Adding Real Life to Your Work Schedule

http://www.freelancewritinggigs.com/2008/12/adding-real-life-to-your-work-schedule/

How well do you schedule real life into your workflow? If you’re like me, you may not be the best at it.

I start every day planning what I’m going to do, when I’m going to do it and how much time I’ll spend. Invariably, each day goes to hell in a handbasket about an hour after I get into my schedule.

A phone call interrupts my work. More emails than I expect come in. There’s a hitch in a project that I have to handle. Twitter distracts me. My toddler needs some juice. The cat jumps on my lap.

They’re small things, but they add up in a day, and even more so in a week. The result? I get behind in my work. It’s a case of making up for lost time in the spare time I have or figuring out which projects can be delayed a little bit.

A thousand blogs out there will tell you how to cure this problem. Put up signs on your door. Don’t answer your phone. Shut down Twitter and answer your emails at specific times.

My question is, does doing all that really work?

The best advice I’ve ever been given is to plan for life getting in the way. Chunk two hours into your daily schedule and mark it down as “real life happening”. Reserve some time for distractions and interruptions that could happen.

When they do? You’re prepared. You have the time to deal with them. You can set down your project with a clear mind, knowing that you can take care of what’s cropped up with peace of mind. You won’t fall behind at all.

And if they don’t happen? Then you’ve “found” yourself two extra hours in a day that you didn’t have before. You can get ahead on your projects, or work on a personal one, or go out and market your services, or spend time improving your business.

How about you? Do you find yourself racing against the clock? Have you ever bitten off more than you can chew? What did you do to correct the situation?

Comments

  1. I try to schedule phone calls, because if I don’t everyone calls at once.

    I like the idea about “stuff happens” in the schedule. I’ve read a handful of time management books and several articles on the subject, but this is the first time I saw such an idea. I think it’s a great one.

    I also schedule family “musts,” like picking up kids from school. The problem is when others in family drop the ball on filling in such items or when kids get sick at school (wife can’t receive phone messages) and I need to pick them up, whole schedule goes to heck

  2. @ Phil – The crazy thing is, I didn’t see this either until a couple of months ago. I was splattering out my day to a friend of mine, discouraged that I didn’t get as much done that week because “stuff” kept happening.

    He said, “Schedule it in.”

    “What?”

    “Stuff. You know it’s going to happen… schedule it in.”

    My light bulb went on.

  3. Well put James!

    I found a majority of the recommendations to ‘stop answering the phones’ or ‘putting a sign on the door’ really don’t work very well. Having a son and cat of my own, I fully understand those unexpected life happenings and have put in the extra hours as a result.

    ‘Life’ was precisely the reason I turned to working at home. It doesn’t make sense to shut it out in order to complete my work. Your idea definitely cuts a lot of that out. The only downside I’ve notice with that technique is that life often forgets that you only have so many hours to give before it starts cutting too deep into your schedule.

    I find that a balance between the two mindsets works best. I work as productively as possible while I can and leave an extra two hours for the day’s surprises. When interruptions do show up, I try to limit those to times during the day when I know I am less productive for whatever reason.

    I still find I over book myself when clients end up with an unexpected emergency project. I frequently lose a good portion of my day to an emergency of one kind or another.

    Will I ever cure this? Doubtful, but in the meantime, I’ll enjoy trying new things in an effort to figure it all out. (Then I’ll be rich from selling the secret and have a whole new set of headaches ;)

    On the bright side of things, I find I am far more productive when the schedule gets tight. Do you?

  4. @ Angie – I work best under high pressure. Go, go, go always gets the most out of me. Not enough to do? I can’t get anything done, lol.

    For those “emergency” projects that clients bring, I have two words that work really well: “I’m booked.”
    ;)

  5. James,

    Re: You’re last comment. As the saying goes, if you need something done, give it to a busy person.

    This is true for younger people, too. When I was in high school (back in the days of manual typewriters), I was a poor student until I started working full time. I pulled honors the next two years. My youngest daughter is going through a similar experience, after struggling with grade school, she’s at near-honors status in high school, because she has the extra work of the drama club.

    When you’re busy, you’re forced to use time wisely, when you’re not busy, you’ll (meaning you all, and me) let things take longer than they really need to.

  6. @ Phil – You know what happens to me? When I have too much time, I spend it on stupid things that really make no difference. For some reason, my focus shifts off what I “should” do onto unimportant tasks.

  7. @James – YOUR focus shifts? I don’t believe it.

  8. I’m a freelancer writer/desktop publisher who has been fighting that uphill battle of finding time to work vs. family responsibilities (3 kids).

