A common theme has come up over and over again with clients (and myself) over recent months. We are all busy - we know that; but how busy is too busy? Is your current diary management allowing you to be as productive as you need to be, or could be?
For anyone who works in an organisation with an open-diary system, you know how hard it is to manage your diary. You arrange meetings. Meetings get arranged for you. You might even manage to block a couple of hours in your diary to work on an upcoming deadline. (The most effective leaders block at least half a day as 'thinking time', by the way!). Your core working hours quickly fill up, and that’s not including actually getting some work done.
And this is the point. I work with clients all the time about bringing your best self to meetings, making your voice heard, being aware of your personal brand, raising your profile, thinking and engaging strategically and beyond your day-to-day to do list, engaging beyond your core relationships at work, and managing upwards.
We all have the best of intentions, but much of that falls by the wayside when overwhelm and, in particular, diary overwhelm takes over. A number of conversations recently highlighted the fact that, so often, we are on the backfoot throughout the day, trying to keep on top of everything. You know those days: you look at the diary for the day ahead, and it’s full of back-to-back meetings. You had one free slot during which you had planned to prepare for an important meeting tomorrow, but your manager has just added a meeting to discuss one of her priorities. You are literally going to be running from one meeting to the next. Add to that the fact that 4.30pm, 5pm (or whatever your time is to pick up kids or relieve childcare) is looming, or you have to leave early or organise a back-up as one of your kids has got sick.
How can you be productive? How can you bring your best self to each and every meeting on days like these?
If you find yourself being overwhelmed by your diary and too busy to be truly productive, take a breath, step back, think about what you need to do to take control of your productivity that allows you to operate at your best. Here are three quick tips to help you to take control of being ‘too busy’.
Prioritise. Prioritise. Prioritise.
Do you spend time on a Sunday night or Monday morning getting clarity around what your priorities are for the week? You should know what your number one priority is for this week, this quarter, this year. All of your energy and actions should contribute to making that priority happen.
Know your priorities, and don’t be afraid to say ‘no’ or ‘yes, but later’. You don’t have to accept every meeting and every request from your manager, colleagues or even clients.
Manage the meeting
If you have back-to-back meetings, don’t be afraid to call it. At the start of the meetings, suggest finishing up a few minutes before the allocated time as you have another meeting to get to. Chances are, the other person will appreciate that extra 10 minutes, too.
Block diary time for yourself
If you don’t do it already, make sure that you have at least one slot in the week of an hour or two that is blocked for you – and use it well. Do you need to spend time thinking about a certain challenge or priority? It could be to spend quality time preparing for an upcoming meeting that is strategically important to the business and/or your career. Or it could be just some time to clear a number of smaller items off your 'To Do' list which will result in freeing some headspace.
I am a big fan of Greg McKeown’s book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, where his basic premise is: “Essentialism is not about how to get more things done, it's about how to the get the right things done. It doesn't mean just doing less for the sake of less either. It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential”.
What else do you know that you should be doing or could be doing? Commit to one or two things that you are going to work on over the summer to improve your focus, productivity and time management. How can you do less, to get more done? How are you setting yourself up to succeed?