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Managing the 24 Hour Workshift

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This coming weekend, I’m taking some time off, to go on a mini-vacation with my husband. I’m both excited and nervous about it at the same time. Part of me is thrilled to be “shutting down” from my business for a few days. The other part of me is wondering if I can really do it.

I became a full-time workshifter 2 years ago, and I’ve never looked back. I adore the lifestyle – making my own hours and setting my own priorities is definitely the way I like to do things. I was never big on the workaday world. But there is a downside to my nomadic work life, and it’s one that I have to work hard to control. You see, because our office is where WE are, instead of the other way around, we workshifters often tend to forget how many hours we work. We work until the coffee shop closes, or our flight arrives, or our spouse tells us it’s time to go to bed. Our tendency is to work until the work gets done, and it’s all too easy to lose track of time until we sit, brain-dead and bleary eyed, wondering where the week went. The risk then could get more serious – if we keep going and going without enough down time, we could burn out. And trust me, burn out is not pretty.

So what’s a workshifter to do?

Great expectations.

We’ve all heard the saying “The best laid plans of mice and men.”. Well, as workshifters, often our best laid plans, (you know, the ones where we’ll take weekends off, finish work by 6pm, and travel less), wind up going out the window because we blindly check our email or voicemail at 8pm, and realize that we’ll never sleep that night if we don’t respond to that “urgent” client request right away.

One of the biggest traps we fall into as digital nomads is we forget to shut off our work at a certain time each day. We don’t set boundaries for ourselves, and before we know it, we’ve been pulling 16 hour days 6 times a week. The only way to get out of the “always-on” trap is to start to manage expectations – not only those of your clients and colleagues, but your expectations of yourself, as well.

For me, setting a time limit on the day simply doesn’t work. Sometimes, I have to be up and at it at 7am, and then on the same day, I’ll have no choice but to be at a video shoot at 8pm. What does work for me is letting a limitation on my actual tasks for the day. When I’m planning my week, I make my To-Do lists based on what I know I can reasonably accomplish in any given day, and then I stick to it. I always leave a bit of space for the unexpected (and sometimes that means postponing certain things), but by not taking on more than I can chew at once, I’m ultimately more successful. Not only that, but if I’ve set my own expectations first, it’s much easier to manage the expectations of my clients. If I’ve planned to have something done for Wednesday morning, I am able to clearly communicate this, and as a result, I’m a lot calmer and so is my client.

Manage your time, yes. But manage your expectations of yourself too. Set your schedule in manageable chunks. I guarantee you’ll look back on your week having accomplished a lot more.

Photo Credit: cathyse97

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  • http://thoughtlead.com Steve Haase

    Thanks for the time management and productivity tips, Susan–very helpful for those of us on our own clock. Especially important is the part about managing expectations for ourselves and for our clients. I’m finding expectation management to be a bigger part of good service than I had thought.

  • http://threethirtypm.com/ Jim Gray

    Susan, have you been reading my mind, again? I took 4 days off last weekend and it was hard to not update, think about work, etc. Next time, i’m looking at 2 decompression days prior to the actual vaca…here’s a post i wrote this week about this very subject http://www.jimgrayonline.com/ideas/fueling-your-fires/

  • http://gihanperera.com/ Gihan Perera

    It was easier in the old 9-to-5 days, when you closed the office door and no longer had access to files, team members, the secretarial pool, whatever. In those days, boundaries were enforced by the work environment. Now, we need to set our own boundaries. In some respects, it doesn’t matter what those boundaries are; as long as we choose them ourselves.

    For me, one part of my weekly routine is to create a mind map of important goals for the week (It’s on my phone, so easily accessible). That doesn’t mean I won’t do *anything* else outside those goals, of course. But I won’t do it if it can reasonably be deferred to next week.