Whenever I meet with a client whose concern is that they don’t have enough time in their day to get their work done, I always begin by asking to see their calendar.
In almost every case, their calendar is a patchwork mess of meeting after meeting. They don’t have time to do anything other than prepare for and attend meetings.
They will tell me that they don’t have control over their schedule and that every meeting is critical. They are already working long hours, just trying to get caught up on their email. They feel like they are failing and are burned out.
While I can’t give them more hours in their day, I can show them how to structure their time at work better.
The calendar is key.
Let’s start with who can put a meeting on your calendar. Usually, there are only four: You, your boss, and if you have one, your administrative assistant. That’s it. Everyone else can request or suggest a meeting, but they should never have the ability to schedule an appointment without your involvement.
Before we get to the control mechanisms you need to use, let’s look at how you should stricture your calendar. I think it is essential to block out times on your calendar for certain things.
Rather than snack on email throughout the day, I set up three times per day to sort my emails. All I’m looking for are important items that must have my immediate attention. I block out an hour at the beginning of my day, a half-hour after lunch, and about an hour at the end of the day. Those time blocks are recurring items on my electronic calendar.
Throughout much of my work as a manager, I blocked out one day a week for meetings away from the office as I could use travel time more effectively. I would also set aside one day for working in the office without meetings and another day for internal meetings. These were weekly status meetings with direct reports, but this is also an ideal time for special one-off sessions.
I was fortunate to have a fantastic administrative assistant throughout much of my career. If someone wanted to meet with me, I would ask them to work with Ann. She tried to work within my time blocks. But she also knew my priorities and could schedule important things without regard to my ideal schedule. Besides me and Ann, the only person who overrides anything on my schedule. They were the people to whom I reported.
If you don’t have someone to manage your work, I recommend using an online scheduling calendar like Calendly. The service allows others to request time on your calendar within whatever parameters you set. Outlook and other systems will do the same things.
Try these techniques as well.
Require an agenda for all meetings. This prevents wasting time. No agenda. No meeting. And if you find that the item is informational and doesn’t require a discussion or decision, you should ask the person to send you the information via email and promise to follow up if you have questions.
Most people and calendars default to sixty-minute meetings. A simple one-item agenda might only need fifteen minutes of your time. But it’s also possible that a single agenda item might be so complex that it needs 90 minutes or more. You or your administrative assistant can make that judgment.
Don’t over-schedule yourself. If you have back to back to back meetings, you don’t have time to prepare for them.
These steps, and your constant oversight, will likely provide you with more control of your time and less stress.