Let me ask you a couple of questions:
- Do you struggle (generally, or time to time) with managing your time; juggling, and getting everything done?
- Do, or have you struggled with what your “regular” office hours “should” be?
- Is part of your challenge with setting office hours your innate want of flexibility?
If so, join the club of other right-brained (or fairly balanced-brained) VAs who struggle with the same things.
Let me get a couple of things out of the way:
1. Most organizing methods (including those that help with time management) are written by left-brained people for left-brained people. If you’re right-brained, or balanced-brained, they don’t work for you because they tend to be rigid, and therefore don’t allow you enough creative freedom. If you’ve been struggling with GTD, or any other “system,” stop. The system isn’t meant for you.
2. Regular office hours are nice, in that they allow a client to feel safe that you are a serious business owner and take your business seriously. Otherwise, they serve little real purpose; you really can work when you want.
3. Your time can be as flexible as you want or need it to be.
Now, about handling those three things to bring some peace to your practice and life, in reverse order:
3. See #2, below
2. It’s fine to choose office hours. As I said, they make clients feel safe, and that’s a good thing. But in order to set them, and have the flexibility you crave, all you have to do is add one word to your description of your office hours. Instead of saying, “I’m in my office, Monday through Friday, between 9a and 5p,” say, “I’m generally in my office, Monday through Friday, between 9a and 5p.” “Generally” makes all the difference in the world, because it conveys that you’re not always there during those hours.
If you explain your business well to your clients, they’ll naturally understand that since they aren’t paying you to sit there, eight hours each day and be instantly available to them, you might, in fact, not be there eight hours each day. Only a dolt would assume otherwise, and you don’t work with dolts, right? ;)
Then, you can work exactly when you most want to work with one caveat: you can’t set hours and then never be available during those hours. That would actually damage trust. So, set them when you are most likely to be around in your office, but let your clients know that’s not carved in stone.
Oh, something else about hours. They don’t have to be in one stretch, they don’t have to be eight hours/day, and you don’t have to work five days/week. It’s perfectly ok to be off every Friday (I haven’t worked Fridays since 1992, and no one has ever had a problem with that), or Wednesday, or … well, the point is you don’t have to work five days/week. You can also have hours like 9a-11a and 2p-6p, or, again, whatever suits you.
See how this handles both #2 and #3?
1. My personal fav.
The bottom line is this: All the Do, Ditch, Dump, Delegate, blahblahblah systems in the world aren’t going to work for you if you can’t manage time. And you can’t manage your time if you aren’t using a clock and calendar to do it. Fact.
There really are only so many hours in a day. And if you don’t assign everything you do a date and time to be done, you’ll never know how much you can do in any given time, or get a handle on getting everything done in the time you have available to you.
In case you feel like I’m caging you already, hang on. Yes–this is a fairly left-brained way of handling it, but the right-brained part comes up in a minute, so do keep reading.
A quick story, to help explain the concept…
Have you ever wondered why you’ll see a couple of horses in a reaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaally large pasture? It’s because horses need lots of room to run around. As important as the space, though is that they also need to be able to see the pasture fences so they know where the boundaries of their space lie. When they know that, they feel free to run and gallop and play. When they have no fences, they don’t feel safe.
You already have the pasture. What you’re missing are the fences. When you have that, you know what you can and cannot do, and can then relax in to the doing.
For the sake of our discussion, your business is your pasture. The fences—your clock and calendar. You can feel free to do whatever you want, as long as you can point to a time and date on your calendar and block off the time for it.
Have a client who needs some research done but doesn’t say by when? Ask! If the client says, “Can you do it by the end of the day tomorrow,” you go to your calendar, look at what’s scheduled, and *if* you can easily make it happen, say, “I’ll have that to you tomorrow (a specific date) by _____ (name a specific time).” If you already have tomorrow booked, say, “I can’t do that, but I can get it to you _____ (pick a day/date), at _____ (pick a time). If the client isn’t ok with that, you either find a time that works for you both, OR you suggest that you find someone else to help. If the client is ok with the date/time you’ve suggested, you block off the work time in your calendar, do the work, and deliver it on time…or early.
Don’t explain why you can’t get it done in the client’s first timeframe—it’s frankly none of his/her business why you can’t, and it makes it sound like you feel you have to justify your busy-ness (remember, although clients on retainer buy a chunk of your time, all you’ve committed to is having that amount of time available during the month to do the work. You don’t commit to when, because “when” is up to you, and only you).
If you schedule everything, you’ll never overpromise or underdeliver. You’ll also never feel overwhelmed with all there is to get done—it’s impossible because you simply cannot over commit when everything has been assigned a date and time.
Surprised? The coolest thing is that you don’t have to keep commitments to yourself about scheduling. You are free to cancel, reschedule, move… do whatever you want with the stuff you’ve put on your calendar. What I’m saying is… just because you scheduled time from noon to 1p today to do some research that you’ve promised to a client by 10a tomorrow doesn’t mean you actually have to do it at noon. Get a better idea? Just don’t feel moved to do it? Don’t!
Instead, do whatever else you want, as long as you can move what’s on that date/time to another open space on your calendar and still meet the deadline you agreed to with the client.
The same thing goes for a long lunch with a friend, a massage, a run, a nap, time to write or paint—whatever it is that YOU need or want to do, if you put it on your calendar with everything else, it becomes just a part of your day. In the example a couple of paragraphs above, you could have hours that were 9a-11a, and 2p-6p to make time to go to the gym every day at 11 and get a massage and have lunch with your husband between 11a and 2p, OR you could just say that your hours are generally 9a-6p, and just leave your office, as if going to an appointment, or working on a client’s work, between 11a and 2p.
The point is, however you want to frame it, it’s really ok to skip out of your office, midday. It may feel a little naughty in the beginning, but in time, it will feel absolutely appropriate and beyond ok.
Now, because I didn’t actually say this, let me: If having free time in your week to do “stuff” is important to you, block that time on your calendar, first. Then block your client work around it.
The moxie here this week is in how to make things work in your practice so you can lead the high-quality life that, presumably, was part of what you wanted that led you to become a Virtual Assistant to begin with.
Your practice. Your way. What could be better?