The Best Tool for an Irregular Work Schedule

An irregular work schedule can make it difficult to optimize your life. I know because for most of my life I’ve worked irregular hours. First as a server and bartender, and now as a system operator for an electric company.

In a few weeks I leave shift-work behind for a “9-to-5” opportunity. In celebration of a new journey, I want to share best tool I’ve used to improve my life over the last few years, despite the challenges of an irregular work schedule.

Accept that regular routines don’t work

My work hours are all over the place because our operation is 24/7. I might work a 12-hour day shift and then jump right into a 12-hour night shift. (This is a great article on life as an energy control center operator.) 

It has been impossible to establish a “normal” routine. I might eat breakfast a 4 am one day and then 2 pm the next. I might exercise for a week straight while on “long change” (a period where I have more than a week off after working big chunks of time), and then not even think about the gym for weeks after that.

Normal people set a goal like: “Workout Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.” For years I tried to shove that kind of goal into my irregular schedule and it has always failed.

Get outside the box

I finally stopped and asked the question, “Why do I need to workout on weekdays?” The whole idea behind a goal like the one above is to establish a habit. But I can’t shove a square goal into a round life, can I?

“Don’t shove a square goal into a round life, make your goals work for you.”

That’s when I came up with the rolling action list—just a simple list of reoccurring tasks where the first item is done first and then “rolled” to the bottom

I threw out the notion that I needed to get certain things done on certain days, and instead turned my “routine” items into something I could manage on my schedule.

I used to have a specific workout mapped to each weekday. Then I would miss a Tuesday workout and the routine was shot unless I doubled up the next day—if I missed two days, forget about it. Naturally, I’d do nothing and the routine would go back on the shelf.

Now I just do the next workout whenever I can find the time. It doesn’t matter if I miss a day—or a week. The next chance I get, I’ll just do the next thing on the list.

The added beauty is my workout list has expanded. It’s amazing how much more creative I can be when I’m not cramming tasks into an arbitrary box.

Unleash the creative achiever

I like to use rolling action lists instead of scheduling reoccurring tasks when it’s possible. It let’s me be more creative in what I get done, and dynamic in when I do it.

If your life is irregular, accept it, and stop trying to do things regularly. Rolling action lists are a perfect way to get to what’s important—on your time.

What routine of yours could work better if it wasn’t chained to a schedule?