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How To Prioritize Family and Friends When You Have Opposite Work and Sleep Schedules

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Here’s a common scenario: imagine you have important projects at work, or your work is demanding and at the end of the day you feel like you don’t have the time or energy to connect with your family and friends in the way that you feel you should.

For the same reason, you also find it difficult to do those “home projects” that need to be done.

Difficult right? Now turn that difficulty up to 11 — imagine you have all the same problems, but your work and sleep schedule is the opposite of all the other people in your life. They’re asleep when you’re awake, or you’re working when they are home from work or school. What the heck do you do then?

If you are in this situation, it can feel frustrating and isolating. The other people in your life may not fully understand what you’re going through (or you feel like they don’t), but I can assure you, you’re not alone. Many members of the AE community have been there, and in fact, we are in a unique position – we know exactly what you’re going through because we have been there too, and we have some tips for you that have helped us.

You’re not alone – we’re with you

Recently most of the AE team met up in Cebu, a province of the Philippines. It was the first time meeting in person for most of us, and as you do when you get to know your colleagues, we started talking about our families and home lives.

As I was sitting there drinking my sixteenth glass of calamansi juice, it really hit home for me — the Asia-based members of the team do a lot of juggling to get their important tasks done, contribute to our internal meetings, live up to our core values, and still be the dedicated parents, partners, and friends I know they are.

When I returned home, I asked members of The Dojo, our online productivity training library with a community, about the topic, and many of them are in or have been in the same situation.

Perhaps you can relate to some of these stories from AE team members and Dojo members, and hopefully, some strategies will work for you too. Whenever I am tempted to grumble about having a 7:30 am meeting, I remember that those of you who work opposite schedules are the real MVPs.

Marie:

I made sure my family and close friends know my work schedule. That means they can’t disturb me during the day from Tuesday to Friday or else I won’t be able to get enough sleep. I then catch up with them on weekends and block Monday morning Philippines time to run errands.

Sherby:

I try to have a “normal” life on the weekends. I try to take a nap after work, and wake up around noon. So I still have most of the day to spend with friends and/or family. So the quick morning nap helps.

I also take vitamins and try to avoid junk food altogether. Eat healthy and get some exercise.

I plan vacations weeks or even months in advance, if possible. When the vacation is all set, I usually take a day off before I actually go on the trip. This is when I reset my sleeping time from morning to evening. So I’ll be fully awake during the day while on vacation.

Also, I try not to stay home on the weekends. We would either go out to eat somewhere or just be outside of the house in general. A change of environment is always nice. Even a quick weekend getaway to a resort close by helps a lot. Being around a lot of people distracts my mind from getting sleepy. So I really try to just get out of the house on the weekend.

Dwayne:

I’ve worked overnight / opposite shifts in the past. It can put a real strain on relationships. I used to specifically block out time to connect with “day people” during our overlap – either meeting them for breakfast after getting off work, or meeting them for a late dinner before heading into work. It takes effort. From a sleep perspective, eye shades and earplugs or a good white noise generator were crucial. The hardest thing was being tempted to do things with day people and not getting enough sleep.

Mary:

My husband and I work at opposite times and it’s really a challenge juggling our schedules with work and family. Since we both work at home and we have some flexibility in our work schedule, we take advantage of that and create a schedule together. We try to manage our time and finish all our important tasks in the morning so that we can have free time with the kids. During work hours, we talk to the kids and set boundaries, give them activities that may entertain them until such time that we’re done with our tasks and ready to tuck them to bed. It’s a good thing that our work schedules start in the afternoon until midnight, we still have the chance to sleep with them. We also try to have family time every weekend so we’d catch up with what we missed and spend quality time with the kids.

Marmel:

I’ve been working online since 2012 when Bela was still 4 years old. When I started, I was terrible with time and I struggled during the first few months. What ended up happening was my sleeping schedule was non-existent. I took a nap when possible. I gained 30+ lbs because of this pattern. I was working Pacific time so it was midnight to 9 AM in the Philippines. I can’t remember truly how I survived but I did. I am glad that 3 years ago, I was hired by AE. Although we have a flexible schedule, there are still hours wherein we really have to work. Before, I would sleep late but still wake up early. Which gave me like 3 to 4 hours of sleep–it was bad. I knew I had to change this habit. So I sacrificed mornings with Bela so that I could get 7 hours of sleep. She sleeps at 9 PM every night. That’s the last time I would see her and I will get to see her again at 5 or 6 PM the next day. Every Friday, we eat lunch together. But aside from that, I set aside 6PM to 8PM for her. We go over her school assignments or if it’s Friday night, watch anime for a bit. Weekends are for family and friends. We already have a schedule of sorts. Saturday morning grocery shopping and just spend time at home with the dogs, do some house work (painting stuff or trimming plants or bath day for the furry kids). Saturday nights are spent with my long-time friends. Then Sundays, we take Bela to her Karate class in the morning and then spend lunch with Lloyd’s family (I cook and take the food to their house). Then afternoon is just at home and cleaning. So basically, we have a schedule. Lloyd works from home too and we share the same office. But we both wear headphones when we’re working. My side of the family is two islands away from where I live. So I try to visit regularly or they visit me. Good thing being with AE is I can take a planned leave when that happens. Anyway, I make sure to remain in constant contact with my family and friends. Bela is a very understanding child. She knows that her parents work from home. She knocks before she enters our office or when she sees the do not disturb sign (when we have meetings), she doesn’t force herself in. I am very lucky to have her.

7 Tips For Maintaining Productive Relationships With A Mismatched Schedule

From the stories above, you should have some strategies that have worked for members of the Dojo community and AE team members. Here are seven additional things you can do to be able to prioritize that precious time with others when your schedules barely overlap.

