In one of my favorite commercials, a security person stands idly by while a bank robbery occurs. In response to the people waiting for him to take action, he explains, “I’m a security monitor, not a security guard. I only tell you when there’s a robbery.” The tagline is, “Why monitor a problem if you’re not going to fix it?”
Many people treat their calendar the same way – as a picture of what is often a very sad reality. Days either booked back-to-back with meetings or hacked into pieces by a scattering of appointments throughout. No time reserved for mental breaks, much less uninterrupted stretches for thinking and creating. As one worker recently complained, “I’d be happy if I could just eat lunch without being on a videoconference…”
Your calendar isn’t actually the problem, of course. It’s whether or not you are able to use it to safeguard your time and productivity or, as they say in the commercial, just monitor it.
Using Your Calendar As A Productivity Tool
If you’re feeling overworked and overwhelmed, as many of us are, reclaim control of your calendar. Here are a few simple strategies for turning it into a true productivity tool:
- Look back at the last full week on your calendar and sort the items into two categories: good use of my time and bad use of my time. For those that fall into the “bad” category, further diagnose the reason why. Then use that insight to make different decisions in the future. Here’s some common causes and solutions for time wasters on your calendar:
|What made it a bad use of time?||What to do next time?|
|I wasn’t essential to the meeting but it seemed rude not to go||Just say no! Your time is too valuable to give it away with no return. When you decline the meeting, include a note that indicates you don’t feel essential to the discussion so that the leader understands that you are choosing not to attend.|
|The meeting was poorly run||Give feedback to the meeting leader and provide some constructive suggestions for what could be done better next time. Nine times out of ten, the problem is unclear framing. If the purpose of the meeting is not clear at the outset, do everyone a favor and ask.|
|I wasn’t sure how to contribute||If you know why you were invited to the conversation and the contribution you are expected to make, it’s much easier to participate. If it’s not clear from the invitation, make sure to get clarification in advance.|
|I couldn’t contribute because others dominated or I was virtual while others were in person||If you are virtual while others are in the room, consider using the Chat function to make your voice heard or take the meeting leader aside to ask that the group be more conscious of the virtual participants.|
|Once I got there, I realized I was the wrong person to contribute to the discussion||If you find yourself in a meeting you shouldn’t be in, leave! Excuse yourself from the meeting and use the found time to catch up on more important work.|
- Look at the distribution of meetings and appointments on your calendar. If they are scattered haphazardly, try and shift the times so that they are clustered together, with small breaks in between. Shortening meeting duration to 45 minutes from the standard 60 will help ensure an on time start for each meeting and give you a few minutes to recover and regroup.
- Now that you have cleared up some whitespace on your calendar, make appointments with yourself to do your most important work. Label each appointment with the task you’ll use it for. Making this commitment on your calendar significantly improves your chances of getting it done and it prevents others from interrupting your working time with meetings. Schedule enough time to accomplish the task. For particularly deep work, we recommend 90 minute working time blocks followed by a 15 minute walk or stretch. Ideally your thinking time blocks should line up with your moments of peak energy to give yourself the greatest chance of success.
These small changes can have a dramatic impact on your daily working experience and your overall productivity. Turn your calendar into your own secret weapon!
Don’t just monitor the problem, reclaim control of your calendar and your time. Here are a few simple strategies which are designed to have a dramatic impact on your daily work experience and your overall productivity.