Changes, Calendars, and You

Managing changes to your calendar

You have control of your calendar. You’re being realistic and deliberately not filling in completely. You have some slack in your schedule to deal with the expected unexpected, and for the little chores of everyday work life. You’re spending time on the things you need to.

But wait! Somebody wants to schedule a  meeting at a conflicting time!

Here’s a practical rule I’m going to share with you. One that made a huge difference in my life and allowed me to take control of how I spend my time. This is big. Are you ready?

You don’t have to accept every meeting request.

Let me say this again so it’s clear: just because you get invited, doesn’t mean you have to go. You don’t have to say yes to everything. You don’t have to do everything. Part of being a professional is deciding what you’re not going to do.

You have the right of first refusal. Even with your boss on occasion. That is, you get to decide what goes into your calendar, and where it goes. If somebody else wants to schedule something on top of an existing commitment you have the right to propose an alternate time. Or to say no.

Being clear on your work priorities, which relationships you’re trying to build, and, and what’s important to your higher-ups will help you decide if any specific meeting is worth your time. Understanding what the intention of the meeting and your role in it will also help you decide. This is where agendas come in handy.

Now the exception that proves the rule: except when it’s your boss. It’s certainly appropriate to propose an alternate time to a meeting request from your direct supervisor or manager most of the time. It’s not appropriate to say no to them. That’s what makes them the boss. Besides, do you really want to say no to the person that controls your addiction to food, clothing, and shelter?

You have three choices when accepting a meeting request. You can accept the meeting and re-schedule any of your conflicting ones if it’s appropriate. You can propose an alternate time with the appropriate sense of urgency. Or you can decline the invitation in a professional way.

By appropriate sense of urgency I mean that if you can’t make that really important meeting at 2:00 o’clock today then don’t propose an alternate time two weeks from now. If the proposed meeting is tentatively scheduled for two weeks from now, proposing a time tomorrow or two months from now isn’t being very helpful. Try to stay in the same scope of time if you can.

And no, accepting the meeting and then not showing up is not professional. Accepting three meetings at the same time and deciding at the last minute which one to go to isn’t professional either. If you’re going to be  professional, then you’re going to have to learn to say “no” to the things you’re not going to do. “I’m sorry, I don’t see how I can fit that into my schedule.” is good enough. The more you say it, the better you’ll get at it.

And if that’s a phrase you’ve been hearing from your higher-ups, you might want to consider how what you’re trying to do lines up with their priorities. They’re sending you a subtle message that it isn’t really all that subtle.

p.s. Click the following link to learn to turn off Outlook’s “automatically accept all meeting requests”

Your Calendar Is Full. Congratulations, You’re Doing It Wrong

Congratulations. You block out your time in your journal, calendar, or diary. Then you work on those priorities during that time to get things done. You’re now much more effective at accomplishing the most important things during your week.

But . . . and this is a big but . . . that’s not how life really works. Stuff happens, issue arise, your boss assigns unexpected work, employees interrupt with their emergencies, children break their collar bones on the playground during recess, opportunities come along that need your attention. How do you plan for interruptions without throwing all your careful coordination out of wack?

You don’t want to spend all your time re-arranging your calendar. That’s not the most effective use of your time. Or worse, making the effort to organize yourself and then abandoning those efforts the first time something unplanned for comes along.

What Aren’t You Going To Do?

So don’t fill your calendar.

This may sound counter-intuitive. Shouldn’t your calendar be full of all the things you’re going to do? Are you so far behind that the only way you’ll ever catch up is to never die?

Trying to fit more hours in the day, or believing that you’ll be more effective by just working harder is a false hope. You’ll be more effective, less stressed, and more responsive if you understand and accept that you’re not going to get it all done.

Now you have the simple (and sometime difficult) but critical decisions to make. What are you not going to do? What are you going to say no to? What are the most important, valuable, and effective ways to spent you time?

The fact is you can’t manage time. You can’t manage 5 minutes and turn into 10 minutes. You can manage your attention and focus. What are the most important things really?

Spending some time thinking about this is an effective use of your time.

The 75% Rule

Now plan your time, but only three-quarters of it. Leave space in your day, week, and month with nothing in it. This is the time you’re going to use to deal with interruptions, rescheduled meetings, emergencies, and opportunities. This “slack” time will get filled up, and lets you be responsive. It makes you more effective.

Things that should be in your calendar:

  • your obligations to your boss (remember – she controls your addiction to food, clothing, and shelter)
  • developing your people (they’re the ones doing the work),
  • helping out others (and building relationships),
  • down time for you (you’re fooling yourself if you think lack of sleep or cancelling vacations make you more effective.)

Get Your Act Together

Under the heading of “simple things outstanding managers do well” would be managing your own time. As a manager or executive, you’re managing other people’s efforts, their time and focus, and what they do or don’t get done.

Hard to do when you can’t get your own act together. So let’s take a look at your calendar together, shall we?

You calendar is empty, but you’re always busy –

This one is hard, because changing your behavior is hard. I’m guessing that your day consists of constant interruptions, fire-fighting, and wondering how the heck you got 500 e-mails in your in-box. You might be going home every night wondering what you got done, and how another day slipped by without getting that thing you really needed to do done.

You’re going to have to learn to say no. You’re going to have to develop the discipline to do that things that need doing, and not be interrupted. You’re going to have to focus.

You’re going to have to trust your people to solve their own problems, and you and they are going to have to learn that they can get along without you for the most part. You are going to have to decide what not to do. Will they still need you? Will you still be there to coach, mentor, and development them? Absolutely. But on your schedule, not theirs.

The solution:

Let’s start simply What is the most important thing you need to get done this week? Find your big rock, and put it in your calendar. Block enough time for you to do the task.  Now here’s the real secret:

When your calendar says it time to work on that thing – work on that thing!

Consider your calendar the future record of how you’re fulfilling your professional obligations. Lock the door, hide in another office, tell people to go away. Be rude if you have to. Don’t let anybody else fill your calendar with meetings either*. Do whatever you need to get that one thing done.

This is your promise to yourself to finish something. You’ve got as far as you have in your professional career because you do what you said you were going to do. What changed? Nobody can control how you spend your time except you (and your boss). It’s your choice.

Once you have the getting one thing a week down, and a second, then a third thing. But start with one. It’ll be good practice for thinking about how you spend your time.

Next week:

Your calendar is 100% full, and what’s wrong with that.

Bonus material:
* Learn how to turn off Outlook e-mail notifications
* Learn how to stop people from scheduling meetings in your calendar (you want to un-select in this case)