1. Don’t Sacrifice Sleep (But try to be flexible)

As you’ve heard above, the most tempting thing to do is to reduce the amount of sleep you get so that you can spend more time with others or on your personal projects.

It’s tempting, but don’t do it. Eventually, not getting enough sleep will have a negative impact on nearly every aspect of your life and work. Sleep is arguably more important than time management.

Having said that, you and your partner may want to have some flexibility around when that sleep happens. Depending on the situation (and if it is possible), one of you may want to shift your sleep schedules earlier or later than you’re used to in order to make things work as much as possible.

You also want to be flexible and respectful of others when you’re awake and they’re asleep. Things like:

  • Using an Apple Watch, fitness tracker, or other alarm that doesn’t wake the other person (this is a popular tip in the Dojo).
  • Not watching/listening to/playing loud things while the other person is sleeping. Headphones are your friend here.
  • Establishing a workspace that doesn’t impact others’ sleep.

If all else fails, some couples have had with success with sleeping in separate beds. We don’t necessarily advocate that, but if it works for you leave a comment below and let us know.

If you need some sleep-improvement strategies, we have many articles and podcasts on sleep available. In some cases we create later-targeted resources on specific topics for you, so check out our Better Sleep guide if this is something you struggle with.

2. Use Shared Organizers

If you have less face time with others, you have fewer opportunities to discuss things that need to be done and things that are happening. It’s important that everyone knows what is going on when so that you can go straight into “doing” mode when the opportunity arises.

One way to accomplish this is to have shared organizational tools with the people in your life so that you all have access to everything. Here are some examples:

  • Shared Task Managers: To-dos that impact the family can be captured to a task manager that is shared. This way, one family member can record tasks for the other to implement, and vice-versa. This keeps everyone contributing and keeps home projects moving. An example of using Asana for this is outlined in this podcast.
  • Grocery Lists: This is similar to to-dos. By sharing a grocery list that everyone can access anywhere, people can pick up what is needed for the family wherever they are, and family members can add things to the list even while the other person is sleeping. My wife and I keep things simple here and use a shared iOS Reminders list. She stays up way later than I do, and I’ll often find items added when I swing by the store.
  • Calendar: This is a big one. Since your time with others is so precious, you want to make sure you aren’t scheduling individual appointments when there are opportunities to do family activities. Seeing what everyone is doing when will also give you the ability to make events that match your schedule. A shared calendar with the people important to you makes this so much easier. Here’s an example of a shared calendar in action.

3. Outsource as much as possible

Look for opportunities to maximize connection time and minimize routine task time. A great way to do this is to outsource as many personal tasks as possible. The less time you spend on cleaning, laundry, and doing groceries, the more time you have for spending time with people.

A side benefit of outsourcing household chores? You eliminate the feeling of resentment that can creep in when one person is not around to help with tasks. Many people with mismatched schedules report this to be a real struggle.

Here’s an AE guide to personal outsourcing.

4. Go for small gestures

When you are not able to spend as much time with people as you’d like, small gestures can make a big impact.

What do we mean by “small gestures”? Things like leaving little notes in the other person’s lunch or on the whiteboard at home, or squeezing in a quick text or call to someone during a break.

Since a lot of your communication will be asynchronous, use this to your advantage — a small “hi, how’s your day going?” text or email will go a long way towards keeping communications open.

5. Proactively schedule

If you are familiar with what we call structural productivity, you will know that we advocate making time for the things you want to accomplish. Don’t just wait until you “have time” to do something, but get your important things on your calendar first, and then work everything else around it.

When you have mismatched schedules with the people around you, this becomes critical. As you’ve seen by some of the stories above, when you know your work/activity schedules, it becomes important to schedule a time to connect. Here’s an example from Dwayne:

A friend of mine encouraged me [to have] breakfast after getting off work / meet for dessert before going to work kinds of rituals to help keep the connections alive

Plan ahead time together as far ahead as possible. Yes, it would be nice to be more spontaneous, but you have to work within the constraints that you have.

6. Over-communicate

Communications is, of course, important in any relationship whether it’s friends or family.

When you have opposite schedules, there is more of a chance that small issues or annoyances will fester and grow into big ones. The key is to over-communicate. Proactively schedule (there’s that tip again) time to discuss things, and make sure to bring issues up as quickly as possible.

A regular family meeting is a great tool to accomplish this.

As you’ve seen in the stories above, you want to make sure to communicate expectations and boundaries. Make sure people around you know when it is OK to contact you and when you need to be focused on work or sleep.

7. Make use of your alone time

If your friends or family have a different schedule than you do, there’s a good chance you are going to have more alone time than you’re used to.

It’s important to have downtime, but you could also look at it as an opportunity — are there things you’ve always wanted to do? You could:

  • Use your alone time to master a skill you’ve always wanted to do. Do you want to learn Thai cooking? Have you always wanted to learn to paint? Now’s your chance.
  • Start a side-hustle. Do you have a business idea, or do you want to escape the cubicle someday? This could be a productive way to spend alone time.

Having time to yourself is also a great opportunity to focus on an area of productivity you want to work on. Here’s a tool to help you find a good area to start with.

Conclusion

While we advocate against the concept of work-life balance, having opposite schedules from those around you can really make you feel like that balance is really out of whack.

You may be feeling tired, frustrated, or feeling disconnected from those around you. As you’ve seen, many of us here at AE have been there and know what it’s like.

Don’t try to implement all seven tips in this article at once. Pick the one that resonates the most with you and implement it. Tweak until you have it working for you, and then move on to the next one. They’ve worked for many members of the AE community, and we know they can work for you.

If you’re still feeling stuck, there could be another underlying issue. Take our Productivity Quiz to find out what the issue is, and get some action steps to solve it.

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