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Insights / November 5, 2015

Five Ways to Gain Control Over Your Schedule

By Diana Lillicrap

Guest post as part of our Women in Tech series.

As I sit writing this blog post at 12:30 a.m., I am all too aware that time is truly the most valuable currency in life. But it’s not more time that we need to be successful in our careers. It’s having control over our time that gives us power.

In fact, time is the great equalizer in the workplace—men, women, young, old—we all get the same amount of time in a single day. So why does it seem that women in particular need to take control over their schedules?

Because control gives us the power to make choices and find a sense of balance in our lives.

Let’s Blame Technology for the Moment

Face it: technology has changed the requirements of our attention in the workplace. Smart phones allow us to work anytime, anywhere, and the expectations about when and how fast the work gets done have increased right along with the advancements in our connections. I’m sure you (and everyone else) are acutely aware of this trend in employee connectedness.

Now Let’s Get Real

Women have always been masterminds at balancing the various demands on our time. And today we are working more than ever—at our jobs and in our homes. According to a study done by the Journal of Marriage and Family, on average, mothers are spending 10.4 more hours with our kids each week than mothers did in 1975. And just this summer, a Labor Department survey showed that women’s hours in the workplace have increased by 16 minutes per day over the past two years, as compared to an increase of only 7 minutes per day by men. Striking balance is more important now than ever before. So how do we find it—both in and outside of work—without losing our minds?

Here are my five tips to gain control of your schedule:

1. Decide What You Need First

This is a simple concept that is anything but simple to do. It starts by being honest about when, where, and how you want to work with others and what you need in your job to feel balanced in life. For me, it means flexibility to take time off during the day when I need to take care of a sick kid, attend a school concert, or run to Target. In exchange, I am willing and able to work late hours, start early days, or work an occasional weekend. For you, maybe nights or weekends are a deal-breaker. It doesn’t matter what you need, what matters is that you define it and recognize you won’t be happy until you have it.

2. Communicate Your Expectations

Once you know what you need, it’s critical you let others in on the secret to your success. Tell your co-workers, your clients, and your boss when you will be available and when you won’t. Set some ground rules about when it’s okay to call, email, or expect an immediate response if it’s outside of normal business hours. Be realistic about what it will take to do the job that you have been hired to do, but don’t be bullied into doing more than what is needed.

3. Develop Trust With Your Peeps

This means that you need to thoughtfully respect others’ choices and their time as well. Just because you like to work at midnight doesn’t mean others feel the same way. If you plan to send emails at night, make sure recipients know you don’t expect them to answer until the next day. And when it comes to expecting workplace flexibility, the best advice I can give is to always meet your deadlines. If you want flexibility to do your job in the way that works for your life, you need to prove that you can get the job finished on time and well done. Don’t be late on deadlines. Don’t skip meetings. And don’t be slow at getting back to others who are waiting for you so they can complete their tasks. The best way to build trust in the workplace is to under promise and over deliver.

4. Make No Exceptions

If you really want to own your schedule, you have to be strict with your time. Bending the rules gives others permission to ask you to (and expect that you will) do it again. If you stand your ground you’ll be surprised at the respect you’ll gain over time from coworkers, your family, and yourself. Being connected means it’s harder to set clear boundaries, but it’s not impossible. Here’s my secret. If you need to bend your rules, don’t tell anyone else that you did it. For example, I have a rule to not email clients after 6 p.m. It’s in place so clients don’t think I’m working and available at all hours. But the truth is I write a LOT of client emails after 6. I just don’t send them until after 8 the next morning.

5. Expect Your Employer To Take Part

If you’ve been hired for a high-stress, high-demand job that requires you work off hours and extra shifts, don’t be afraid to push back and get the balance you need in exchange. Just because your employer gave you a smart phone so you are accessible 24/7 doesn’t mean they own every minute of your life. Ask for the hours, schedule, and technology necessary to be effective in getting the job done. Keep track of your time and productivity and use it to negotiate during performance reviews. And if you are the boss, remember that flexibility is an important benefit for today’s workforce and, according to several research studies, a key driver in boosting productivity. Make sure you’re creating a culture that is focused on results instead of “butts in chairs.” You’ll improve performance if you offer choices to fit individual work styles and options to support personal employee time management needs. Employers and employees alike have a responsibility to address the needs of each other in the ever-evolving workplace.

Seek Control, Not Perfection
In the end, it’s important to realize you probably won’t ever feel like you’ve found a utopia state for time management. Who wouldn’t want more time if it were available? The goal isn’t perfection; it’s finding a sense of control so you feel like you are managing your time, instead of letting your job dictate it. By indentifying what you need, setting your ground rules, communicating your expectations, respecting others’ time, and involving your employer in the solution, balance is possible.

Diana Lillicrap is a busy mother of two and co-owner of 5 by 5 Design. She balances work, kids, marriage, book club, wine club, poker club, softball, volleyball, volunteering, and dozens of other commitments with humor, persistence, and a positive attitude. | | @diana5by5

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