It’s the end of the first week of January. How’s your calendar looking?
If you’re like me, you are probably juggling a million different commitments, to-dos and trying to squeeze in some ‘me time’ all while responding to emails that piled up over the holidays.
Does it always seem time is moving too quickly and you are always running right behind it screaming, “wait for me! Wait for me!”
In my teens and 20s, I was constantly chasing time, and I was almost always late. A lot of factors played into that, but it was something I knew I needed to beat – and fast – if I was going to have a successful career (and, frankly, keep friends in my life).
Over the years, I’ve found some strategies to help me manage my time. This past year tested those strategies as I accepted a full-time position from one of my clients while maintaining my consulting business on the side. And, then there was launching this website as an outlet and way of encouraging other women.
With all of that on my plate, I have to be protective of my time. And, no matter what you have going on in your life, you should be protective of your time, too.
To help you slow down time, or at least catch up with it, here are a few of my tried and true tips for controlling my calendar and mastering time management.
Know what is important
At the highest level, you should really search yourself and determine what is important. Then, ask yourself if those things are getting the best of you or if they are being prioritized for things that feel urgent or seem less challenging to complete.
Here’s a great example: self-care and time with my friends and loved ones top my list of things that are most important to me. However, without a strong time management strategy, I’ll easily find myself working 12-hour days and not seeing the light of day – let alone friends and family – for weeks at a time. I’m just hardwired that way, and I have to work on prioritizing what is important in my life.
Question everything – and I do mean everything
When you identified the most important priorities in your life, you must then become comfortable questioning everything before it goes on your calendar or takes time away from those priorities.
Here’s some questions you should ask before committing time on your calendar:
- Is this a priority?
- Should I be the one attending this meeting/doing this, or should it be someone else?
- Is there another way to accomplish this? A faster way? A way that doesn’t require a meeting?
- Can I participate in this less frequently while still yielding positive results?
- What is the return on the investment of my time doing this?
Say it with me: “No.”
“No.” This word sends shivers down the spines of every over-achiever and every pleaser in the world. But, have you ever tried to say it (and actually stuck to the decision)? If you have, you probably noticed that the word didn’t implode when you uttered that one syllable word of freedom.
If you want to truly take control of your calendar and your time, you have to become an expert at telling others (and, frankly, yourself) no. Once again, you must understand your priorities and plans, and you must delegate, move, and back burner things that don’t move the needle.
Trust me, this his difficult to do. It isn’t always easy to tell others no, and it can be even harder to tell yourself no. For example, as I sit here writing this, I’ve just excused myself early from a party so I could wrap up some press releases (my top priority tonight) so I could work on this post. Of course, what I really wanted to do was skip the party, ignore the releases and just write. Tonight, I had to tell myself, and others, no and protect my precious time to take care of priorities.
The more comfortable you become with adding “no” to your vocabulary, and the more you see that the world (and your business) will not crumble when you use the word, the more successful you will be at controlling your calendar and managing your time.
Stop worrying about ‘all the things’
Do you know that multi-tasking is a bit of a myth? We might technically be able to do more than one thing at once, but one of those things will suffer in quality. Our calendars – and minds – can only take so much in at any one time and in the course of any given day. I’ve found the most successful people I know are not trying to do ‘all the things’ all the time. Rather, they are trying to do the most important things at any one given time.
After you determine who/what should get the best of you (priorities), you need to know what are the most important things to tackle each and every day as priorities can change each day. While I have a long, running list of to-dos, I try to keep my eye on one must do item and two other top to-dos each day.
My must do is critical, and I try to accomplish it as early in the day as possible. The only thing I do before that is give myself a quick win (like cleaning my desk, listening to voicemail, knocking out a few social media posts, etc.) as a quick win always sets a positive tone for the day.
My top two are really important and they are always on my mind when calendar creep (emails, meeting requests, phone calls, surfing the internet, etc.) starts to take over. Then, I start questioning everything to see if it is worth having to carry my top two over to the next day. Sometimes, I just have to accept a carryover, but more times than not, I will knock these out really quickly because I’m laser focused on three things, not ‘all the things’
Don’t let people schedule time for you
For a brief moment of insanity, I worked for a PR agency. Everything about it was the exact opposite of my core personality – especially the part where everyone had access to my calendar and booked calls and meetings on my behalf. It was almost impossible to plan for anything because each day was being controlled by everyone but me.
