This is a pretty typical view of my calendar, in fact this is next week and I haven’t even scheduled in all my catch ups and things to do yet. This is just the meeting requests! I also have to squeeze in things like “real work”. I consider this normal.
The next week after, it looks identical. The week after similar but with a few holes. In fact if someone wants to catch up with me, my default response is:
“Oh man I am slammed for the next 2-3 weeks, but I am wide open after that so get in touch then”.
When Mel pulls me up on being home late constantly, or leaving home early, or not being able to schedule in family things my default response is:
“I’m sorry, I am slammed for the next couple of weeks, but look, here see, it’s ok my calendar gets less busy then”
And that is true. My calendar, as of today, is mostly free in 3 weeks. Woohoo! Relaxing times ahead.
However, my calendar is a rolling window of destruction with it’s view into a maelstrom of craziness. By the end of Monday, I have filled the Monday and Tuesday 3 weeks out with new appointments. I don’t get less busy in 3 weeks, I just don’t know yet the things I will be busy doing.
This is a common theme with a lot of people I know. And if you have a calendar like this, then you have a risk on your hands. It is okay for me, I have learn’t how to manage my calendar well over the last year, but every now and then, I teeter over the edge of the crazy busy precipice, people frown at me because I am too busy then I pull back. For the most part it works for me. But here are some things I have learnt.
You need to stop thinking you are only busy “for a while”, and start thinking you are busy FOREVER, and develop some tactics to prevent your calendar turning into a blackhole from the weight of everyone’s expectations and collapses into itself.
Don’t just use your calendar for meetings with other people. Unless that is all you do in your life, meet and talk and drink copious amounts of coffee (actually not too far off for me), you will have regular commitments and things you need to do. Put them in your calendar like:
Email. When I am not in meetings, I am writing email. In fact when people ask me what I do, I am usually honest and say “Talk a lot and write emails”. Depending on your volume schedule in an hour at start and an hour at the end of your day. That keeps you focussed in-between to get other stuff done.
Lunch. You do it every day. Book it out.
Preparation. You probably need to read stuff, or prepare notes, or papers, or just stare out the window and think about crap from time to time. Put it in! Perhaps just schedule in an hour now and then for general “prep”.
Travelling. Unless you live in your office and have all interactions with humans in your office, you will need to factor travel. Also, try and make all meeting at your place. Then you don’t need to factor this in.
Phone catch ups. I found this cool app on my iPhone the other week. It’s called Phone. And you can “ring” people and talk to them. I spent ages trying to figure out how to delete it, as people would”ring” me. But it is actually quite useful if you have the power. If you need a regular 10 min catchup with people, then do it as a phone call when you commute. Just pre-arrange it with them as they may have been trying to delete the Phone app from their smartphone too.
Coffee meetings. Those vague requests for a “catch up” over coffee, set a quota on how much time you can give to these each week, and put them in as a placeholder. Say 10-11am as many days a week as you can spare, block them out with placeholders, and once they are booked they are booked.
Friends. These can also be your lunch slots, but make sure you are scheduling in time with people important to you. Drinks after work. Coffee. Whatever. Put it in!
Exercise. Run, swim, walk. Plan it in. Walking or running meetings are awesome time hacks. Pro tip: in a running meeting make it with someone who needs to do all the talking. Also, swimming meetings are not productive.
Plan out your calendar with the “non-meeting” things every Monday, so you have a 3 week rolling window of all your other stuff too. Then the gaps you have left, they are the slots you can give to all the time bandits who want your attention. All the things you need to do every day are as important as each other. Be firm with your time.
Here are some “don’ts” to do as well.
Don’t convert pre-planned slots for friends, email, lunch, reading etc for meetings (unless it is critical). You are kidding yourself if you think you can squeeze all these into the imaginary gaps in your day.
Don’t work late every day. Even if working late is pounding emails at home on the couch or networking. Keep a quota of evenings free for the people you live with. If you are solo, well fill your boots, you need to get out and meet people at networking events.
Don’t think it is going to get any better.
So here is my calendar 4 weeks out. This is my regular template, with my regular commitments and I fill in the blanks between 10am and 4pm with anything that comes up. The placeholders for exercise, lunch and coffee etc I move around to suit. If no coffee catchups, they get converted. Evenings limited to two late out nights. Sometimes it’s one. Sometimes it’s 3.
I keep this updated a couple of months in advance. It works well. I think it gives me a good balance. Yours will probably look different. But give it a go.
Being busy isn’t bad. Having a full life is a good life. But make sure you are filling it will all the right things, and making room for everything you consider important.