Picture this: You walk into a restaurant. The sign says, “Please seat yourselves.” So you enter and look around. Two tables are empty. One has a “Reserved” sign on it. Which one do you choose?
The choice is obvious: the one that does not have a “Reserved” sign on it. That tiny little sign had the power to divert you away from the table it was guarding. That’s power!
Now, picture your working week: it’s pretty much guaranteed that today, tomorrow, and into the foreseeable future, you will have emails, phone calls and meetings to attend to. These can be considered predictable tasks, because we know they will occur each day. These tasks are like the other restaurant customers. They walk in and sit themselves down on your calendar, wherever they find a place.
But there’s another category of tasks, the unplanned tasks, that come at you from left field, unannounced, to derail your nice, neat schedule. These events are the reason most time management approaches fail. It’s reasonably easy to plan for what you know is coming, but what about what you can’t foresee?
These unplanned events can take many forms, depending on your line of work, but examples could include:
- Your manager or colleague drops an additional task onto your desk
- A much-needed team member calls in sick
- An unhappy customer shows up, loudly demanding satisfaction
- A defective product is returned
- A weather related event closes business for the day
- The CEO pays a visit.
I propose that these events can and should be planned regardless, using hindsight as your lens upon the future. They are activities that have happened before, and as unwelcome as they may be, they will likely happen again. Though you can’t predict when, the event will happen, your experience and wisdom will give good insight into playing the odds.
Here’s an example: weather. No matter where you live, there is always some sort of weather event that threatens to disrupt things once in a while. It could be a blizzard or an ice storm, a tornado, a flood or a weather-related power outage. Now no one can truly predict when one of these is going to happen, but your past experience of living and working in your area of the country is already sufficient enough to say, ” the odds of having a weather event in the next four months, one that calls for a day away from normal work, are pretty good. You might be able to anticipate at least three big snowfalls happening over the period of January to March for example. If, in your experience, these three events have each caused a day’s delay in the past, then it means that your calendar should reflect this, by scheduling them now.
So how do you schedule a storm? You don’t. But what you do instead is to reserve the time in advance. The period January to March includes 64 weekdays. But if three of these days have a good chance of being eclipsed by weather, you now only have 61 days to get your work done.
By entering your “anticipated storm hours” into your calendar, you make them real. They speak for themselves. This makes it easier to more accurately calculate how many hours you actually, realistically have, for all those other expectable activities. If the storm never comes, there’s always something else you can do with those hours. But if it does, you will be in a better position to manage your workload.
Don’t forget, weather is not the only unplanned event in your basket. Think of all the surprise events that have happened to you in weeks and months past. It usually becomes pretty evident that every day there will be something that comes along that forces you to put everything else aside to deal with it. If that’s the case, then the math is easy: reserve an hour every day for the crisis to come. Make it a recurring activity. Every day, 12 noon: crisis of the day.
It doesn’t mean the unplanned event will happen at 12:00, but it does mean that the hour needed has been reserved for it. This tangible reservation fends off other activities and meeting requests, just like that “Reserved” sign does at a restaurant table
A crisis is not so much an unexpected event as an irregular and unwelcome one. By identifying them, planning for them and reserving time for them, you are not adding more to your plate. Quite the opposite: you are taking control, by replacing random events with predictable ones, making reservations and guiding other people around them rather than allowing everything to become a time-wasting blur.
This is an excerpt from my book, Cool Time: A Hands-On Plan for Managing Work and Balancing Time. If you would like a copy, hop on over to my Books page. If you would like a workshop at your location, or if you would like to attend a live webcast, check out the details at my company, Bristall.com. If you would like me to come and speak to your group, contact details are available on my Speaker page. Either way, you will win back time and money. It’s just practical common sense.