Time Makeover: Stephanie Graham

As promised, I am finally starting to load some more “time makeovers” up on this blog! The good thing about putting these online is that there are no space constraints. I guess that’s a nice way of warning readers that this one is long…

Today’s comes from a young lady named Stephanie Graham. She wrote me this past summer and said “I am always in search of effective time management.  Here is my situation.  I have aspirations to be a internationally known photographer, right now I am at the stage of ‘emerging’ www.missgraham.com . I have worked in the film industry for three years and have recently made the switch to being a career adviser for photography students at Harrington College of Design (Chicago, IL). I made the switch with hopes of receiving a consistent paycheck to pay off loans and debts from  undergrad and to free more time for me to work on my photography career, while still being in a creative atmosphere and helping others. (In my past life I swear I have been a life coach).

“The issue is finding the time to build my photographic brand while being a successful advisor, and exercising (I need to lose weight) and of course being a social 26 year old.  I have 1-hour commutes into work each way. I also sit on the Chicago/ Midwest Chapter of the American Society of Media Photographers and chair a committee.  I am involved in 2 other organizations and I would love to do more with my time.  But how? I spread myself so thin, and I would love to figure out how I can be more on the move.”

I wrote Stephanie back and said that I’d love to learn more about her schedule and her aspirations. I had her keep a time log for 168 hours. A little more than a week later, she sent the spreadsheet back and said “This was very interesting.”

It was interesting. She helpfully color-coded the different spheres of her life. The first thing I noticed is that not nearly enough of the squares on this Excel file were blue for “sleep”! She only slept 41 hours during the week in question, which is about 8-15 less than she should have. She got up quite early—at 6:30 on Monday, and Wednesday even earlier because she had an appointment with a trainer at a gym. There is nothing wrong with getting up early, but in Stephanie’s case, it was problematic, because she never went to bed before midnight, and sometimes as late as 2am. It was also problematic because there was no real need for her to get up as early as she did. Despite being up Monday at 6:30, she didn’t actually get on the train for work until 9am. While working out with a trainer can be a great option, she was driving an hour to get there, which didn’t seem like a good investment of time. If she worked out closer to home she could sleep an extra hour and still get a full work-out in.

Looking at her schedule, it seemed like Stephanie had a really tough time getting going in the morning. Some days it took her two hours to get ready for work, though she could do it in half an hour (as she did one day when she decided to clean the house with the extra time). I figured this was because of her low energy levels because she wasn’t getting to bed on time at night. While she had some good things in her evenings – such as a movie night with girlfriends and a nutrition class—generally these were over before 9 or 10. She just didn’t get herself into bed.

While she didn’t work too long hours – around 40 – the 19 hours she spent traveling really ate into her quality of life. She’d leave the house at 9, get to work at 10, work until 6 or 7 to get in a solid day, then spend an hour commuting home. By 8 or 9pm, having only slept 6 hours the night before, she’d be exhausted, and didn’t have the energy to work on her photography business. On weekends she also didn’t seem to be terribly motivated to work on the business after such draining weeks.

I had Stephanie answer some questions:

1. What do I like most about my schedule?

“Really I don’t like anything about it,” Stephanie said. “It seems that I have no time or that I am crunched for time.  I am a free spirit and I feel that I have to conform to a routine. I don’t like that at all.”

2. What do I want to do more of? (spending more time improving your photography craft? Exercising?)
“Having time to get my business up and running is key for me right now. I guess I want to have more time to just be a 26-year-old single girl.  Meaning I want to be able to go out more, and socialize and network.  Even with my boyfriend by the time I get to his house it’s way too late to go anywhere. I want to be able to have a schedule that is freeing yet has a little bit of routine, and maybe not such long days.”

3. What do you want to get off your plate?
“Nothing. I know that my photography, my regular job, exercising, and socializing are all things that I need to do to not be a hermit or a lame.”

4. I spend way too much time on ___ (fill in the blank)
“The DAMN train or commuting.  I really need to move into the city. Yet I have to get all of my credit cards paid off before I go anywhere. I am just over the debt.”

A week or so later, I wrote back to Stephanie:

“I really appreciate your taking the time to do this. Looking at your schedule and your emails, I had a few thoughts for you.

“The first is that you’re really not getting enough sleep – and this may be contributing to general feelings of unhappiness about your life, which is actually pretty good! You seem to have a relatively flexible job (i.e. you can get there later some mornings), a boyfriend, time to hang out with girlfriends, plus some great stuff like taking a nutrition class and working out with a trainer, and spending time with mom.

