Structuring Your Day

I don’t have a normal job and so usually my days always look different. For the first year of working for myself, I would take long lunch breaks or be out and about in Columbus during the afternoons. When Adam and I joined forces and created The Wonder Jam, we experienced the bliss that is seeing your spouse all day! We would also take long lunch breaks and traveled a lot.

Within the last 6-8 months, I’ve seen work take over my day (and nights) in a really aggressive way. From the moment I’d wake to the moment I’d sleep…I’d find myself working. Evening would hit and I’d say, “What did I DO today?” I realized I had to take control and actually plan my days down to the minute. It’s been life changing (while simultaneously taking away any spontaneity in my day-to-day life).

Every Sunday night, I generally plan my week based on tasks/projects. This past Sunday, my calendar already looked like this:

Screen Shot 2014-07-29 at 12.39.13 AM

By Monday night (when I wrote this post), I really only had 2-hour pockets on Wednesday and Friday for anything that popped up. This means that when a client needs something urgent or something goes over 15-60 minutes, things get tight. I’m not able to schedule a meeting the day of or even the day before. (However…the opposite is also true in that if I work fast, I’m rewarded with more time!) And yes, I sometimes have to schedule showering.

Intentionally planning my day has allowed me to understand that I can’t do 15 things in a day’s time. It made me realize that my daily to-do lists were too unrealistic.

Despite the success, it still isn’t perfect. For the next three months, I’m going to try to attain a better balance. I want to be planning my day intentionally but leaving pockets for the fun, impromptu things. Sometimes that will mean leaving a window of two hours open during an afternoon or loading all my work into Monday-Thursday so I can take Friday off.

Small little steps have allowed me to bring about work/life balance:

  • Trying to stop working between 5:30-7pm and help my clients learn this new schedule (as they’re used to me working into the wee hours of the morning).
  • If I do need to catch up on emails at night, I schedule them to go out the following AM
  • I can’t not check my email in the morning. More power to you if you can resist. I browse through emails, delete ones that aren’t important and check to make sure there’s nothing urgent. I’m able to relax much more in the earlier part of my day if I know there’s nothing pressing.
  • (obviously) I block out time to work on project. I schedule them in 1-4 hour blocks depending on the complexity. I have to treat my client work just like an important meeting.
  • Working out has been a great reason to stop working, move and spend time by myself. As an introvert, owning a business can be exhausting. Working out is something I can do alone and no one really challenges it.
  • Keeping track of my workload so saying “yes” or “no” isn’t a moral/heart dilemma. It should be obvious if you’re too busy or have time.

How do you schedule out your day? Whether you’re self-employed or working for someone else, is there structure? Is it easy for you to stop working at 5 or 6? 

 

ps: I blogged last week about bartering and trading services/products over at The Wonder Jam

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26 Comments
  • Angel Y.
    Posted at 07:40h, 29 July Reply

    I’m starting to do something similar but not as intense with my days. As my schedule is ever-changing, I’m learning to really work during my prime hours and allow my evenings for doing other things (ie social time, working out, chores that I hate) because I’ve learned my body can’t push through working 18 hours days. So glad you’ve found something that’s worked for you!

    • Allison
      Posted at 22:47h, 29 July Reply

      I feel hypocritical because it’s almost 11pm and I’m still working. My day got thrown off (which happens). Ugh.

  • Nathan Okuley
    Posted at 09:16h, 29 July Reply

    I am a planner, so my calendar is very similar, but you nailed it on the top of the head with the risk that comes. Every time an urgent email shows up, I’m pushing things around and suddenly my organized chaos just becomes chaos.

    My favorite and most functional tool is a well-prepared Wunderlist. Priorities can be labeled, deadlines are going to pop up, and it’s syncing to every device. With multiple people managing a single project, you can assign tasks and keep everything inside Wunderlist. Easier to access than Basecamp and much more functional with mobile.

    Hoping you continue to pursue balance within the excellent work you do.

    • Allison
      Posted at 22:48h, 29 July Reply

      Exactly! And I use something similar to Wunderlist – we use Todoist. I’m really digging Basecamp now that we have 3+ people on each project. Lately, Todoist gets last priority to texts, emails, Basecamp and Skype (sadly).

  • Laura Morris
    Posted at 11:11h, 29 July Reply

    I work a normal 9-5 job for now (sad face) but I have started to schedule my hours I’m not at work to get optimal work done. I schedule everything, though. I put when I wake up, my morning routine/getting my son ready, dropping my son off at daycare, etc. Any blank slots are filled with date night, practicing my web design, writing a blog post, taking photos, being lazy. Whatever. By scheduling every single thing, including fun time, it helps me stay accountable.

