Two Essential Strategies for Taming an Unruly Calendar
This is a guest post by Andria Bicknell. Andria is a contributing writer and editor for Aspire. She writes about recovering from the effects of perfectionism on her own blog, Type A Plans B. Andria draws her leadership experience from ministry, business and home.
- Wes Saade, M.D.
I love this time of year—the beginning—when everything starts fresh. And for me, that means my calendar is just a little bit cleaner. For just a few more days, as the warmth of the holidays still linger, my schedule remains uncluttered with business appointments, endless tasks, and kids’ sports schedules.
But, I know it’s coming. The onslaught of so much to do. So, how do we keep our calendars (and our commitments) from turning into crazy time-sucking beasts? Here are my top two strategies to slay the demanding fire-breathing dragon called my calendar.
Before you launch into your workweek, set time aside to plan your week. Your focus will be broad in the beginning, as you literally block out time on your calendar that you must allot for work, for your family, your friends, and yourself. If you like, color-coding different categories such as work and personal time will help you see the thrust of each day at a glance. And it can help you judge whether you have everything covered for the week. Here are four steps to get you started with the time-blocking technique.
- Schedule the important and the immovable first. Block out the hours you will be working. If certain blocks are task specific, you can enter a description like the name of a project you’ll focus on. Block out your standing appointments. Block the hours you’ll be with your family, working out, or attending church, etc. The events in your life that are a priority, a requirement, or simply cannot be moved, should be blocked out first. This includes downtime and rest. Make time first for what matters most.
- Add in the flexible tasks. Next, block out time for the flexible things you need to do during the week. These are things that must get done, but aren’t necessarily time sensitive, like going to the grocery store, returning an important phone call, or having coffee with a friend.
- Observe your energy cycles. If you are most alert and creative in the morning, schedule tasks that require your greatest amount of focus in the morning. Leave the more rudimentary tasks for the time of day when you feel less energized.
- Think outside the box. As you schedule your week, notice which tasks are consistently put off, which cause you stress, and which don’t really need your personal touch. Delegate and outsource what you can, even in your personal life, in order to free up more time. Occasionally, block out a couple of hours one day just to knock out several little tasks that you’ve been procrastinating. Rethink the way you plan your week to see if you could approach stressful tasks at a better time or with more preparedness.
- Allow slightly more time than is required for large tasks. Parkinson’s Law states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” So, you’ll have to discipline yourself to stay on task. The idea here is that we plan for interruptions and the unforeseen. Let’s face it, most of us cannot lock ourselves into our offices and refuse to see people, check emails, and answer phone calls during a four-hour time-block while we tackle a large project. Things come up. Allow time for them.
- Take breaks. It may seem counterintuitive to one who is task-oriented and achievement-driven, but take real breaks. Increase your ability to focus and be creative with your work by disciplining yourself to disconnect. Set alarms if it helps you, but literally, get up and move! Disengaging from your work is both physically and mentally productive.
- Schedule margins. Limit what you are required to do, so you can give more time to what you desire to do. Even socially, don’t overcommit. Leave two or three fifteen-minute margins in your day. These serve as little buffers to absorb the unexpected. Margins can also offer a much needed walk outside, or a few minutes to enjoy a cup of coffee. On a broader scale, create longer margins. For instance over the course of a week, give yourself a few hours or more on evenings and weekends that are completely unaccounted for. In other words, don’t schedule every waking moment. Margins are vital for healthy living.
- Move things around and reorganize. At the end of the day, assess what you were unable to complete. Make some adjustments so you can knock out an item or two before you leave for the day, or simply move it to another day. This is what I love most about time-blocking with an electronic calendar. It is easy to move things around. It is especially helpful if you have created margins, because you have naturally given yourself a little wiggle-room to move tasks and reorganize your schedule.
These two simple strategies can tame a beastly calendar all year long. If you’ll experiment with the methods, you’ll find a rhythm that works for you. Any time your schedule starts breathing down your neck, threatening to monopolize every minute of every day, show it who’s boss. Own your time, don’t let it own you.
Best wishes in the new year,
Contributing Writer, Aspire
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