That was the first, and last, time I allowed others full control of my calendar. Of course, I make my calendar available for colleagues to look at (and I still encourage people to look for available times to send meeting invites), but I am typically proactive in offering to send meeting invites. That way, I can look at everyone else’s calendars and pick the time that works best for me.
Block time like it’s your job
Beyond offering to schedule most of my meetings, I also have recurring appointments on my calendar that are held for ‘me time.’ When you look at the most successful people in the world, you will see they prioritize professional development, reading and self-care on their calendars. These are people who are not afraid to block daily time for professional development (like reading – a ritual of nearly every high-powered CEO) or personal development (like yoga, therapy, or just a walk to clear their minds. And, they know they aren’t ‘stealing time’ from their jobs. These are people who are results oriented, not clock watchers. They know that a break to re-energize and feed their minds will help them power through and produce the rest of the day.
Master meeting management
I’ve got plenty of experience working in cultures meetings run the people vs. people running meetings.
To truly control your calendar, you have to manage a meeting. My biggest piece of advice is in doing this is to set the meeting yourself (don’t let people schedule time for you). There is usually a certain amount of professional courtesy afforded for the person who set the meeting. But, that’s not the real reason I encourage setting the meeting. The real reason is taking advantage of adjacent appointments.
When you schedule a meeting with your colleagues in Outlook, you can click on the schedule tab and see when people are available. You can also see blocks of time when people aren’t available. Those blocks of time are gold mines because you can book your meeting just before an adjacent appointment on someone’s calendar.
For example, let’s say Bob cannot stay on track in a meeting (we all know a Bob, don’t we). He talks about everything but the topic on the table. Bob is a nice guy, but he is a problem. You need Bob to be focused; you need him to focus on the meeting topic; and you need him to not slow your meeting down.
When you send the meeting appointment (because you don’t let other people put things on your calendar), you look at everyone’s schedules. You notice Bob is free from 1-2pm, but he has a meeting scheduled at 2pm. You also notice he has a big chunk of free time from 9 to 11am. What time should you choose for your hour-long meeting?
Of course, you want to choose the 1-2pm time slot. Why? Because Bob has somewhere to be at 2pm. He will most likely be cognizant of that and will be more willing to stay focused to ensure he gets to talk about things that are important to him during your meeting. He simply doesn’t have hours to sit around and get off track and hijack your meeting.
A little sneaky, but it works!
Arrange your day based on your peaks and valleys
This is another thing people who are results oriented understand. We aren’t all at our best from 9 to 5. Some of us are really strong early in the morning; some hit our stride after lunch; and some peak after work hours. You need to understand when you are at your best.
When are you the chattiest and collaborative? That’s when you want to schedule appointments and meetings. When do you feel the most creative? That’s when you should block time for writing, designing, brainstorming, etc.
For me, I like to ease into my day. I’m not someone who jumps out of bed with a lot of energy. It doesn’t matter if I wake up at 5am or 10am, I need to ease in. So, I wake up early and ease in with prayer, intention setting, quiet time, reading and email review. I make sure I pad the start of my day for quite reflection and work time.
If you have a job that requires you to keep traditional office hours, don’t be afraid to talk with your supervisor about your peak and valley times. More and more offices are offering flex time to accommodate for long commutes and busy lifestyles. I, for one, allow my staff to work from home two days a week to give them time to focus on creativity, writing and project management. We are a PR/marketing department, so we need as much creative time as we do face time.
There you have it – a bunch of tips and tricks I’ve learned to keep me on track. I am always looking for ways to hack my life and get more time to give the best of me to my top priorities. I’ve read a lot of great books on the subject. I’ll share my top two with you here:
Organize Tomorrow Today – This is, by far, my favorite. It is so much more than time management, it is therapy for the type-A personality.
The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich – This one really challenged me to think differently about how I get things done.
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