When busyness ebbs and flows

photo-363There are no typical weeks, but what if your life features a cycle of typical and atypical weeks? What if one week out of every few is much fuller than the others? Life has ebbs and flows, but I think it’s still possible to figure out a good balance that takes advantage of each.

I had this discussion recently with a reader who sent in a time log. She’s a psychotherapist, and is married with one elementary school-aged child.

She worked fairly normal hours at her regular job, but during the week she’d recorded, she spent numerous evening and weekend hours doing specialized technical editing. She’d started this business as a way to make extra money, but the work ebbed and flowed, as it will with any side hustle. Some weeks it was all-consuming and others not so much. It couldn’t really be scheduled within her current priority of building up the business — she took the work when it was there — so how should she create her schedule? In particular, she needed to do restorative things during her leisure time, as her line of work could be emotionally exhausting.

My answer was two-fold. First, she was already using several smart techniques to manage the heavy workload of two jobs while preserving time for family and fun. She worked “split shifts” — doing the editing work before her family was up, or after her son went to bed, so she could still spend most evenings with him. While she worked on the weekend, she did it early Saturday morning, then took the rest of Saturday off and started working again at some point mid-day on Sunday. This is a much better approach then doing work on and off here and there, bleeding into everything. Her approach gave her concentrated down time, and she used it to go on a family camping trip. Where she read my book. Gold stars all around!

But there were other restorative things she wanted to do so, second, I suggested that she make a list of things she’d consciously do with her extra time on the non-busy weeks, and that she’d choose not to do during her busy weeks. She noted that she liked to go for long walks as exercise, so rather than get up and work during the non-busy weeks, she’d get up at 6 a.m. and go for a brisk walk. Then during the busy weeks, she’d remind herself that she would get back to her walks in a week or so. If she wasn’t working a split shift during her less-busy weeks, it might be possible to spend more time with her husband (something she also said she wanted to do). This planning for extra time would make her feel like she was still making space for the stuff she wanted.

While I like to view life in terms of 168 hours, sometimes a longer time span is best. Rather than feel overwhelmed about busyness, we can remind ourselves that there will be breathing space later, it’s just that now is not that time.

Does your work, or general activity level, ebb and flow?

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