Many productivity conversations assume a 9 to 5 work schedule. How can you stay productive if you or someone in your household works nights or weekends or some other non-standard schedule?
Living with a non-standard schedule (yours or your partner's)
Today’s topic was inspired by a conversation in The Productive Woman Community Facebook group. Questions asked, and suggestions offered, are discussed in this episode, along with some information and ideas I found from other sources. The conversation continues, and I'd love to hear your thoughts on living with a non-standard schedule.
What is a non-standard schedule?
When I say “non-standard schedule,” I’m talking about any work arrangement outside the typical 9 to 5 workday schedule. However, we're not talking about schedules where you (or your partner) work remotely for long periods of time, such as military deployments or oil field work. This might be a topic for another episode.
- Shift work, nights, weekends, split shifts, on-call
One report on “Irregular Work Scheduling and Its Consequences” published by the Economic Policy Institute in 2015 noted that about 10% of the US workforce is assigned to irregular and on-call work shift times.
An article published in the Journal of Marriage and Family (clear back in 2008) noted that according to estimates from the United States Bureau of Labor, “over 15 million full-time wage and salary employees work an alternate shift” and that over a quarter of two-income couples have at least one spouse working a non-standard shift.
A 2015 Urban Institute article says “one in five adult workers in the United States work most of their hours between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. or on weekends.”
Kelly, in the TPW community, introduced me to a term I hadn’t heard before: “gig economy”. I had to look it up. One Forbes article defined it as “the increased tendency for businesses to hire independent contractors and short-term workers, and the increased availability of workers for these short-term arrangements.”
The term includes businesses like Uber and TaskRabbit but also more “traditional” businesses that are moving toward hiring independent contractors rather than employees.
The article says Intuit estimates that “gig” workers currently represent 34% of the workforce, on pace to reach 43% by 2020.
Although most of my research focused on the types and impacts of non-standard schedules in the United States, such work schedules of course aren't limited to the U.S. For example, check out these articles for statistics in Britain:
– What is the gig economy and why is it so controversial?
– Sometimes you don’t feel human – How the gig economy chews up and spits out millennials
- The challenges of non-standard schedules affect you whether it’s you or your spouse working the non-standard schedule.
The 2015 Economic Policy Institute report I mentioned learlier found that “Employees who work irregular shift times . . . experience greater work-family conflict, and sometimes experience greater work stress.” It also noted that “Working on rotating and split-shift times . . . is also associated with work-family conflict. . . .”
What impacts does a non-standard work schedule have?
1. It affects our family
- Difficulties in arranging childcare – 2012 National Survey of Early Care and Education – “only an estimated 8 percent of center-based providers and 34 percent of listed home-based providers in the United States offer care during nonstandard hours.”
- Stresses of non-standard work schedules add to stress at home
Studies in some articles discuss the stresses on relationships and note higher levels of marital dissatisfaction among couples where one or both of the partners works a non-standard schedule. That's not surprising. It makes sense that when you’re not on the same schedule, it's hard to spend time together, and when you’re tired and stressed, it's hard to have positive time together.
Diane* in the TPW community shared an example: “I am the non-standard schedule person, and I work in a completely opposite schedule to my partner. My time is technically flexible because I mostly set my own hours, but his is not. Given his lack of flexibility, there is an expectation that I should stop my routine to work around his and meet his needs and this is a constant struggle.” (*not her real name)
2. It affects our social life
If you’re working nights, it’s hard to get out and hang out with your friends who work during the day and want to socialize in the evenings.
Challenges of a non-standard schedule
The business world tends to be designed around the assumption of a 9 to 5 schedule, but if you’re not on that schedule, it can be difficult–especially if your schedule varies from one week to the next.
1. Keeping track of everything
When you work on the standard schedule, it's easier to know when you’ll be available for other things. But when you’re on an adjustable or rotating or on-call schedule, it can be hard to keep track of who’s going to be where at what time, especially when you have people in the household working different schedules.
2. Physically and mentally adjusting to a variable schedule
Unpredictable or changeable schedules, especially when they include night shifts, can be hard on the body and the psyche. It becomes more difficult, but even more important, to take care of yourself: to have good nutrition and hydration, for example, and to get sufficient sleep (which can be especially challenging if you work certain nights but not others).
Deidra M. from the TPW Facebook community shared her experience when her husband did shift work. To accommodate his ever-changing schedule (which included graveyard shifts), they got him earplugs and eye masks or room darkening shades.
Most childcare options are not available nights and weekends.
4. Attending family events/activities
Schools and churches often schedule events and activities in the evenings, which is fine for those people who work a standard day shift, but those who work evenings and weekends may find themselves missing out on those events and activities.
5. Creating a flexible routine
When you or someone else in your household work an alternating or on-call schedule, it's very hard to create the kinds of routines that help get household chores and other activities taken care of regularly.
Ideas for making a non-standard schedule work
1. Get Back to the Basics
- Write down your schedule and to-dos, and have a central or shared calendar if you and your spouse or kids are on different schedules.
- Plan ahead
- Be intentional.
Nancy shared how she limited family activities outside the home to those that brought enough joy to make the effort to get there worthwhile. She also automated as much as possible, created two-week meal plans, arranged for automatic bill payment, and engaged in speed cleaning. She suggested figuring out when you work best and getting help where you can.
Tay W. suggested making use of the time when the children are not awake. She got her most important tasks done between 4 am and 7:30 am and sent her kids to daycare when she had to attend classes. She also arranged for a nanny to come over when she had important meetings or needed general help. That way, the kids can be in the next room and you're free to focus.
You might consider hiring a local high school or junior high student to watch the children while you get some things done.
