Balancing an Unusual Work Schedule

Tips to find stability when juggling life, your career and a busy schedule.

It's important to realize that there may be times in your work life when you feel unbalanced as a result of an unusual schedule. While there are many benefits to working as a healthcare provider, unbalanced scheduling can quickly become a negative if you aren't prepared. If you've found yourself having a hard time juggling the various aspects of life with your career and its unusual schedule, here are some helpful tips to help you find some stability.


Sleep is one of the most important functions of life. It assists in healing and regeneration, and it allows the mind time to work out various problems in the subconscious. The body and mind are both designed to crave sleep during the night and consciousness during the day. Unfortunately, working overnight shifts or swing shifts can mean that you don't get enough sleep when your body craves it, or that the sleep you do get is not of sufficient quality. Many providers in these positions turn to sleeping aids for relief, but these can often cause problems to get worse. Whether prescription or over-the-counter, sleeping aids can cause physical and mental dependence, leading to a variety of other difficulties.

Two of the best strategies for coping with sleep problems are creating a peaceful, dark space that is only used for sleeping, and sleeping when you can. If you work overnight shifts, your mind may be unable to achieve rest during the daylight hours, so it's important to cover windows with thick curtains that block out light. Doing this can help fool your brain into believing that it's time for rest, allowing you to fall asleep easier. You should also try to sleep when you can. Getting a few hours of quality sleep here and there beats getting no sleep. Sleep is cumulative, so it adds up over time. If you are only able to get 4 hours of quality sleep on and off within a 24-hour period, it's still better than getting 4 consecutive hours of poor sleep.

Plan Ahead

Balancing your social life and family time can also be difficult if you work an unusual schedule. Because your schedule may change often, it's important to plan ahead as much as possible. This means scheduling time with family and friends when you know you will be off from work and when it will allow you enough time to sleep. Too often, people who work unusual schedules try to cram in as many social and family events as possible within a short time period. As a result, they typically sacrifice sleep, which can lead to stress and other health problems.

Speak with your employer about getting your schedule at least 2 weeks in advance. With this information, you will be able to make better plans with family and friends without having to give up on other essential parts of your life.

Stick to a Routine

Although your schedule is unusual, it doesn't mean your routine has to be. Creating a routine and sticking to it is one of the best ways to keep your mind from becoming disoriented due to a changing schedule. For example, each time you wake up, you may want to develop a certain set of tasks that you then accomplish. These may include things like reading the newspaper, walking your dog or doing a light workout. Additionally, you could take a relaxing bath or hot shower each time you are about to go to bed. If you can stick to this routine each time you wake up or go to sleep, no matter when that might be, you stand a better chance of keeping your brain from becoming disoriented and confused.

Reach Out for Help

If your schedule is simply becoming too much for you, reach out for help. This means speaking to friends, family and employers about your concerns and then seeking solutions together. In fact, your employer should understand the difficulties of your job and your schedule more than anyone, and they may be able to

work with you to develop more favorable work hours. If you have a child, talk with your spouse or caregiver about your schedule concerns. A spouse needs to understand that he or she may need to take a more active role in childcare when your schedule is more unusual. You could also get friends or family members involved in the transport of a child to and from a daycare center or a babysitter in order to help alleviate some of your stress.

It's important to remember that each person is unique, and each scheduling concern is different. Some people thrive while working unusual shifts, yet others despise the process. At the end of the day, keep in mind that you are working an unusual shift to help others. While the rest of the world may follow a 9-to-5 schedule, you understand that medical care and emergencies don't follow the same pattern. Your contribution to the medical field is invaluable, and the lives you affect through your service are innumerable.

Rachel Oda is a freelance writer and member of the team at www.technology-colleges.info. She also works unusual hours.


My chronic problem, throughout my career as a PT, has been endless hours and hours of unpaid overtime. I've tried changing jobs but they all appear the same. Anyone have any suggestions about that, short of a career change? I even tried contracting, being in charge of my hours and caseload where the work load was great but the budget was a nightmare.

Donna January 17, 2013


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