Many people ask me how I juggled a full-time job with a private career coaching practice and still managed to get a book published. I'd be remiss if I said it was easy but I did learn some excellent strategies that are applicable to anyone struggling to get time on their side.
In some professions, there is a direct connection with how many hours you work and how much money you get paid. Freelancers and consultants know this reality all too well and strive to make the most of every waking hour to earn their living. Attorneys in law firms divide their hours by six minute increments billing clients for every moment they work on their case. But since there are still only 24 hours in each day, and sleep is essential for a healthy and productive life, not to mention the time to live and enjoy your non-work hours, here are some strategies to help you spend your time more wisely.
Set a Schedule. Organization can bring you comfort because it simplifies tasks into achievable action steps. With a clear process in place you know what you need to do and when you can accomplish these jobs by setting realistic goals. Don't set out to over achieve since by not meeting lofty goals you sabotage and undermine your self confidence. A consistent and practical schedule will allow you to move forward incrementally towards your long term goals.
Hire others to do what you can't. While hiring an assistant or outside professional to accomplish administrative tasks may seem like a frivolous expense - in the long run it may save you money. Virtual assistants are becoming mainstream and can help you handle the time consuming minutiae filled tasks that allow you to do the work that only you can do. Hiring a pro can also go beyond simple tasks. For example, if you need a new website it would be wiser to hire an expert than to teach yourself html and try to do it yourself. Focus on what you do best and invest in others to do what you can't.
Consider bartering, swapping, and trading skills and services for what you need. You don't always have to pay top dollar to bring in reinforcements and bartering can also give you terrific opportunities to network and promote your own particular strengths with others. Check out sites like Barterquest.com and Swap.net for details. Another great resource is Guru.com that has expert freelancers in a variety of fields eager to take on your project to save you time and money.
Ignore your email and screen your calls. When you have set aside a specific block of time to accomplish a certain task - tune out calls and emails so you don't find yourself responding like a Pavlovian dog to the bell pinging on your computer or ringtone on your smart phone. Unless you are expecting an urgent call, it can wait and the quiet time will allow you to focus and finish what you set out to accomplish during this time period. Voicemail is a wonderful invention - let it serve you well when you are trying to get work done.
Sleep is non-negotiable. I prefer a full 8 hours of sleep whenever possible but a minimum of 7 is my deal breaker non-negotiable time to recharge and keep my body healthy and ready for the day ahead. If you ignore your body and do not give it time to rest you will end up unhealthy and unable to work. I once heard Arianna Huffington speak at a conference about a time when she was so exhausted that she fell over on her desk in the middle of the work day which resulted in multiple stitches on her chin. This was her literal wake-up call and helped her re-evaluate and prioritize the necessity of sleep in her daily routine. Honor your inner time clock and get the sleep your body needs to be healthy and productive.
Eat well and take breaks. It's so tempting to eat at your computer and work through a meal but this lack of focus as you eat may cause you to over consume. Plan your meals and take short breaks to give your body a chance to breathe and your mind a chance to clear. Hunger is often caused by dehydration so keep the liquids flowing and get up and stretch or take a walk to help your body avoid bad computer posture and neck pain. A massage every now and then doesn't hurt either!
Know when it's time to stop working. As ambitious as you may be, there comes a time when you should stop working because you can't remain focused or productive. Figure out what your best hours are and schedule your high productivity needs during that time. Are you a morning person or a midnight owl? Set your schedule accordingly so you can capitalize on your peak hours and let your family and friends know these are your "office hours" so they too will honor your work time.
Reward yourself and schedule fun time. Your time is precious so when you successfully accomplish your goals be sure to reward yourself for a job well done. Don't forget to schedule in fun things during your day. Whether it is a time out for a lunch with friends or quality time with loved ones, make these important priorities part of your actual schedule so they are not compromised when other things come up. Non work tasks are just as important when you are booked from the crack of dawn till bedtime so honor your private life, even when you are busy.
Have a sense of humor. In reality sometimes the best laid plans crash and burn because life happens as do things beyond your control. Realizing that you can't do it all, at least not all of the time, will liberate you to admit that you are not super human. You may have a messy house or an overgrown yard in exchange for accomplishing a work deadline and that's ok. Allowing for this will relieve stress and give you an appreciation for reality. Give yourself permission to laugh, especially at yourself, and know that tomorrow always brings a new day and a new beginning for the tasks ahead.
Time can be on your side if you take control of it. Being organized will help you maintain sanity with a busy schedule and alleviate stress with a more fulfilling agenda that honors work and play allowing you to balance as much as you possibly can.
Caroline Dowd-Higgins pens a career transition blog called "This Is Not the Career I Ordered" (www.notthecareeriordered.com). She is also the Director of Career & Professional Development at Indiana University Maurer School of Law.