How to embrace — and profit from — the quirks in your schedule

photo-115Part of making the most of your time is breaking free from traditional notions of when things should happen.

If date night doesn’t work, you can try date breakfast.

If you need to work 12 hours a day and don’t want to work from 5-8 p.m., you might be able to take that off and work from 8-11 p.m. instead.

If you’re training for a marathon and don’t want to clog up your weekends with long runs, you might be able to get up early one weekday morning, come into work a little later, and work a little later in the evening.

Just because other people use certain hours for one thing doesn’t mean you need to. And if you use unconventional hours for certain things, that doesn’t make you crazy.

Sometimes it can make you more productive.

I saw a great example of this the other day in a time log that came in for my Mosaic project (the subject of my next book, which looks at how professional women with kids spend their time). On one night, this software engineer’s sea of “sleep” entries was broken up by 2 hours of “work” from about 3-5 a.m. I thought that was just a fluke — a weird bout of jet lag or insomnia — until I got this woman on the phone.

She told me that, in fact, this 3-5 a.m. shift was pretty typical, at least in the sense that it happened a few times per week. Her days got booked solid with meetings. But she still needed to produce the work she was being paid for. She also liked to do that sort of creative, productive work that drew her to her job in the first place. So what to do?

She went to bed around 9 p.m. most nights. She often woke up, on her own, without an alarm, at 3 a.m. Instead of lying there fretting in the dark (which is what I do on the rare occasions I pop up at 3 a.m.), she’d get up and go code or do the other substance of her work. She told me that everything was quiet, and no one was bothering her. Occasionally she’d go back and forth with people in Europe at this time, but often it was a good window for buckling down. Then she’d go back to bed at 5 a.m. She’d sleep until 6 or 6:30 when the kids got up.

So, in this schedule, she was getting solid focused hours to work, and also sleeping 7-7.5 hours a night. The fact that it was interrupted sleep might not be ideal for lots of people. I’d hate it. But it worked for her. So she embraced it and used it, and thus got her work done without staying into the evening — which is what a lot of people would do in the face of a meeting-loaded schedule. She could leave work by 6 and see her family.

One of the reasons I have people keep logs for 168 hours — one week — is that it provides a good visual reminder that all 168 hours are in play. If you keep track of your time, and see that there are particular hours when you’re awake but aren’t doing anything meaningful or enjoyable, you can ponder what else you might want to do during that time. I have seen night owls take slow walks on the treadmill at 11 p.m. I have seen people hit the playground at 6 a.m. during the months when it’s light out then. If it works for you, it works.

Do you have any interesting scheduling quirks that work for you?

A side note: Obviously, it would be great if people’s days weren’t booked solid with meetings. Here’s a post I wrote for Fast Company on How to Spend 40% Less Time in Meetings and Get a Life Instead.

Photo: today’s scheduling quirk — blogging at 6:56 p.m.

15 thoughts on “How to embrace — and profit from — the quirks in your schedule

  1. I have no quirks as extreme as getting up to code at 3 a.m.! In fact, I can’t think of anything unusual about my schedule now. However, when my now 6 year old was a baby, I used to get up very, very early and play with her. She was an extreme early bird- to the point that I celebrated when she starting sleeping in until 5 a.m. I fought it for awhile, but eventually, I gave in, and just shifted my schedule. I went to bed as early as I could and got up to play at 4 a.m. This also meant I got to work early, and so I got to leave early, and so I used to get to take 30 minute walks with her before dinner time. I won’t pretend I loved that schedule, but it had its benefits!

    1. @Cloud- yep, little kid sleep schedules can create all sorts of schedule quirks. We had a while last year when the toddler was waking up at 5 a.m. and our sitter came some mornings at 9. Let’s just say that that creates a lot of time together. She’s still asleep now, though, at 7:45 a.m.! I’m glad the 5 a.m. days are over.

  2. I have been after my husband to get some exercise, but with three children under 12 and two boys in rep hockey he says there is no time. However I found a hole in our schedule on Sat mornings. He finally agreed to try spinning classes with me. We have now gone 4 Staurday mornings in a row. I realized last Sat morning that this was actually a date and I loved being with him without the children around! It feels great that we have carved out this time together. Not a tradional “date night” but we are together and exercising 🙂

  3. I love that you realized this activity is a date. That’s what dates are really for–relationship building. I think we caught up too much in the idea that dates have to be overtly romantic. Don’t get me wrong. We need that, certainly. But consistent, loving interactions of all types are what truly bring us together.

  4. Love this article. I’ve just started working with women who need to get a better grip on their days, hours, schedule, productivity and this is exactly (although, Laura, you’ve explained more concisely) what I believe so strongly in. It’s about finding those holes, filling them with the right stuff, even if it doesn’t make sense to anyone else!

  5. We do date “afternoon” since we are too old to stay up past 10. Last week we went to the gym. Then, because we couldn’t figure out what else to do until the sitter left, we went to the grocery store. For a date! It was surprisingly fun.

  6. I’ve definitely done 6AM playground runs! I also have started shifting things (work or personal stuff) from the evening, when I’m exhausted, to the early early AM (4am) . If I go to bed at 9, I’m up then sometimes, on my own, and I’ll can read, or blog, or work for a couple of hours before anybody needs anything from me. If, however, I stay up from 9-11, its usually in a semi-stupor, watching TV or mucking around on the internet!

  7. I read somewhere not too long ago that humans used to have two sleeps. They would sleep for a few hours, have an awake time, then sleep a few more hours. That this was still true in the 1700s and into the 1800s. Many modern conveniences have caused us to lose that. I wonder if those who think they suffer from insomnia might actually be experiencing this two sleep phenomenon and if they got up and got some things doe, their body could relax and they could get a few more hours and feel rested. I am looking forward to your Mosaic book and if other charts show this.

    1. @Monica – I’ve read something about this too — and I could certainly see that it would make sense for people who pop up in the middle of the night. I do OK sleeping straight through most nights, but many don’t.

  8. Excellent article. Managing one’s time as a software person is difficult because of the need to balance meetings and creative work that needs hours of concentration and being in the zone! Being flexible and creative like this can indeed help out a lot. Stealing in an hour or two of actual work-related work along with the personal nurturing activities early morning.

  9. I’m glad I read this. Recently I quit my 9-5 job to start a product based business and noticed my daily routine changed drastically. I’ve been working a very organic schedule that might include a 36 hour stretch or an efficient 4 hour day. Really, I’ve thrown away the traditional clock (except for meetings/appts) and just go by what needs to be accomplished. With my new organic schedule I have found that I very rarely have less than 10 hours of sleep where before I would fight just to get 6 hours. I feel like the 9-5 norm has really damaged the health of the typical night-person. – Back to work…

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