If you know the horrible sinking feeling of coming into work on Monday and discovering your calendar is packed full for the week, leaving you no time to work on some looming projects, or the equally terrible feeling of realizing on Friday that you have no real idea what you accomplished this week, your calendar might be both the problem and the solution. Here are six tricks to managing your calendar in a way that should help you put your time where you most want it to go.
1. Schedule appointments with yourself, just like you would schedule meetings with other people. For some reason, we’ll schedule meetings with others on our calendars without hesitation, but most us don’t think to schedule time for doing our own work. At the same time, though, we’re often frustrated that we can’t find time to sit down and focus on things without being interrupted. The answer is to make specific appointments with yourself to work on your own tasks, and block those off on your calendar so that you’re unavailable for anything else (just like you’d be unavailable if you had a meeting scheduled for that block of time). You might even consider putting a “focus day” on your calendar, where you block out the whole day to churn through your own projects and keep it meeting-free.
2. Block off time for email. If you’re used to checking email throughout the day whenever you get a free moment – or more likely, whenever you see the message-waiting indicator – you probably know that email can suck you in, can break your focus, and draw you away from higher-priority projects. Instead, try scheduling specific blocks during the day for processing email – and don’t deal with email outside of those times. (It’s fine to glance at it outside of those times to make sure there’s nothing incredibly urgent waiting for you – but save routine responses for your scheduled slots.) This might take some effort to adjust to, but it can be revolutionary for your productivity.
3. If you want free time, schedule it too. Otherwise it’s likely to get scheduled over by other things. For example, if you know that you have a packed and stressful week coming up but the worst of it will be over by Thursday, you might schedule yourself a late start on Friday or block out two hours in the late afternoon to head out early for the weekend. There’s something powerful about actually putting it on your calendar that makes it more likely to happen than if you just informally plan it in your head.
4. Group similar activities in blocks. It’s tough to keep shifting from meeting mode to focused work and then back again, but by grouping like activities together, you’re more likely to be more productive with each. For example, if you have several out-of-office meetings, try to book them on the same day. Try to group calls and other meetings into blocks too. That way, you won’t get continually interrupted by them throughout the day, which will keep disrupting your focus on other work.
5. Push back on long meetings. When scheduling meetings, people often request or block off an hour by default. Very often, though, that much time isn’t really necessary – and meetings will generally expand to fill the amount of time allotted to them. Instead, try pushing back and asking if 30 minutes will do instead; people will often easily agree to that, which could cut the amount of time you spend in meetings in half.
6. Periodically step back and take a big-picture look at your calendar. Does it accurately reflect your priorities? Or does it feel out of balance? For example, you might notice that your calendar is full of low-priority meetings and doesn’t have nearly enough time for your higher priorities. If so, that’s a flag for you that you need to dive back in and reallocate your time, which might mean saying no to some meetings or other activities so that you can carve out time for the things that are most important. Too often, the way we schedule our time is out of sync with how we want to use our time, and taking a broad look at your calendar can be a sharp visual reminder of that.