Gain Control of Your Calendar — How to Set Entrepreneur Work Hours

Oct 10, 2023

Gain Control of Your Calendar — How to Set Entrepreneur Work Hours

by | Oct 10, 2023

Excerpted Focused: Reclaim Your Time, Ditch Overwhelm, and Do Less Better, Part III: You Have Exactly the Time You Need — Finding Time to Focus


The beauty of being an entrepreneur is flexibility, right? But that is the rub, too. If you have a schedule where you
could work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, you can start to feel like you should be working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This leads to feeling like you're constantly in the wrong place at the wrong time. Pushing your kid on the swing? You should be replying to that client. Finishing up this week's blog post at 10 p.m.? You really should get in bed.

The solution? Define your container. Set start and end times to your work day. 

If this book were titled One Way to Be More Focused, my suggestion would be to set work hours. 

You need to know when your work day starts and when it ends. That is the only way you can strategically plan what you can get done. Remember our soup analogy? Setting work hours is picking your storage container before you even shop for ingredients. It's looking at the two-quart storage container you have first and deciding to make just enough soup to fit in the container you already have. Deciding the size of your work container first is the best way to ensure everything fits into your schedule, and soup (or work, in this case) doesn’t spill all over the counter. 

Your hours can be set like Monday through Thursday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., or they can be flexible each week, or even change each day, but at the beginning of each day you need a clear plan for when your work day starts and when it stops. 

Your work hours shouldn’t be “all the free time I have.” If your kids are in school from 9 to 2, your work hours do not need to be 9 to 2. If you usually eat dinner at 6, your work day can still end at 4. In fact, giving yourself a more realistic container will actually make you more productive in the time you have. If you say, “My kids are in school from 9 to 2, so those are my work hours,” but then you come home from drop off, refill your coffee, send a quick text to a parent you ran into at school, pull out frozen meat to thaw for dinner, and now its 9:30, you are behind. You have now “wasted” part of your work day, and if you have planned to get five hours of work done, you have the added stress of getting caught up. Maybe your work day should be 10 to 2.

How to Set Work Hours

The first step in creating your container is to decide what your ideal total work hours are. This can be done a few different ways. You might clearly have a number in your head like, I’d like to limit my work hours to 30 hours a week. You might have outside restrictions, like your kids' school schedule, that help you say, “I have 20 hours a week while the kids are in school.” If you are untangling from a schedule where you work in “all available gaps of time” you might need to do a little journaling and time-tracking to figure out your available work hours. 

You can also back into how much time you have available by doing some math. Everyone starts with 168 hours in a week. Ask yourself these questions to help you narrow down how you want to spend yours:

  1. How much sleep do I need/want? From what time to what time?
  2. How much time do I need to wind down and prepare for sleep?
  3. How much time do I need in the mornings to get ready for my day? (Think about not only things like getting dressed, showering, etc., but also meditation, morning pages, or anything else you want to include in your morning routine.)
  4. How much time do I need for meal preparation and eating?
  5. Do I want my work hours to include weekends, or only Monday through Friday?
  6. How much time do I want to block out for exercise or movement?
  7. How much time do I set aside for family and friends? (This can be caring for children, spending time with a spouse, or gathering with friends.)
  8. What else needs time in my schedule (pet care, volunteer work, social activities, commuting, etc.)?

Once you have numbers for each of these, start subtracting from 168. What’s left over is your available work time. It can also be helpful to visually do this on a weekly planning page. You can download a blank version at focus-sessions.com/bookbonus.

Here is my preferred method to decide work hours:

Sit down with a journal and make a wish list, or really listen to your own intuition about what you would like your days to look like. This is your time to think about things like fitting in your favorite yoga class Mondays at noon, or always finishing your work by 3 p.m. Perhaps you want to plan to work one weekend a month so you can have more flexibility during your week. Maybe you want to have one late work night a week when your partner is responsible for dinner. Or maybe you never want to miss volunteering in your child's classroom on Thursdays. These ideas will help you create a work schedule that is aligned with the house you want to build we discussed in Part 1. The key is really thinking about how you want to feel. Do you feel better when you get started early? Are you more fulfilled when you get self-care and family things done first? I find when I focus on how I want my week to feel, my work hours naturally start to take shape.

Try asking yourself the following questions:

  • When do I want my work day to start to feel the best?
  • When do I want my work day to end?
  • Do I want some days to be longer than others?
  • Do I want a day to meet up with friends?
  • Do I have other important things to do during my week like an exercise class or volunteering?
  • Is my work week M–F or weekends, too?

Remember, there are no ideal work hours. Start at 6 a.m.? Great! Don’t start until 3 p.m.? Perfect. Never work on Tuesdays? Wonderful. Don’t do friend lunches midday so you can stop work in time for school pick up? Great, schedule weekend friend-hikes instead! Remember, Focus Culture is all about regaining control of our calendars.

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