You receive a meeting request for April 5th. Your calendar is open, so you accept the request. You get asked to visit an out-of-state client on April 12th. Your calendar is open, so you say yes. You’re asked to make a presentation in place of a team member who is out of town, on April 14th. You want to be a team player, so you say yes. And soon what was a relatively slow month is booked with meetings, travel, and other commitments. Mid-month you’re tired, over-extended, and resentful. You want to be a good team member and a responsive professional. How do you do both without feeling tired and resentful?
One of the best pieces of advice I heard many years ago was to decide how to handle something before the situation presents itself. For example, if you’re trying to lose weight and you’re going to an event that will have an amazing buffet, decide what you will and won’t eat before you arrive. Choosing not to eat the desserts will be much easier if you’ve made that decision before the event rather than when you’re standing in front of temptation. Managing commitments and schedules can work the same way.
Before having a child, I worked 80 hours a week and traveled up to six days a week. After having my son, I realized that I didn’t want to keep that kind of schedule anymore. I needed to cut back. So, I created clear and specific boundaries for myself. I decided how many days a month I would travel, by what time I needed to arrive home from a trip, and how many speaking engagements I would commit to each month. When I received speaking requests, I honored my pre-established boundaries. If I was already on the road the maximum number of days, I told myself I would travel, I asked if the client could do a different month and if the answer was no, I turned the work down.
I never deviated from my established boundaries. And when speaking requests came in, the decision-making wasn’t a struggle. I didn’t have to decide if accepting a request would be too much. I’d already made the hard decisions about the schedule I would keep. So, each incoming request either fit into my already-decided-schedule or it didn’t.
I work for myself. I have latitude to make decisions about my schedule that I might not if I still had corporate job. So how do you make and share decisions when you’re not your own boss?
Decide what you want your schedule to look like. How many hours do you want to work a week? What time would you like to start and stop working on most days? How much travel are you willing and able to do? How many meetings can you attend a day and still get your work done, so you’re not working each evening or weekend?
Then communicate your desired schedule to the person you work for. Tell your manager how much travel you would like to do and the hours you would like to work. Then negotiate. You may not be able to maintain the schedule you want all the time, but you certainly won’t if you don’t make your desires known.
The time to tell your manager that you want to reduce your travel is before you’re asked to take a trip, not after. But it’s never too late. If you find yourself too busy or on the road too much, you can always have a conversation and renegotiate.
It’s been two years since I’ve traveled for work or done an in-person speaking engagement. I’m just now accepting speaking engagements that will put me back on the road. And I’ve realized that I need to reset my boundaries. Life has changed in the past two years. I need to re-adjust my commitments to myself. And the time to do that is before the next speaking requests comes in, not after.