How many To Do lists do you have? How often do you get to those lower priority items at the bottom of the list? Maybe more importantly, when do you find time to check your emails and get your work done when you are probably in back-to-back meetings all day/week long? If your answer is during group conference calls while multi-tasking, then I’d offer you probably don’t think of your calendar as a friend. In fact, it probably has turned from friend to foe!
Years ago, I learned several powerful productivity management strategies for being a more effective leader. The first lesson was to get rid of all my To Do lists and use my calendar much more proactively to capture those same To Do’s. By putting those actions into existence on my calendar, I no longer have to remember to do something. While I may not be doing it “right now”, I at least have an intention and commitment to it right now. Most of the leaders I coach only put actual meetings with other people on their calendar. Why do you think they never have time to complete their actual work?
I’m a huge advocate for putting much more on a calendar than those interpersonal meetings. The following are just a few of the other things that I invite you to begin calendaring if you don’t already to take back control over your life and relate to your calendar as your friend again instead of that thing that always seems to be working against you.
- Pre-meeting meetings – Most of us do a decent job of prioritizing meetings that come up. What about those meetings before the meetings that need to happen such that the actual meetings produce their intended results? It can be critical to brainstorm some preliminary ideas or conduct a mini-problem solving session before the actual meeting occurs. This is far less likely to happen though if you don’t put it in your calendar when you schedule that actual meeting.
- Post-meeting activities – I’m actually pretty good with those pre-meetings. Where I fall short is with the downstream work that predictably needs to get done based on the results of the meeting. Imagine if you proactively protected time for those tasks even before attending the meeting… You would get so much more accomplished so much faster rather than never having enough time to keep up!
- Planned interruptions – How many emails do you receive on an average day? 100? 200? Maybe more? As much as possible, I intentionally block time on my calendar to check my emails and literally just manage all of the other interruptions and “emergencies” that I know will pop up. Some days are too busy with other commitments to do this every day. With the help of my assistant, I get to it at least once or twice a week though so that nothing important sits for too long.
- Individual working sessions – I also schedule individual working sessions with myself to read those more involved email messages that require more thoughtful responses and complete my day-to-day work. I have so many interruptions and unexpected opportunities that pop up that if I don’t prioritize these working sessions with myself I could probably work 24×7 and still not complete my most important work.
- Me time – Recognizing that being busy can be all-consuming and that it never really ends, another critical commitment to protect throughout any given day/week is “you time”. Whether you use that time for a real lunch instead of one of those take-a-quick-call or catch-up-on-my-email-at-my-desk lunches or for reading a book after hours instead of checking emails on your iPhone after dinner, breaking away from the daily grind can be invaluable for resting and recharging. Or heaven forbid you block that me time every Tuesday evening and Friday morning to get to the gym or ride your bike at the beach so you can maintain your energy and stay in shape for those extra busy periods. Being productive requires physical and mental endurance that will diminish over time if you don’t take care of yourself too.
- Planning and prioritization sessions – Finally, I am abundantly more productive when I hold time on my calendar at the end of every day to review my commitments and quickly prioritize how I’ll spend my time the next day. I don’t do this as consistently as I might like each day due to other commitments. If I even get to it at the end/beginning of the week though, I find that my weeks are that much more productive and I don’t end up wasting a lot of time simply “doing stuff” because my calendar seems open at the time.
Feel free to visit the Executive Coaching page of our website for more information on how we work with senior leaders to help them improve in time management and regain control of their busy lives. Your calendar doesn’t have to work against you any longer just because you have a lot to do!