Sunday, January 2, 2011

Lessons from Abroad: Change up Your Schedule

I am off to Spain and Portugal this week for vacation so I decided to schedule some posts. I recently wrote a series of articles entitled "Lessons from Abroad" for a friend's coaching newsletter and blog about lessons I've learned from my experience living in Italy which helped me find my passion and purpose. I never posted links to the last two articles here, so I decided to repost all of the articles this week to give them a home on my blog as well as share them with you.  Enjoy!

+ + + + + 

Lessons from Abroad: Change up Your Schedule

Imagine… dropping out of your normal life for a couple of years, having the chance to completely immerse yourself in something new, and reevaluating your direction in life. And then, when it’s all over, come back to where you started again.

That’s where I am, what I’m doing - living and working in Italy on a two year assignment. Two years ago, my corporate management job led me to a project that would require placing people on temporary assignment abroad. I was to be the hiring manager for two positions, yet after my first business trip to Italy, I found the growing urge to apply for the job myself. Fast forward a few months of family decisions and applications and interviews, and I had the job. Months of immigration applications and paperwork and waiting and waiting later, and I had moved to Italy.

Now what? The plan: Learn to live in Italy with my family. Work. Travel. Then come home a little wiser about the world and ready to take up my career track again. I was all set. But life has a way of surprising us, and I couldn’t have been more wrong. What I’ve discovered in my time in Italy is my true passion, where my heart and purpose lies, and it’s not the management chain in a corporate job.

How did this happen? I wasn’t really looking for this, at least not at the beginning. But somewhere along the way, the changes I have made in my life while living abroad have led me to find something new. I’ve learned to follow my heart, listen to my intuition, and it’s been amazing what I have learned about myself. The move to Italy has, first and foremost, made me more aware: Aware of my surroundings, and how they affect me; Aware of the limitations I have been putting on myself; Aware of the choices I truly have, if I let myself be open to possibilities.

You might be thinking, that’s great and all, but how can translate to me? I’m not ever going to live abroad. I don’t have any plans to just pick up my family and move for two years. I can’t risk the stability of my job, my life, my family in order to seek my path in this way. But I believe that there are some key things that moving to Italy has done to increase my awareness and my ability to understand myself, and it’s not all about living in another culture. I have boiled it town to five things that anyone can do, no matter where you live or what you do for a living. In practicing these you can open up the possibilities, become more aware, and find your true path that lies somewhere deep within.

Over the coming days, I’ll go through each of the five, explaining why these have worked for me and some ideas of how you can use them too. The first key I’ll share today, starts with finding your creative time: Change up Your Schedule

My job in Italy requires an altered work schedule. I still directly work for an organization on the west coast of the United States, with a nine hour time difference from where I live. This means that I have to work both on site in Italy and on the phone back to the US on a daily basis. On one of my early business trips, before the move, I realized that it’s easy to work two full work days in this situation – head into the office in the morning, wrap up the day up with teleconferences in the afternoon, and then, in the evening get on the computer for more work at the same time everyone back in the US is working. While that was sustainable for a week long business trip, that just wouldn’t work for me and my family over the next two years.

The schedule I practice to limit the “two work day” situation is this: I work afternoons, from around noon to six, in the office. Then I head home, have dinner, hang out with my family, do my personal things, tuck my son into bed and get back online and on the phone for a couple of hours of work with my coworkers in the US. This may sound awful, and it certainly makes for short evenings, but the side effect is the most amazing thing - it has freed up my mornings.

I am a morning person, I always have been. I like to get up early, have my quiet time before getting into the day and interacting with people. The morning is also my creative time. Ideas come more readily, I have creative energy and everything just flows. For the first time in my life, on a regular basis more than the weekends, I now have this creative time every day. To do what I want. Read what I want. Journal. Explore and play creatively. Go for a walk.

When I spend my mornings this way, on my creative endeavors and activities of choice – I find that I am refreshed, balanced and ready for the rest of the day. I am able to disconnect with all of the stress that my corporate job brings. I also have found that I have all sorts of ideas that come to me in the morning, along with the time to explore them. I can search for more information, try out something new, build a plan.

The irony is, I’ve always known mornings were my creative, productive time. For years I’ve gone to into the office early in order to have this time to get my best work done. Then I would leave in the afternoon to get home early and spend time with my family, but I never felt creative in the afternoon or evening. It was more about recuperating from the day and getting to bed early so I could do it all over again. By managing my schedule this way, I contributed at a high level to my organization, but the sacrifice was that I was giving my most creative energy to the company. I didn’t have that much left over for me.

