The Way We Work
March 28, 2012 by Amy Sept

"Balance is not better time management, but better boundary management. Balance means making choices and enjoying those choices."
-Betsy Jacobson, business consultant

You are relaxing with your family when it happens: An email from a client lands in your inbox. Do you:
A) Ignore it entirely until tomorrow morning.
B) Take a few minutes to respond.
C) Flag it so you remember to respond first thing tomorrow morning.
D) Read it to ensure it's not urgent, then flag it.

On one hand, there is no right answer: One of the benefits to powering your own business is that you have the ability to shape your business around your values and lifestyle.

But it does beg the question: Does your lifestyle shape your work? Or does your work shape your lifestyle?

One thing many solo professionals find without the framework of a nine-to-five job is that their time at work has no framework; every day is a potential work day when you never actually leave the office. If part of your brain is always at work, how do you find time to recharge?

Instead of feeling overwhelmed, or stubbornly sticking to the status quo, try a different approach: What would Jack Dorsey do?

The 80-hour workweek

Jack Dorsey is co-founder of two rapidly growing tech startups: micro-blogging platform Twitter, and mobile payment service Square. According to Forbes, he has a net worth of $650 million. He works 80 hours every week, putting in full eight-hour days at each company — but Saturdays are his day off.

In an interview with CNN Money, Dorsey credits discipline and a pre-set schedule for keeping him focused. "There's interruptions all the time, but I can quickly deal with an interruption and know 'it's Tuesday, I have product meetings, I have to focus on product stuff,'" he said. "It sets a good cadence for the company."

Making time for you

Okay, you may not have $650 million at your disposal to help you tackle your workload, although you do have options. But the same tools Dorsey credits for his success are just as available to you: Planning, discipline and focus.

Planning

There is no doubt that taking on too much work — or failing to realize just how overcommitted you are — leaves you fewer options for personal time. The solution is planning: How you manage your time, and how you manage the tasks you need to finish during working hours.

As a starting point, you may find it helpful to decide when you will not work. Looking at a general weekly calendar (example), mark off time when you absolutely cannot work: For example, you may sleep until 8 a.m., have classes a few times a week, or recognize the need to take one day off every week. Block this time off on your calendar; the time you have left is the time you have available for actually doing work.

There are many different ways to actually manage the tasks you need to do:

  • "Getting Things Done" and "Zen to Done" are a couple of popular systems.
  • You can also try scheduling specific blocks of time to better understand the time commitment required for current projects.
  • You could follow Dorsey's example and set specific themes for every day of the week, or split each day in two — half of your work hours committed to one project, half on another.

The important part is to have a plan in place before your day is derailed by interruptions.

Discipline

“Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment.”
-Jim Rohn, entrepreneur and author

Having a plan only works if you stick to it. Setting aside two hours to work on a project accomplishes nothing if you spend one hour responding to unrelated emails. As Dorsey noted when talking to CNN, if you have a plan you can easily deal with interruptions and refocus on the plan you have committed to.

Another dose of reality: According to The Wall Street Journal, it is entirely possible that many of us are not as busy as we think. "What I thought was a 60-hour workweek wasn't even close," the article's author, Laura Vanderkam, noted. "I spent long stretches of time lost on the Internet or puttering around the house, unsure exactly what I was doing."

To get past this puttering, you need not only a plan to turn to, but also the discipline to keep yourself on task.

Focus

An article on Inc.com by entrepreneur Ilya Pozin suggests that you work in 60 to 90 minute intervals — then take a break. If you find it challenging to focus on just one thing for an entire hour, start with smaller chunks of time and use a timer; this is one of the ideas behind the "Pomodoro Technique," another time management system that uses a kitchen timer to help chunk your projects into 25-minute segments.

With a commitment to planning, discipline and focus, you can create better boundaries between time spent working and time spent enjoying life — one of the true benefits to being in control of your own work schedule.

Do you have a problem separating work and play? What strategies have helped you set your own boundaries? Leave your advice in the comments section below.

Amy Sept

Managing Editor

As Managing Editor at oDesk, Amy Sept has more than a decade of communications experience and a passion for helping nonprofits and small businesses succeed. She is an experienced freelancer and the founder of Nimbyist Communications, a marketing and public relations business specializing in nonprofit promotions. She has previously studied both journalism and music, and before launching Nimbyist was manager of communications for a mid-sized… read more

  • nagarerahul

    Nice article....8/10.