    I also reallllly love scheduling things and seeing all the pretty colors on my calendar make me happy! :)

    • Allison
      Posted at 22:48h, 29 July Reply

      I love it! I mean it definitely makes weekends or free days feel endless and so wide open too!

  • Ashli Nixon
    Posted at 11:38h, 29 July Reply

    Scheduling my late night emails to go out during business hours the next day was a real game changer for me. It provides some boundaries between work and home life and keeps me from stress-checking my email all night long.

    • Allison
      Posted at 22:48h, 29 July Reply

      It’s huge!! And sometimes, like you said, I don’t want to get the response or feedback while I’m relaxing at night.

  • Kory
    Posted at 15:45h, 29 July Reply

    Do you ever sleep?! Haha! But really. This is impressive. One of the things I can relate to the most is setting boundaries on when work ends in the evening. I’ve tried to do that in the past, but then I feel guilty that I’m literally just sitting around sometimes when I can get something easy done quickly. Then it gets out of hand! Scheduling emails is a big help with that, though! If I’m working late on a project to send the next day, I’ll schedule the email for first thing in the AM so I can get a little bit more sleep without worrying! :)

    • Allison
      Posted at 22:49h, 29 July Reply

      LOL! Lately I do prioritize at least 7 hours of sleep. As you can see on my calendar, I don’t really schedule much til 9 or 10am. I’m at the point in my life, however, that on free nights I’m 100% okay with doing absolutely nothing :)

  • Kat
    Posted at 09:37h, 30 July Reply

    Jessica Hische just blogged about the same thing! http://jessicahische.is/thinkingthoughtsonscheduling

    • Allison
      Posted at 14:38h, 30 July Reply

      Ah thanks for sharing! Reading now!!

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    Posted at 10:18h, 01 August Reply

    […] This post from Allison on structuring your day is great because I think we all tend to over schedule ourselves at times. I agree that it’s important to have some open times in your weeks to do fun things on the spur of the moment. […]

  • Carrie Jones
    Posted at 13:24h, 01 August Reply

    Thank you for writing about this! I work freelance and have a bunch of different clients to balance. I’m an organizer at heart (and an ambivert, bordering on introvert I think as well) so this can be really hard for me. Sometimes it’s hard to feel like I get ANYTHING done at the end of the day, even if I’m nonstop working. I’ve started to sit down with a pen and paper (actually paper!) over coffee in the morning to assess my previous day’s to-do list and write a new one for the day ahead. I find physically crossing things off makes me feel way more accomplished. :)

    • Allison
      Posted at 11:52h, 06 August Reply

      I totally feel you! I’m an introvert and an organizer (however, I’m NOT a perfectionist). I love crossing things off my list too but found that I was spending too much time creating my lists so switched to Todoist instead.

  • Ashlee Chu
    Posted at 16:12h, 03 August Reply

    I’m right there with you on numbers #2 and #3.

    Since I still have a day job, it because extremely difficult to carve out time when I factor in a workout, family time, and studies. I usually make 60-90 minutes twice throughout the weekdays and roughly two hours on the weekends. I make sure I respond to emails within 24 hours.

    • Allison
      Posted at 11:54h, 06 August Reply

      It’s SO hard to juggle extras with a full-time job! I honestly don’t mind if it takes someone 24+ hours to respond to me though. Totally legit!

  • Sarah Quezada
    Posted at 09:17h, 05 August Reply

    I love this. It’s always encouraging to read how creative peeps are actually making life work. I have had to move more and more to scheduling, even moving from a paper calendar to Google this year (that was a huge deal for me), but I’ve found it has really helped me. That… and Wunderlist. :)

    • Allison
      Posted at 11:55h, 06 August Reply

      I used to be a die hard paper list maker but definitely have loved going digital. It shaves off so much time on when I’m getting organized.

  • Leah S.
    Posted at 13:50h, 15 August Reply

    I love scheduling out my days so I know what needs to be prepared for ahead of time. What scheduling program do you use? Love how you can overlap and split the session into two parts.

    • Allison
      Posted at 16:50h, 15 August Reply

      I just use Google cal! It rocks.

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  • Laurian
    Posted at 22:11h, 23 August Reply

    Loved reading your tips! I’ve heard of Boomerang for scheduling emails. Just wondering what you use to schedule yours!

    • Allison
      Posted at 21:45h, 24 August Reply

      Yes I use Boomerang too! It’s wonderful! You can schedule emails to go out OR have an email come back to you after a certain period of time!

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    Posted at 12:31h, 17 September Reply

    […] start doing this. Often, I don’t because I’m not sure of travel times between meetings. Allie Lehman wrote a great post on how she structures her day and I totally love her […]

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    Posted at 12:02h, 29 March Reply

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