Where you spend your creative energy is important. Having some creative energy to spend is one of the keys of finding yourself. How can you find your true path if you don’t have the energy to explore ideas? If you don’t have the open time to imagine, build up and evaluate the dreams that come to you along the way? I had never thought about those things before this change in my schedule, but it makes so much sense now. It’s important to understand what your creative energy schedule is, and then look at how and where you are spending that energy. A simple change in schedule can reap huge rewards.

Now that I’m not spending my most creative time at work, you may wonder if my job performance has suffered. The answer is, really, no. Work takes a different part of my brain, and when I’m working I’m there and focused and productive. I work the same number of hours; I have the same amount of time free as before – it’s just when. I honestly don’t think that anyone at work has even noticed there is a change. The difference for me personally is huge though - I can now disconnect from work, use other parts of my brain, and am more centered. I think this ultimately makes me a better employee, and it certainly has made me a more pleasant person to be around for my family, friends and coworkers.

Here are my ideas about how you can apply this key concept of “Change up Your Schedule” to your life too:

  • Figure out your most creative, productive time of day. I think we might all instinctively know it, as I did. If you are not sure, keep some notes, check in with yourself. Try out some different times of day as “free.”
  • Then, work toward carving out some or all of that time for yourself. Can you rearrange your work schedule? Can you schedule a meeting with yourself? Get out of the office and go for a walk? Start with just a day or two a week, and work up. You don’t have to explain it to anyone else, just do it, if you can.
  • When you get that time, don’t waste it. Use it for things that build you up in some way – engage you creatively, working toward some dream or goal that you might have. That might be as simple as reading a book that sparks your interest or searching out websites that help you in some way. But use that time for you, not for anyone else. You will be surprised what blooms in the garden of time and creative energy that you create.

For me, the next challenge will be protecting this time when the assignment is over, I move back and have to adjust my work schedule again. I’m already strategizing on how to do this. It will mean changing things up from what I did before, and I will have to work through and reset expectations of those who have worked with me for years. But now that I know this important key, this secret to harnessing my creative energy, I’m not about to give it up.

(Photo is from Bologna, Italy)


  1. Great suggestions! Sometimes it takes breaking out of our routine to help us find better ways to manage our time. Living abroad helped me discover the power of the siesta, which really has made a huge difference in my energy level.

  2. Great piece of advise. I am learning to use my lunch hour at work to be "creative" or enjoy reading a book and carving out time in the evenings to be creative. Enjoy your vacation!

  3. I'm a night person. One of the hardest things for me about doing focused work at HP was the constant interruptions- other people's conversations and deliveries for the admin I sat next to. I ended up writing pseudocode for photolithography automation, setting up new categories for defects and getting the automated SEM's to accept defect data from the AIT's in the evening.

  4. Kat, you're killing me by dropping that you're headed to Spain and Portugal for a vacation (but not in a way that will put you in jail - you know I'm happy for you)! I love the rest of your post because it makes this dream seem relatable. Even if I didn't want to move somewhere else, using my most creative time of the day to my advantage might bring about a huge change in what I can achieve. Thanks for the ideas, and for sharing your story!

  5. what a great post, I really enjoyed reading this. We spent three years in Hong Kong and it changed our lives forever, only now do I see that, moving away takes you so out of your comfort zone. I am a morning person and need to be in bed by 9.30, I look forward to more of your thoughts tomorrow.

  6. Ah, more truth from my wise friend. When still in the corporate world, was asked to commit to China for 2 years. Could not get the word, "NO" out fast enough to DH disappointment. A few years later, the invitation was to Australia - this time DH didn't get excited. No gypsy in my blood and I do not regret my decision. Isn't it funny how different we all are. I can only imagine how my present would be now but am very happy with the way it is. Thanks for sharing your journey, Miss K! Can't wait to hear more. Enjoy the VaCa...

  7. Such a wonderful, insightful post. You are a wise woman. My "word" for this year is intention, and your description of finding a new purpose in your life is so apt for where I find myself at the beginning of a new year. I'll be coming back to this post many times...

  8. Oh thank you for this. I am already starting to change things up. Looking forward to your upcoming posts.


What's your view of the world? I love to hear yours too!

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.