I had another great question come in from a reader this week. I’d like to address reader questions more frequently, so please, send them in! This reader is in his early 30s and would like to figure out his long-term career path. He currently supervises counselors who work with children with special needs. The challenge is that these kids and counselors are in a 24-hour setting, which means he’s got long hours that don’t come at “normal” times. His schedule:
Tuesday: 9am- 11pm
Friday: 12pm- 8pm
He also has a 45-minute commute. He told me that he was pretty good about working out after his shift, Monday through Friday. He had heard advice from me and others that mornings were a great time to tackle important-but-not-urgent things but “Due to the late nights and the fluctuation in times, I find it near impossible to have any semblance of a ‘morning.’ I am also trying to figure out a career path and find an apartment and my current prioritization and time management skills, or lack thereof, have left me basically no time to focus on these important issues. Add on errands and I have no time for relationships or leisure time either. I feel as if I am just spinning my wheels and, except for my exercising, am relatively unproductive.” He wrote that he wanted to find “joy and satisfaction in my days, not simply trudge through them.”
That’s a great desire. So how could he make time for figuring out these big questions, and for having fun too?
If you add his hours up, you get a 55-hour work week. Add in 12 iterations of the 45-minute commute (9 total hours) and you get 64 hours committed to work. It’s a long week. Of course, it’s not the total week. If he sleeps 56 hours, that still leaves 48 hours available for other things.
That’s not nothing, but I suspected from our correspondence that this was as much an energy question as anything else. This is a demanding job. He has hours available, but after 6 tough days, I doubt he wants to ponder anything career-related on Sundays. Likewise, if he comes home at close to 1 a.m. on Tuesday (after working out and commuting) and wakes up at 9 a.m. Wednesday, it’s easy to focus on the fact that he has to leave again by 12:15 p.m., and just putter around or go buy milk until then. (As a side note, most friends or dates are not available from 9 a.m. to noon on a Wednesday either).
It’s complicated, but since our reader is managing to exercise multiple times per week, even after long, late work days, I think he’s quite capable of making progress toward other goals. Goals like “figure out my career” and “find a relationship” are complex. But there are a few strategies he can use to manage his energy while devoting time to these things.
First, he can let himself relax a bit. Sunday should be a “me time” day. He should fill it only with things he wants to do. When I interviewed Mike Huckabee for What the Most Successful People Do on the Weekend, he also mentioned this 6-day workweek phenomenon. So on Sundays, he’s focused on doing what will rejuvenate him. In his case, it’s church, time walking on the beach, reading, and having friends over. Our reader should likewise treat Sunday as a fun, non-worry day. He need not think about these big questions (other than having fun and getting together with friends — things he could aim to do during this off time). From Saturday at 6:45 p.m. when he gets home until he goes to bed on Sunday night, he should simply do whatever is necessary to recharge his batteries for Monday.
As for other goals, it might help to physically map out his schedule on a 168-hour time sheet. He’ll soon see that, even taking into account the commute, exercise, and sleep, there are some non-work blocks of time available. If he knows where these are (and it sounds like the schedule is somewhat set, or at least he knows it ahead of time and can plan for it), he can start to think of them as options to play around with. Here are some open, non-work slots:
M: 8-10 p.m.
W: 9 a.m. – noon
Th: 8 a.m. – 2 p.m.
F: 9 a.m. – 11 a.m.
It’s hard to figure out what should be a top priority. While in general figuring out a career path would top finding an apartment, my sense was that the latter was a bit more pressing, and hence stress-inducing. So, looking at his schedule, our reader could spend time Wednesday and Friday morning looking at apartments until he gets an awesome one (maybe one that’s closer to his gym and his work!)
Once that’s taken care of, those Wednesday and Friday slots can be re-deployed to career questions. He can use that time to read career books, take online personality and career assessments, ask people to tell him about his strengths, picture when he was happiest in life and so forth. This is a somewhat eternal question, and the truth is there may not be the perfect career for anyone. So it might help to keep his motivation up by not considering this an eternal question. He could call it a 12-week Passion Project. For the next 12 weeks or so, until January, he is going to spend 5 hours per week researching careers and talking to people and trying to figure this question out. There’s no guarantee he’ll figure out what he wants to do with his life by January, but anyone can stick with something for 3 months — especially someone who manages to work out after getting off work at 9 p.m.!
Monday is a potential night for getting together with friends or doing low-key dates. Looking at his schedule, I personally like the idea of treating Thursday before he leaves for work at 2:15 p.m. as a quasi-weekend day. That is his day to do what he wants with: watch TV, read, play games, etc. No pressure at all. If need be, he can spend an hour of this doing errands, but he should try to keep that compressed as much as possible. People need time off, and if he’s not getting that time off on Saturday, due to his work schedule, he should relish that time on Thursday. It’s got an end to it, sure, but 5-6 hours can contain a lot of fun, too.
What advice do you have for making progress toward big goals when you work long hours?
Photo: Everyone in Lego Town is hard at work!