Hi, my name is Greg Langstaff and I make a little over a $1,000 every month riding the subway. Am I really good at riding the subway? After all these years, I’d like to think so. But no, I’m not just getting paid for sitting here looking pretty (notice I said “here” because I’m writing this on the subway).
As many of you know, in January of 2018, I launched my resume writing and interview coaching business. And if you’ve been following closely, you’ll know that over the first little while, I had some ups and downs, including earning $820 in my second month and then $0 in my third.
After nearly a year of experimenting with various marketing and promotional tactics including organic Facebook content, word-of-mouth, paid Google and Facebook Ads, and registering with the Career Professionals of Canada, I started to experience a reliable flow of candidates that would earn me anywhere from $1,000 to $1,400 per month.
Lots of Clients… Not a lot of Time
The challenging part was, when would I write all those resumes and cover letters? I still have an 8:30am to 4:30pm job and I also live with my girlfriend, Ariana, who I like to spend time with in the evenings, so I can’t just work into the night. I also try to hit the gym 3-4 times a week and I don’t miss a Raptors game if I can help it. Also, friends. They take up time too!
It takes me anywhere from 1.5 to 4 hours to write a resume (depending on my familiarity with the industry and how useful my phone call with the client was). Cover letters take another 45 minutes or so and then an additional chunk of time for the LinkedIn makeover. I’ve been working with 5-7 clients per month so as you can tell, the time adds up.
So not wanting to give up any aspect of my life, or cut back on clients (and income), I scoured my schedule in search of a time when I could get this writing done. I tried waking up at 6:00am to start writing, but after even two days that turned me into a zombie. I tried doing work at home on the weekends, but that just made me sad. I tried working on lunch breaks at work and that had some success but it just wasn’t quite enough time.
Then… a Miracle
I tried writing during my commute. Every morning I walk 8 minutes to the subway station in downtown Toronto, sit down for 40 minutes and arrive just steps from my office. The subway is fairly empty because I’m leaving downtown when most people are coming in, so there is always a seat.
Right there, I found 1 hour and 20 minutes per day (nearly 7 hours per week) for writing. That’s more than enough to get through 1.5, even two clients a week without even touching my social life. Between that time and the odd lunch break here and there, I’ve managed to almost completely avoid letting writing interfere with my home or social life.
Building the Habit
Writing first thing in the morning or after a tough day of work wasn’t easy at first. I’m somewhat of a morning person but after work, my brain often feels like mashed potatoes.
However, I’m a big believer in habit forming. I have read The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg twice (weird brag, I know), and using the tactics in his book, I was able to completely take the willpower out of writing on the subway. There is literally no decision making process at all.
When I get on subway.
Turn off music/podcast.
When I arrive at my station:
*(oh damn, as I was writing that line, I literally arrived at my stop and had to exit the train. Now I’m continuing to write this a couple days later. Welcome to this meta/behind the scenes tangent. Okay back to what I was saying).
What Makes a Habit Stick
According to Duhigg, there are four essential elements to building a successful habit. Here are mine.
The Cue: A recurring event that triggers the desired behaviour (e.g. waking up is the cue for brushing your teeth). My cue is getting into the subway.
The Behaviour: The thing you want to do. For me, this is writing resumes or blog posts or whatever is on tap.
The Reward: This is the reason for doing what we do. For brushing your teeth, it’s a clean mouth and a nice smile. For me, it’s clearing out my to-do list and having a free schedule.
An Internal Driver: It’s the subconscious driver that motivates us to continue with the habit. The internal driver for brushing your teeth is that satisfying tingly feeling you get after you’re done. For me writing in the subway, it’s relief from the fear of people yelling at me for not delivering their documents on time (if you’ve read my “How I Paid off $12,000 of Debt in Six Months while Enjoying Guilt-Free Spending” blog, you know the fear of being yelled at has always been a great motivator for me).
Life’s good! I had a problem and I solved it! Onto the next one :)
If you know anyone who’s struggling to form a good habit or make a lasting change (or find a time to write), send them this blog. I’d really appreciate it and hopefully they will too!