The activity spreadsheet, and protecting time to work

If you read a lot of productivity literature, you may have noticed that the topic of trimming work hours comes up a lot. The assumption is that no one wants to work more, and work keeps you from doing all the other relaxing things you want to do in your life.

As a work-from-home parent of small children, this is not my reality. I have a fair amount of control over my time, and so I often can do things such as drive a kid to swim team practice at 4:30 p.m. on a weekday. I do want to do some of these things. The issue is that ending my work day at 4:00 p.m. more often than not means it is tough to hit a full 40 hours. Add in various during-the-day commitments, and it becomes hard to hit 35. As the work hours dip below that, I start under-investing in the “soft” side of the job: dreaming up new projects, networking, anything beyond the what’s-due-tomorrow questions.

So it’s always a struggle to find the right balance. In this case, achieving work/life balance might mean working a bit more. Part of working more is protecting enough hours to have a full work week.

I definitely had that goal in mind as I designed the fall activity spreadsheet. We have a lot of kids, and they are all interested in lots of things. Fortunately, many of their activities are offered multiple times per week (e.g. karate meets 6x/week and you are expected to go 2x). The spreadsheet — which is just my normal half-hour 168 hours spreadsheet — shows who goes where/when.

I had a few goals. First, we needed to max out at 2 required drivers, and that should happen as few times per week as possible. Second, I wanted one week day open, with no scheduled activities. I find it’s nice to have a mid-week break. Finally, kid weekend activities needed to be done by noon so we have the afternoons/evenings open for excursions.

I’m not going to print the spreadsheet here but let’s just say — it is a thing of beauty. I can work through to the evening on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. On Thursdays I can go until 6 p.m. Friday I could too, though I probably won’t. On Mondays I’ll be in the car from about 4:20 – 8:40 (sigh) but I’m thinking about how I can have a good attitude about this. I’m going to get some built-in one-on-one time with the 11-year-old, who seems to want that these days. And there will still be space on weekends for long runs, apple picking, whatever.

In other news: Do you live in the NYC area? I’ll be doing an event at the WeWork location at 79 Madison Avenue next WEDNESDAY night (August 15th; sorry, an earlier version of this post said Tuesday). Feel free to email me for details! lvanderkam at yahoo dot com.


4 thoughts on “The activity spreadsheet, and protecting time to work

  1. I’ve just been working on this although I hadn’t thought to do it on a calendar spreadsheet. I know I need at least 1, preferably 2 days where I can stay late at work. I like 1 or 2 days to take kids to activities – I actually like seeing how swim lessons are going…add to that 3 kids, 4 therapies, twice weekly swim lessons plus one dance class. Whew. I too will be very proud of my spreadsheet once it’s finished!!

    1. @Susan – I am giving you major props for your spreadsheet right now 🙂 I made my 11-year-old come in to look at my spreadsheet when I finished it, and I told him that he needed to give me appropriate praise.

  2. Car time can be great kid time! We have some excellent conversations, and love listening to books together (we’re doing Harry Potter right now, and it’s so fun to experience my younger son’s first time with him). That said, it’s still a pain to spend all day driving around! Even with only 2 kids, and both of them in the same activities (for now), I am also working to limit activities. Not just for my work time (though that’s a big factor) but because they’re happier with a balance of more unstructured time than structured. When they do have taekwondo or swimming or whatever, I usually spend that 45 mins doing research for something fun – the low-level-but-next-level work you mention that gets dropped when you’re short on time. Yesterday, it was reading up on 18th- and 19th-century literary salons!

  3. Here’s a question that might not be as applicable to this audience (no partner, no children, basically a full time student, so the time demands are much less, but still there)

    How do you protect your time? For example, this week, I intended to be ‘off’ to get paper drafts done. I had to give a 10 min talk Tuesday for my department to some outside funding sponsors, so fine, I came in Tuesday afternoon, and I met up with a former coworker to discuss my paper-so in the end, this was a good thing. Today, I found myself at work because outside faculty were giving a talk, and then my coordinator figured, ‘hey, you’re here, and we do need to do an annual meeting’. So now, instead of 4 days at home, I’ll have max, 2, and I definitely haven’t finished what I need to do. Even when I’m at work with plans to sit at my desk and write science, I end up getting drawn into discussions about science or asked to do things.

    I am assuming it will only get worse as I return to medical school-but I’m trying to really figure out how to be truly unavailable, and make it clear that even if I am physically present, I’m not actually present.

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