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”

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)