Rafael was the school principal of a large metropolitan primary school.
Every day Rafael would have a stream of students, parents, teachers and support staff entering his office for queries, guidance or to let off steam.
He prided himself on his “open door policy” but the problem was while everyone elses needs were being met, Rafael was struggling to get his work done.
Coming home late was a normal occurrence, and the Sunday afternoon preparation time for the week ahead was getting earlier and earlier. Most weekends these days he was working from 10am on a Sunday.
Rafael admitted that he was feeling exhausted by his job, and worse, starting to doubt his abilities due to his inability to get “caught up”. He thought he was on the cusp of burnout and reached out for some coaching support.
I suggested to Rafael he establish some “protected time”. A routine where he closes his door so he can focus on his own work and ultimately reduce his out of normal work hours’ time as a result.
Rafael was challenged by this notion.
“But I need to be there for people” he pleaded. “They expect me to be available to them.”
I gently started to challenge the internal stories Rafael was buying into.
“But I’m well known for my open-door policy, I don’t want my people to think I don’t care about them.”
I reassured Rafael that I understood his concerns and responded:
“If you are available for your people 95% of the working week, do you think it is reasonable that you take just 5% for you as protected time?”
(2 hours in an average working week of 40 hours is 5%. Given Rafael was averaging nearer to 60 hours the actual time he was struggling to take for himself was more like 3%.)
Rafael exhaled. “Well, actually when you put it like that, it doesn’t seem much.”
“If in that two hours you write the school newsletter that you’re now doing on Sunday mornings, you will regain two hours of family time every weekend.”
Rafael’s eyes lit up.
Starting small like this is the best way to establish a protected time routine, particularly if it feels challenging.
Start with 1 x 2 hour block per week and build up from there if you find it works for you and those around you.
Establishing a successful protected time routine requires three things:
1) Communicating in advance to those around you of what you are doing and why
2) Being clear on the conditions in which you can be interrupted; and
3) Holding firm to your boundaries and not sacrificing your protected time for others; or allowing others to disregard your protected time slot.
Changing a habit is always hard, but when your existing pattern of work is not serving you well there are only two choices.
1. Continue your path to burnout; or
2. Try something new.
What’s your choice?