“You can make up some of the sleep time on weekends, but I also thought there were a few ways to do better on this front during the week. You seem to be spending a relatively long amount of time getting ready in the morning (or at least some mornings). Monday really looked that way, but Friday you spent a lot of time cleaning in the AM, and even Tuesday was a 90 minute transition. If you can streamline the AMs (put out clothes the night before? Figure out a different and easier hair or make-up routine?) this would let you sleep 20-30 minutes more and still get to work at the same time. You also seem to be doing what a lot of us do in the evenings — puttering around (a.k.a. “downtime”) rather than just getting in bed. It’s easy to get distracted by TV, computer, etc (or my downfall, flipping through the Pottery Barn catalog!) Commit to getting into bed by 11:30 or so most weeknights, and I think you’ll find that you have a lot more energy for tackling other things.

“Since you are a free spirited person, the daily grind of commuting is definitely going to tough to deal with. Since it’s not really an option to move at the moment for financial reasons, you need to figure out a way to treat this as found time. The reason I asked about a seat and a laptop is that on the 3 days you are commuting by train, you can use this additional 6 hours as business-building time. On the weekends, think through what projects you’d like to accomplish for building your business, and then break them up into 45-minute to 1-hour chunks. If you need internet access for them you can get a mobile connect card or something for your laptop, but maybe some you won’t (writing website copy, figuring out marketing ideas, etc). But even just looking through photography magazines or books will help you treat this time as valuable, rather than a total pain.

“I thought it was great that you were doing a nutrition class and working out with a trainer.” [Laura’s note: though when we looked closer and realized the trainer was an hour away, we decided this one could go]. “Could you and your boyfriend try to do something active together when you’re hanging out? There are a million options from running to playing tennis to going for a walk rather than sitting on the sofa, but this is a good way to get more physical activity into a week (which will also make you feel more energized). It’s also a good way to feel closer.

“You also said you wanted to spend more time networking. This is really going to be a matter of finding events or people you want to meet and then challenging yourself to invest enough time in it. I’ve been trying to commit to one event per week — for you, this can be as simple as a lunch with another photographer, or as elaborate as a convention, but will require you to get in the habit of looking for such opportunities. Probably the school where you work has some leads on such things, so use your time there to ask around. This is really just a matter of planting seeds. Over time a commitment to doing something network-building related once a week will really pay off.”

After another few weeks, Stephanie wrote back:

“First of all I wanted to thank you again for including me in this project. It was a real eye opener and I began using your tips right away.  11:30pm is my new goal time to make it to bed.  I have realized that if during the week I get to bed later than this it’s going to be a problem for me in the morning so I am trying to train myself.  I noticed immediately a difference in my fatigue. I quickly learned that as much as I wish to be a hustler, I need to take care of my body as well. LOL.
“I’ve eliminated some of these things since I have read your email. I am no longer working with my trainer. The commute to getting to him was tough and contributing I feel to my not getting enough rest. Since I had a long commute going home from our sessions. This has now left my Monday evenings open for me to take care of whatever I want, even if I am just relaxing catching up on my reality shows (Love! The Hills!)”

There had also been a bit of a lifestyle change in that Stephanie was now single, so the boyfriend was out of the picture. “However we did start to go on walks. So that was good while it lasted,” she noted. “So I am busy still but I have I feel room to play with.  I am not so to the minute, if that makes sense.

“I am trying to get better about my morning routine. I’m not putting big barrel curls in my hair in the AM as if I do it one really good time it seems to carry over for a few days to my liking. I sort of get home late still so I am pulling clothes out in the morning. We will see how that goes.

“I have yet to get internet access for my laptop, but I am reading articles and making notes and such for my businesses and utilizing my iPhone more, getting used to returning emails on it.
“I’ve decided to spend my lunch times at the gym , but what’s good about that is if I commit to going to the gym I can leave my lunch open for having more lunch appointments or whatever.”

As for professional networking opportunities, “1x week seems like a lot for me to commit to right now with a full time job but we will see how it goes.” However, she was hitting 2-3 a month, which was great. “I am already on a photo organization board so I go to all of our events but I want to commit to maybe 2-3 outside of that.”

She enjoyed the process of being accountable for her time. “I found this greatly helpful and it really had me look at some things that I was doing and give myself permission to simply not participate in some things.  I am a busy girl and I need to choose wisely what I decide to do so I don’t burn myself out.”

That last line is the philosophy of 168 Hours in a nutshell! We should choose what we commit ourselves to wisely. When you do, there is plenty of time to have the life you want in the 168 hours you’ve got.

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