    I’m glad I found this site and thanks for sharing the advice. I’m going to revise my schedule.

  9. I really appreciate this post because it is my biggest challenge as a self-employed writer.

    My only criticism of the “scheduling for real life” approach is that it’s turned me into a Type A crazy person. For example, I now include “Shower” and “Load Dishwasher” and “Take Dog to Vet” in my list of things needed to do each day. It helps because it allows me to carve time out for these mundanities – but it has also resulted in me itemizing nearly every second of my day and constructing my life solely around “productive” tasks. When I’m not being “productive” – aka, crossing things off my list – I’m at a loss. It leaves me feeling uncomfortable; hobbyless; boring; and like a workaholic.

    It also unhealthily blurs the line between which tasks constitute work and which ones constitute life. Consequently, I just always feel like I’m working in some form or fashion. I have tried making Work Lists and “Other Chores” Lists to separate the two, but this just leaves me with so many lists that I again feel like a crazy person.

    Now, I know ppl have suggested to “schedule time for nothing” – but that hasn’t worked exactly for me either. It still turns what should be personal, exploratory, creative time into a commodity of sorts, and leaves me feeling like I should be “making the most” of my 1 or 2 hrs of personal time.

    I don’t know right now there are any solutions for me other than simply taking on less work and learning to overcome some of my Type A-ness, but I did really appreciate this post as it speaks to the main challenge in my work-from-home life.

  10. Hey, Lauri – I’m going to gently suggest that this may be an issue worth looking into more with a therapist. You’re not crazy, I’m sure, but you may have created a pattern of behavior that becomes difficult to break out of and that heightens daily stress and anxiety.

    I know that in the past six months, I’ve lost the ability to sit quietly to read, and I’ll call it what it is: a stress-related problem that I need to fix.

    I wouldn’t want to fool myself by using a convenient label for it. The problem was caused by me, and it’s just a bad pattern of behavior I’ve created that I need to face and fix for my health’s sake and my stress level’s benefit.

    I know there are many, many people who are having the same issues as you and I, too, unfortunately, so we’re not alone.

  11. I really appreciate your suggestion James, and it’s something I’ve been increasingly considering for a while. Good luck to you and I’ll let you know what I learn! :-)

  12. Honestly? Come back and share it. I’d be *very* interested to learn how to break the pattern, and I also know a lot of ‘net users that would be thankful too.

  13. I definately know what you mean. I do a lot of work through oDesk.com and have found that if I’m not careful, I can get in over my head with work. I guess I shouldn’t complain, but I have to remind myself not to bite off more than I can chew.

  14. That is exactly what I do. I schedule “real-life happenings” as well. I do end up listing everyday tasks such as baths, meals and reading books, but I don’t think I’m that obsessive over my to-do-list.Yet.

  15. I had this problem, but I solved it. Please keep in mind that my family is um, very eccentric, to say the least. It’d take me at least 1000 words to cover every way we differ from a typical American family.

    I work anywhere from 20 to 60 hours a week. I am not interrupted. I have a four-year-old daughter, but as of three months ago, my husband is a stay-at-home dad. He dropped out of college to do this, and for us, that was an excellent decision (long story).

    I don’t take phone calls, ever. The only reason I have a phone line is that it’s included with my DSL service. My family, friends, and long-term clients have no problem with this. New clients can use email or find someone else. On the other hand, I answer my email faithfully within five minutes when I’m home, and this has yet to present a problem.

    I may come across as a primadonna here (I’m not, I swear!) but everyone at home understands that I am not to be interrupted while working, unless the house is on fire or someone needs to go to the hospital.

    Admittedly, I do get frequent email while working, and this can throw me off very briefly, but not for long.

    For all those people who somehow manage to work while watching their kids… I commend you. I am incapable of doing so.

    One thing that did make all the difference for me is using a stopwatch. I start work at a certain time (generally 2 hours after waking) and I end work when I have spend 8 full hours working. Soon after I began freelancing full-time, this often wound up being 10 or 12 hours after I started. No more! Now, it’s usually exactly 8 hours after I start.

    Work-related email responses count towards the 8 hours; if I have personal email, I don’t even read it until I’ve “clocked out” for the night. It does take a lot of self-discipline to avoid getting distracted (mostly on the part of my husband and daughter!) but everyone is happier if Mommy quits working 8 hours after she started.

    Obviously, this wouldn’t work for everyone, and probably for very few people, but it does work for us. I think the original post covered one good way of dealing with it, but I also think that finding a solution that works for you (and your family, if applicable) is most important.

    Please excuse my rambling — it’s “at-home happy hour” over here. Little one is in bed, and I’m enjoying a lovely Pinot Noir.

    –K

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