Emily P. suggested finding your productive time. She realized she takes longer to do things after 8 pm, so she starts bigger projects earlier in the day
- Communication and Teamwork
Find ways to communicate when you’re not home at the same time. Use a whiteboard, text messaging, or shared calendars.
Mansi shared that she and her husband have a planning session before the month starts and go through their shared Google calendar together. They also create a weekly plan on a whiteboard that shows everyone’s schedules.
- Let kids pull some of the load.
- Making sure their stuff is on the schedule
(“If it’s not on the calendar, it’s not happening.”)
- Helping with household chores
- If they're old enough to drive, they can run errands or chauffeur siblings
- Making sure their stuff is on the schedule
- Learn and practice mechanisms for reducing stress such as meditation, journaling, laughter, and self-care of all types, especially sleep, nutrition, movement. This is important since all studies indicate non-standard schedules create higher levels of stress.
- Plan your meals.
Cook once a month or once a week, on a day off, to have meals ready to heat and eat
Sue T. says planning meals stops her from getting takeaway. She packs lunch or dinner (or both).
Dandee C. says she eats chicken every other day and fill in the other days with a variety of different meats. She also combines meal planning with her shopping list.
Sharon M. plans her meals a week ahead and shops on her days off. She tries to have family meals cooked ahead so her husband can heat it up to eat, or load the slow cooker before she leaves for work. She plans her traditional home roast dinner on her day off every week to have enough time to serve the family favorite and enjoy together.
2. Plan and track
It's important to maintain a good project/task management system and build the habit of checking it regularly. This allows you pick things up where you left off when time allows. Sorting tasks by time and energy available might help, so the evening before, or the morning of, you see what time you’ll have available and look at your list to identify the next things you want to do.
When it comes to finding time to spend with important people in your life, think outside the box. Someone mentioned in another conversation how they meet for breakfast. During the years Mike and I were working/living separately during the week, we made a habit of calling each other on the way home from work to check in. Plan little getaways when you can to do something together. Check into a local hotel or bed & breakfast just to get away and connect. Use the other tips in this post to take care of the necessaries as efficiently as possible so that when you do have time off from work it doesn’t have to be spent on errands.
Dinah W. shared that she had a simple Excel spreadsheet that listed all the key things such as her class schedule, the kids’ extra-curricular activities, and housework. The more disciplined she was at sticking to the schedule the easier it was to fit everything in and feel a semblance of control.
Dandee C. also shared that she created a calendar in Excel. It helps her to schedule the logistics around her work schedule, kids’ curriculum, early release days, school schedule, appointments, and husband's work schedule. When she has open times, she schedules daily chores, workouts, me time, etc.
Michelle P. says time blocking on her Google calendar has worked well for her. (Use this in conjunction with some of the other tips, looking at a week at a time and blocking out the time for that week.)
Sarah K. says the best way she has come up with to deal with having to maximize time with her kids, carry the “mental load” of the family that women often do, and still be able to have intense focus for her job at regular interval despite the actual time slots always shifting is to sit down before a work week begins and strategize where she will put each of her “tiles on her mosaic”. She got the idea from the book I Know How She Does It by Laura Vanderkam and found it to be very helpful.
3. Create routines but be flexible
Sarah S. says she relies on are her calendar, to-do list, and daily habits. She wakes up very early because it's her most creative time, and she can get big and little projects done in record time (that would take much longer later in the day). She also reserves Wednesdays as her catch-up day, so she pushes hard for 2 days, catches up for a day (meaning fewer calls and meetings), and then pushes hard for another 2 days. She does laundry and food shopping during the week so it doesn't loom on the weekend. And her secret weapon is that she does no work on Saturdays. Whatever your schedule and whatever your beliefs, she strongly recommends picking one day per week that is a total day of rest and relaxation.
4. Make use of technology and automate as much as you can
Use programmable crock pots, automatic bill pay, standing grocery delivery orders, and Amazon Prime Pantry or Subscribe & Save
Dandee C. uses the delayed start function on her washer. She times the washer to start at 4 am and then puts the load in the dryer when she wakes up. When the kids get home, they grab their clothes and put it away.
Deidra M. uses an online family calendar called Cozi that allows her to share and color-code everyone’s activities. She says her family gets together once or twice a week to get everyone’s activities entered. That helps ensure everyone can get to where they need to be at the right time when she has to shuttle on her own because her husband is working or sleeping. She also reminds us to remember the advantages of being on a non-standard schedule. She homeschooled for many years, which allowed them the flexibility on non-standard days off. Her family was able to avoid weekend crowds by visiting popular venues in the middle of the week and enjoy family time.
Making the most of the life we have
Like everything else in life, one key is in our own attitude. We can look for the good in any situation. Not easy, but doable. Use the tools and resources we talk about on this show such as task managers, calendars, batching, and planning ahead to make the most of your time. Be intentional about what you do. Take some time, with the others in your family, to really think honestly about what matters most and what can give way to allow time for that and simplify your life as much as possible.
What do you think?
Do you, or does someone in your household, work a non-standard schedule? How do you make it work? Please share your questions or tips in the comments section below this post or in The Productive Woman Community Facebook group, or send me an email!
Resources and Links
I Know How She Does It, by Laura Vanderkam
- Irregular Work Scheduling and Its Consequences
- Nonstandard Work Schedules, Perceived Family Well-Being, and Daily Stressors
- Journal of Marriage and Family
- Why parents’ nonstandard work schedules matter for children: Is it the hours or the instability?
- Why The Gig Economy Is The Best And Worst Development For Workers Under 30
- What is the gig economy and why is it so controversial?
- Sometimes you don’t feel human – How the gig economy chews up and spits out millennials
- 2012 National Survey of Early Care and Education
- Parents’ Non-Standard Work Schedules Make Adequate Childrearing Difficult
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