficial.
Do you have any additional advice for working parents?
My only advice is to do whatever makes you happy, without feeling guilty. If that means working full time (I’m talking to the mums here, as dads don’t often seem to worry about the impact this will have on their kids) – do it. If it means part time work – do that. If it means being a full time parent, make that happen.
It’s sometimes hard to decide what option will make you happiest because there’s so much pressure from family, friends, the media, society… but if you can ignore all that and listen to your heart: do. Because if you feel fulfilled and content, your kids will be too. Happy parents = happy kid (usually).
Do you have any further questions for Annie? Comment below and we’ll pass them on.
By Hannah Urbanek