A desk-bound day in the life of a Tokyo-based writer

I’ve been thinking about work styles the last few months, wondering what changes I could make to the way I’ve been scheduling my time, finding out what works (and doesn’t) for others.

For some background, I work at home and when my son was a baby and then toddler, scheduling was simple. As much as possible almost all work, except for important business trips, was planned around his schedule. Once he started school, my core work time switched to a more consistent 8 am to 4 pm, with anything else generally getting done when he was in bed, if needed. Weekends were always work-free. Now he’s 10, things are different. He spends a lot of the weekends doing his own things (mostly with his football team) and after school he is quite independent.

The result is that I now have much more flexibility in how I can schedule my work time than I have for years. For example, it’s much easier to travel for work when kids get older, as there is less burden on the partner at home (and in my wife’s case, also working full time). I’m now wondering what working times would be best for me when not on the road. Now’s a good opportunity for some self-analysis and potentially changes.

So, as one exercise, I wanted to work out what time-wise is a “normal” office day for me now. From there, tweaks can be made. And so, here it is: a desk-bound day in the life.

5:30 am: I wake to a warm, wet tongue licking a hand. Some morning’s it’s my beard or forehead. Or both. Whatever takes the dog’s fancy on any given morning. We have a cuddle before I fall asleep again. By the time I come around and make it to the kitchen to put the kettle on, my wife has walked the dog. My son is already up, if having moved from his bed to the sofa and covering himself with a blanket counts as “up”.

6:30 am: Email check. I know, many productivity guides say not to check your email first thing, but I feel I focus better on writing once I’ve got the small things out of the way. Maybe this is something I could change though? Anyway, today, the email check means replying to a few mails that need a reply and deleting the rest. I give the junk folder a scan, too. In 2016, I kept a list out of curiosity and roughly 750,000 yen of good assignments were initially sorted into my junk folder.

7 am to 8:15 am: The computer is on and I tend to tinker with things, but I don’t get any real work done, unless I need to get a big start on the day or have a morning deadline. For the latter, that would generally mean giving a final review to something before submitting it. Today, I chat with my wife and son. Drink tea. A few mornings Monday to Friday I go for a run. I check what I want to achieve during the day, too.

8:15 am: Wife and son head out for the day. There’s nobody at home now but me and the dog. I load the dishwasher, hang out some washing, put away the blankets and clothes my son has left strewn around the LDK, make a pot of tea, give the dog a snack and a play, and then, when the hound lurks off to spend the morning on the bed, work starts.

8:30 to 10 am: This first blast is generally productive. The day I started writing this post, the main morning goal was to finish off a feature about Nara for an inflight magazine and then put it aside for a few days, before reviewing and sending. It doesn’t take much work; mostly filling in some nuts and bolts info and fixing the tempo in parts that felt flat. Like usual, I do it listening to the radio. This morning, it’s a BBC Sport podcast.

10 am: The Nara piece is done, so I pop to the supermarket across the road to do the groceries. I like a brief mid-morning break, and doing the shopping is a very common one. At other points during the day, breaks tend to involve making tea, standing on the balcony and watching Eitai-dori or giving the dog a cuddle.

10:30 am to 1 pm: Several hours of decent, quiet work in my office with an early lunch at my desk (I know, I know). This tends to be one of my most productive times, although I find later at night equally good on the occasions I do that. Today, there wasn’t much creativity going on. I had to keep reviewing the galleys of a book and add captions (10,000 words of them in all; obviously not all today!). I wrote (and submitted) two books back to back, but the layouts for both have come back at the same time. That’s not ideal, but it happens. There’s no point in grumbling – the sooner they’re done, the sooner they’re off to press, and the sooner I can get on with other projects. 

1 to 2 pm: Naptime. I’ve always been a napper. Always will. It’s like a reward for a productive morning and it sets me up for a good afternoon. Drool time is happy time.

2 to 4 pm: More captions, more reviewing. Some of the images are in the wrong sections, some of the design will need tweaking, and there are several other minor, but sloppy design points that start to irritate me. They shouldn’t, but today I let them. Still, decent enough progress.

4 pm: Meet son at the station after he gets back from school, which means work is pretty much done for now. He scored a “worldy” playing football at lunchtime, but that’s all I find out about his day. 15 minutes of homework takes him 45, while I spend the same time at my computer essentially doing sod all but watch YouTube. I tell him he needs to focus more and not waste time. Pot. Kettle. Black. When he’s done, we have a quick PS4 session together. 

5 pm: I start cooking, popping back to my desk now and again to write down a to-do list for tomorrow and check some email. By 6:30 everyone is home. The computer is off. We eat. I take the dog out for his evening stroll. He pees every five meters even when the tank is obviously empty. I gripe to him about sloppy design as we walk (I should stop that; he’s not listening, anyway). Then we get a couple of hours all together at home.

9:30 to 11 pm: Son is in bed. I’d rather have a drink and read a book, or vegetate with YouTube, but I also want these two projects finished and finished well. So, I nail more captions and then let myself look at the light at the end of the tunnel by planning out my schedule for once these two books are done. It looks busy, but fun. Just a few more days of reviews and captions and then I can launch into an eight-story project with a new client that looks at topics such as zazen and traditional crafts. After that, there’s a book contract to hammer out with a new publisher and a few more travel pieces for current clients. A small project on Kyoto for another firm, too. And there’s another book to start shortly after that, which is great – the writing part is the best part of a book.