Although it’s not completely gone, the traditional 9-to-5 schedule is becoming obsolete. This isn’t exactly a bad thing as it allows people to work around their biological prime times. And, it’s becoming an attractive perk when hiring talent — people would exactly take a pay cut if offered a more flexible schedule. Do you have an unpredictable schedule? Manage your calendar in an unpredictable world.

Do you have an unpredictable schedule?

At the same time, there are some downsides when you have an irregular or unpredictable schedule. This includes conflicts at home like finding childcare, disrupted sleep patterns, and inconsistent pay to name a few.

You can manage your calendar in an unpredictable world.

The good news is that you can still manage your time and productivity which is great for entrepreneurs, freelancers, or shift workers who struggle with alternative schedules. Want to know? Here are some tips to get you started.

Develop a time management plan.

This isn’t probably a task that makes you jump out of bed in the morning. It also takes quite a bit of work upfront on your end. However, creating a time management plan will help you reach your goals, find stability, improve relationships, and increase your productivity. Also, it can improve your overall health, help you discover more free time, and advance your career.

While everyone can benefit from developing such a plan, it’s especially important for those who don’t have a set schedule. After all, it will keep you organized and ensure that everything is in order. For example, if you’re a parent, then you would review your schedule for the next month so that you can plan for childcare in advance instead of scrambling at the last minute.

But, where exactly should you start? Well, begin by knowing your strengths and weaknesses. This way you can focus on the strategies and tools that can benefit you. For instance, procrastination may not be an issue for you. However, you do spend a majority of your downtime on unproductive activities. So, in this case, you would work on not wasting your free time by tracking your time to see how it’s being spent.

From there, you should try strategies like only focusing on your top three priorities for the day, breaking large goals into manageable goals, and getting organized. Also, start using a shared calendar so that the most important people in life can keep track of your schedule. Most online calendars work just fine. But, you may want to review options like Cozi for your family or a calendar app specifically designed for shitwork.

Establish (and stick to) a routine.

“A solid routine fosters a well-worn groove for one’s mental energies and helps stave off the tyranny of moods,” wrote Mason Currey in his book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work. “In the right hands,” Currey adds, “[a routine] can be a finely calibrated mechanism for taking advantage of a range of limited resources: time (the most limited resource of all) as well as willpower, self-discipline, optimism.”

Additionally, routines come with benefits like reducing stress and anxiety, ensures that you do things well, and keep you both creative and productive. And, it guarantees that you get the most out of your time, like learning new skills or spending time on a hobby.

Regardless if you’re working or not, establish morning and evening routines. This would be doing things like making your bed, exercising, eating breakfast, and working on your most important task in the A.M. At night, you should plan out your day for tomorrow, pick out your clothes, prep your meals, read, and reflect.

While you should try to keep the same sleep schedule, you don’t want to interrupt your circadian rhythms, this isn’t always possible and your routine gets broken. Sometimes you may have to burn the midnight oil to launch a new product or your work shifts. In this case, it’s more about maintaining the routine and not so much about the time on the clock.

Create structure around your work.

There’s no denying that we work best when while in a routine. Unfortunately, when you have a schedule that’s all over the place, you can’t always follow an effective routine. Thankfully, if you create structure around your work, you can let your brain know that it’s time roll-up your sleeves and get to work.

The easiest way to do this would be to work in the same spot. You could also establish hard stop times based around your productivity, like working undisturbed for 45-minutes and taking a 15-minute break. You could also try listening to the same background noise while working. Personally, I listen to the same Spotify playlist whenever I work.

If that doesn’t work for you, there are other ways to trick your brain to get into the zone, such as:

  • Clear your mind so that you aren’t interrupting your flow state. Scheduling tasks is one way to do this since it can prevent your mind from wandering about other tasks.
  • Keep smartphones out of sight — or at least turn notifications.
  • Take some deep breaths to let the brain know that everything is alright.
  • Break tasks down into smaller pieces so that they don’t seem overwhelming.
  • Rethink your caffeine intake. Instead of drinking a cup of Joe when your first wake-up, have it around 10 AM, or after lunch.
  • Work when you don’t feel like it.

Find your schedule center.

Your schedule center, according to Eric Ravenscraft in a Lifehacker piece, “are the parts of your schedule that are static from week to week.” Or, in other words, “the most important things you need to accomplish,” such as your primary source of income. “Make these the core of your schedule and build out around them.”

“Your schedule center is the foundation on which you build the rest of your tasks,” continues Ravenscraft. “If you work Tuesday through Saturday, you know that either Sunday or Monday should be your laundry day.” Since Monday is blocked out for laundry, then Sunday could be the day to clean your kitchen or run errands. Ideally, you should group these tasks together since it saves you time and energy — this is because you’re not switching from task-to-task. “Once you establish some rules for prioritizing tasks and find the foundation of your schedule, the rest can start to write itself.”

Master the art of saying “no.”

This took a little practice to get used to doing. But, saying “no” is hands down one of my favorite time management techniques. I mean it’s the most effective way to protect your precious time — which is even more in short supply when you don’t have a consistent schedule.

Of course, rejecting requests for your time isn’t always easy. In fact, it’s better that you just accept the fact that there will be times when you feel guilty. However, as long as you’re honest and not a total jerk others will understand.

After that, you need to be aware of your priorities. It sounds simple enough. But, when you know what’s most important to you, then you won’t let other people’s priorities interfere with your own. A couple of other pointers would be to realize that time is literally money and you need to set boundaries and stick to them. In other words, when you’re not working, then that’s your time to spend it however you please.

Tap into the power of naps.

It’s been found that naps can restore alertness, reduce mistakes, and improve performance. This can be extremely useful if you’re putting in a long day — I have a friend who catches 20-minute catnaps during his 12-hour shifts. In fact, it’s recommended that 20-30 minutes can help anyone enhance their alertness and performance.

So, if possible, go ahead and take a quick nap when you’re working. You’re not lazy or unambitious. Just remember to keep your naps short and don’t take them too close to your bedtime.

Take care of your health.

Making your health is already a challenge. It’s even more so when you don’t have the same schedule every day. However, you need to schedule time exercise. Even if you aren’t visiting the gym for an hour or more, at least go for a walk or do some quick exercises in your workplace. It’s best that you do this several hours before going to bed. Linda Ray also suggests on that you work out following “your shift when you work days and mornings.”

Skip the vending machines and junk food and bring in healthy meals and always have nutritious snacks closeby. “You can build the big, heavy meals into your normal routine on days you work a regular day shift and have sufficient time to digest the food before going to bed,” adds Ray.

Make sure that you get plenty of quality sleep each night. If possible, try to keep the same pattern every night.

Get the most of delegation and technology.

Use delegation and technology as much as you can afford. This isn’t possible for everyone. But, let’s say that you have children. You could assign them household chores on the days that you’re working. At work, you could designate someone to lead the rest of your team on your days off. You could also outsource certain responsibilities to freelancers so that you can focus on your top priorities both in and out of work.

Another option would be to rely on technology for repetitive tasks whether you’re on the clock or not. Examples would be artificial intelligence to assist you with scheduling or handling customer service inquiries.

Make the adjustments easier.

Finally, you can make the scheduling changes much smoother if you keep the sleep schedule — even when you’re not working. Remember, this helps regulate your circadian rhythms.

If there are drastic shifts in your schedule, like going from a day to night shift try to rotate clockwise since this makes it easier to adjust. And, several days before the new shift starts, alter your sleep schedule so that your body can gradually get used to the new pattern.