Those of us who are in the helping professions seldom end up having 40 hour, structured workweeks. Instead, we are often responsible for creating our own schedule, which always involves other people’s schedules, which can lead to long, unstructured days.
For instance, I have an office, but am only in it three to four hours a day, with the rest being nighttime meetings, breakfast meetings, coffeeshop meetings, or time spent out in the field. And I still have paperwork to do and writing to do, and all the other sorts of things people expect me to do.
If I’m not careful, I can end up having a day where I have a breakfast meeting at 7:30, get to the office at 9:00, have a lunch meeting at 1:00 PM, spend time in the field until 6:00, where I grab something in the drive thru on my way to a seminar I am supposed to teach at 7:30 PM, and finally get home at 10:00, exhausted.
And for many of us, this sort of thing happens all the time. It is really easy to have a workday that spans 12 or 14 hours, and we wonder why we are exhausted and burned out.
Or maybe we are really good at sticking to eight hour days, but we end up giving up our days off to “just catch up”.
A technique I have learned that has really helped planning my days and weeks. It goes like this:
Your day is split into three units: Morning, afternoon, and evening. You have two goals – don’t work more than two units any given day, and don’t work more than 12 units in a given week.
For the days, you shouldn’t work all three units in a given day. So, if you know you are going to have night meetings, schedule your day so you are not working that morning or afternoon. If you have a full day packed from 9-5, don’t schedule anything that evening.
For the weeks, if you know you have to work Saturday morning and have a presentation Tuesday night, you are already starting the week with two units filled. Throw in a Thursday night meeting and we are up to three, which means, if 12 is our goal, that we can’t work full days the rest of the week.
I find this much more helpful (and realistic) than counting hours. It is easy to wrap my head around, easy to plan around and imposes structure. It turns your calendar into more than a device for recording your appointments and meetings, but rather a framework for structuring your life.