One of the most important principles that I teach to my audiences is to use the first 10-15 minutes of your day to plan the rest of the day. Book it as a recurring appointment that happens before any other business. Even after you have physically arrived at your workplace, even if you work from home, the day should not begin until you have reviewed and updated your project plan.
There is an all-too-human tendency for people to expect you to be available the moment they see you, even if you haven’t sat down yet. Not only should you be able to find time to take off your coat and get a coffee, but those first ten to fifteen minutes must also be defended as “not-yet-open-for-business” time. Think, once again, of the chef at a restaurant, or the owner of a store. There is much to be done before opening the doors to paying customers.
Reserving time in this way might seem tricky when you first start doing it, because people are used to talking with you the moment they see you, and you are likely used to getting started on the first of your many tasks. It is essential to condition your people as well as yourself to understand your new ways and to learn what’s in it for them to play along. Just because you haven’t been doing it a certain way in the past doesn’t mean you can’t start a new practice now. It’s all in how you communicate it.
- Identify your fixed appointments and be brutally realistic about their durations and other items like travel time. Although meetings and discussions should always be kept as short and effective as possible, some things will always take longer than we would like, and time must be reserved for this.
- Next, convert your To Do’s into appointments. Some To Do’s occupy a list on the edge of your calendar; others come disguised as emails, which request your action and attention. Any email that needs more than a couple of minutes of your time to respond to, either because it needs a lot of writing, or because it is requesting action on your part – is no longer an email. It deserves to be promoted into an appointment and assigned to your calendar. Because these tasks lack a specific start or end time, it is too easy to acknowledge their existence yet still overlook their duration – a fatal mistake, because, even the smallest of them will eat more of your time than you’d expect. Move them off the To-do list and directly onto your calendar as appointments,
- Next, schedule time for lunch. Nutrition and refreshment are essential but too often overlooks elements for productivity and success. Reserve a block of time for lunch. An hour is idea, but anything down to 15 minutes would do, providing it gives you enough time to eat – away from your work. Defend this small block of time. It is sacrosanct.
- Finally, ensure that some space on your daily calendar is left open for those unplanned events, whether they present themselves as crises or opportunities. This is a direct application of the 80/20 rule. A calendar should never be booked one hundred percent full, since this creates more problems than it solves.
Do you think it is impossible to insist on leaving some time in the day unassigned? That’s because as human beings we see most things in black and white concepts. The vagueness of the unknown is uncomfortable and we feel it should be replaced with an absolute. So to help justify the existence of spaces in your calendar, think about warehouses. A warehouse is a space whose success is based on having a certain portion of its volume as nothing but empty space. In order for fork-lift trucks or people to place items on shelves and retrieve them again, there has to be space – aisles and between shelving units and even vertical space above each shelf. If this 20 percent of the internal warehouse space was reassigned to the storage of more items, the total capacity of the warehouse would increase, but its functionality and practicality would be substantially reduced, since nothing could move.
Taking the time to structure your day in this way sets it on a positive, realistic course. It liberates your mind from having to make logistical decisions on the spot, and also gives you a great working stance to handle crises and the even unexpected events. Yes, it takes 15 minutes of your day to do this, but it means that the rest of your working day remains under your control.
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. If you would like to listen to my podcast, check it out here. Either way, you will win back time and money. It’s just practical common sense.