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Taking Control of Your Calendar, presented by WIL Alberta Chapter

Article contributed by WIL Alberta Chapter

Just the title of this blog post would have made me cry in 2017 when I was working full-time and starting my MBA. However, my self-inflicted insanity meant I needed to be a planner and efficiency time queen. I am not an expert by any means, but a lifelong experimenter, constantly finding new ways to save time in my day, while still finding the time for the 7-8 hours of sleep my doctor demands. So, this post is to share four tips that worked for me – hoping one or two will resonate with you.

Tip 1 – Where Do You Want to Focus Your Time?

This first step in taking control of your calendar is knowing where you want to focus your time. Think about family, work, exercising, reading. All of the things that you are passionate about but never seem to have enough time for. Knowing what you want (and in some cases need) to focus on, when you need to focus on it, and how you plan on achieving it, are all necessary to control your finite amount of time each day, week, month, and year. Once you know what is essential to you, I recommend the following:

  1. Pulling out a piece of paper, an excel document or a calendar (whatever method you prefer)

  2. Start plotting your focus areas, starting with your evening and weekends when you are typically not working

  3. Colour code the focus areas (e.g., green for wellness activities, blue for learning and development – reading counts)

  4. Then move to your Monday – Friday (if this is your typical work-life schedule) and plot your key activities (e.g., commute time(s), any after-school/work commitments – no need to get too descriptive, just buckets of activities)

  5. Lastly – plot the focus times that you hope to achieve

Creating a Default Calendar, according to Pat Lipovski, a previous Executive Coach of mine from Envision Group International, allows you to see how you are living up to how you hope to be spending your time. It will enable you to make necessary tweaks to open more space for getting work done vs spending time in meetings all day. It also sets the guardrails for when you schedule appointments in your calendar.

According to Donna McGeorge, author of 1 Day Refund, your first two hours should be your “thinking space” to focus on strategic and creative thinking…. Even consider labeling your calendar “Thinking Space.” In her book, she shares that if you can find a 15% refund in your day from meetings or demands on your time, you could see 7.8 weeks in a year refund or 1.8 weeks in a quarter. Hard to believe today, but if you can incorporate your default calendar into your real life, you should be able to carve out time to breathe and get more accomplished.

We all crave more time in the day but focusing on the right things and allowing the time and space for our key activities and goals opens the possibility of genuinely finding work-life integration.

Tip 2 – Days and Weeks of Meetings – What do you really need to attend?

Oh, those dreaded meetings that have you asking, why am I here? How much multitasking can I do if I dial in? What if you could finally take control of which meetings you attend? But how, you ask? First, do a meeting inventory of the sessions you attend, what role you play? Now, think if there is a person on your team who would benefit from listening in your place.

1. Pull out a sheet of paper or an excel spreadsheet and map out the recurring meetings you attend and their frequency

2. Determine what role you’re expected to play – consider the RAPID Decision-Making model or RACI model typically used for Project Management to help map out the stakeholders required in making a decision

3. Ask yourself a few questions for each of the meetings you plotted out:

  • What prep work am I expected to complete before each meeting?

  • Do I have enough time if there is another meeting or report required before the scheduled meeting time?

  • Who else on your team is attending each meeting?

4. Once you have determined if you play an active role in the meeting(s), determine what type of meeting it is (FYI, Decision making, Brainstorming, Training)

  • In the book Mind the Gap, authors Forsdick, Schwebius and Thomson offer an ABC methodology that I have tried for my meetings to help me determine if I should be there:

    • A – meetings that I must attend

    • B – meetings I may want to attend for awareness only, and there is currently no other means of gaining access to the outcomes/decisions

    • C – meetings that I have no informational need or decision to make in those meetings

5. Lastly, consider what you can delegate to your team or receive the minutes. PowerPoints or meeting recordings can give you the information without meeting attendance being required.

Once you have completed your inventory of meetings, look at the default calendar you set up and see how your “A”, and “B” meetings fit into it. For example, do you have as much focus time as you planned? If not, consider adjusting some of those meetings, until you do.

Tip 3 – Focus Time – Schedule It! – Keep It!

When you know you need to find capacity in your calendar to accomplish work or meet with your team, boss, or mentor, you need to build it into your daily/weekly schedule. Scheduling it is the easy part – keeping it; well, that’s where it gets tricky.

Plotting focus time in your calendar is easy since you can set up recurring meetings for yourself. However, finding blocks of time, you did not necessarily plan for, requires more discipline than most of us have. There are a few recommendations for scheduling “Focus Time” that I do:

  • I have fallen in love with Microsoft Outlook’s “Focus Time” built-in settings. It will find time in your calendar and block it off in 30min – 4-hour increments, and the best part, it doesn’t allow people to disturb you during this time! The only way someone can get ahold of you, is if they call your phone. That may give some of you with calendar control issues heart palpitations, but I’m now a huge fan.

  • Going into your calendar and blocking “Focus or Blocked” time, change the colour of the calendar entry and make the meeting recurring. Then – try not to double book yourself!

  • You can go into your calendar and block work time chunks named the things you need to accomplish, e.g., Project XYZ – Due in 2 weeks or “Executive Presentation on XYZ – draft due tomorrow.” But, again, no double booking!

Now that you have scheduled it, how can you keep it with emergency after emergency popping up daily or hourly that takes priority? Discipline and a sense of what is important to you is the stepping stone for work-life integration. You will always have those who drag you into their work crisis and suck your focus time away, but you need to know when to say yes or no to the task. If it is not something you should be focusing on, gently recommend another source to help them (e.g., one of your staff who may have the capacity and a willingness to learn from the experience).

If you are anything like me, you think you can attend that meeting and “multi-task,” but you will never be able to get into focus mode with a constant set of speakers presenting. One ear focuses on listening for my name, while my eyes and brain concentrate on something else. I have learned multitasking makes me a terrible active listener. My winning scenario is to reduce the meetings that distract me from the critical priorities of my role. When I schedule focus time I hold on to that time, unless I determine that it is best to move the focus time to meet a last minute demand.

Tip 4 – Weekends are more than meal prepping

The last tip I will offer is using your weekends to pre-plan your week. Rob and Steve Shallenberger, authors of Do What Matters Most, discuss the “Power of Pre-Week Planning,” to ensure your week is filled with space to drive your goals (personally and professionally. They recommend planning to dedicate time to specific work tasks. For example, I tend to block time off a few days ahead of a presentation’s due date to draft it and seek feedback on it, before I submit it.

The authors recommend you review your vision, goals and long-range calendar. This has not always been achievable for me, but I am happy that I have started incorporating pre-planning into my life. I now try and do the following:

  • Understand my week, move, and adjust meetings to be more efficient with my time and determine if an appointment is honestly still required

  • Use the opportunity to delegate work and outcomes better suited for my team’s growth.

Until I started incorporating weekend pre-planning, I missed a day off I had scheduled months ago and desperately needed to avoid burnout. My pre-planning today could be better, but I feel more at ease on Monday mornings.

Taking control of your calendar is not a one-and-done exercise. You need to build a healthy relationship with it by understanding what meetings are essential to you, scheduling time to get things done and getting ahead with pre-weekly planning to feel like there is a semblance of work-life integration.

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