How to Own Your 9-to-9

I used to work all hours of the day. I answered emails at 3 a.m. and sent emails at 4 a.m. I checked my phone religiously from the time I woke up until the time I went to bed. As a business owner and entrepreneur, I was always on.

But then, I had a baby.

And even though I swore up and down that having a baby would only slightly change my work ethic and daily habits, I realized that it had more of an impact than I anticipated. This became crystal clear one evening when I opted to watch my baby giggle and roll over from 9 to 10 p.m. instead of being glued to my iPhone waiting for the next email response. But, I must admit that while watching his giggly faces, I did feel a pang of guilt and had to restrain myself from picking up my phone.

Then it hit me. I had to be present. I couldn’t miss these moments.

It was time to own my 9-to-9.

In the simplest terms, I realized that I needed to set a schedule that worked for me and fit the quality of life I wanted to have at the moment — not how I used to do things and not how I may do things forever — just what I needed right now, five months after experiencing this life-changing event.

So, I sat down and devised a plan on what would work best for my family and me, and set solid boundaries (albeit, solid yet flexible — if that’s a thing — boundaries that may be repositioned in the future).

Here’s what I did.

1. Set my priorities. I asked myself what I wanted my day, week, and month to look like. I evaluated how much time I needed to work to fulfill my commitments and how much I wanted to work. And I figured out how much time I wanted to completely devote to my family. Having a somewhat flexible schedule and working remotely, I had the ability to make adjustments to sort this out. I also knew that it would require some sacrifices on my end and that I would be basically reprioritizing everything — work, family, fitness, etc.

2. Devised a work/home schedule. Since I can pretty much predict my workload from week to week (knowing that there are “busy times” and additional work that may pop up), I have a good idea of how much time I will need during peak (9-to-5) and off hours (evenings and weekends) to complete my work. Since I use a block scheduling strategy, I was able to set a schedule and see where I could make adjustments. I also scheduled my home duties and “outsourced” what I could. I enrolled in a home grocery delivery service (thanks, Amazon Fresh!) and set up a schedule for cleaning the house. With those duties off my plate, I could now focus on my family instead of trudging to the grocery store and trying to schedule the trip between feedings and naps.

3. Made rules. Once I had a handle on my work/life vision, current and future commitments, and the ebbs and flow of taking care of a home and business, I decided that I would set rules allowing me the freedom to step away from my phone and laptop and be present in the moment with my family. My first rule was to own my 9-to-9. That meant that every evening, at 9 p.m. the work game was over — unless I decided I needed to get something done. I would not feel guilty about turning off emails and not responding and/or leaving things go until 9 a.m. the next day. I took the expectation off myself to be performing during those times when I needed to own them so I could do everything I needed to do for my family, without the guilt attached.

4. Stuck to my schedule. I also did one other thing — I solidified my split shift. I use the split shift strategy to get my work done and capitalize on my peak productivity hours. I focus on my more skillful tasks in the AM and leave the afternoon for admin work and/or taking short breaks to do laundry or other things that break up the day. I then go back to working for a couple of hours in the evening (usually based around my son’s active/inactive schedule) and set my to-do lists, etc. for the following day.

For me, this strategy has to be fluid, so there are times things may be a bit different, but it at least provides a foundation that will keep me on task, productive, and focused — hopefully not missing any of those “oh so precious” moments that life is made of.