Who controls your schedule – the interrupters or you?
Early in my career, I learned to schedule my weekly work based on the needs of my customers. I wanted to be available when they needed me. The plan worked well, and the impact of those lessons has stayed with me. The not-so-good part is that, as time went on, my schedule became more or less dictated by others’ fires. Even while working on projects that required deep concentration, I would inevitably be interrupted by an “emergency”. Usually, the “emergency” for the interrupter was something I felt could have waited. OR – someone would initiate a “Hey, how was your weekend?” chat. Yes, I believe good relationships with our teams are a must but so is completing pressing work.
In these days of virtual environments, chatty interruptions are certainly less common, but “emergencies” still happen, though now they arrive in texts, Slack messages, and HIGH PRIORITY emails. For every interruption, it can take nearly 30-minutes to get back into the mindset of productivity. This article by Mindtools can provide some great ideas on how to minimize starts and stops.
In addition, I’d like to share with you my Friday recap/planning tool for staying focused, organized, and on-task, even in the midst of interruptions. I hope this quick task (less than 30 minutes per week) can help you regain control of your schedule, organization, and focus, while still serving your customers and their “emergencies”.
Every Friday at 7:30 a.m., I ask three questions to solidify the accomplishments of the week.
- What do I want to celebrate?
- What have I accomplished?
- What am I most proud of?
After recapping the week’s work, I look at the following week/weeks and consider these questions, while adding necessary tasks and meetings to my calendar. (Replace “client” with employee, vendor, customer, etc.)
What deliverables are due for which clients?
When are these deliverables due? Put the deadlines on the calendar.
How much time will each project take to complete?
- Make the appropriate list.
- Include all important criteria.
- Schedule the realistic time. Space out the work out if too many things are due on one day but get it on the calendar.
LABEL each calendar entry!
- If helpful, include the criteria list in the Notes section of the calendar appointment.
This process helps me keep track of everything I have going on. Having the realistic and appropriate time blocked off on my calendar gives me a quick visual of what’s due when. For additional clarity, I color-code my calendar blocks; e.g., blue for administrative tasks, purple for coaching, teal for training, red for speaking engagement, black for travel (yes, travel time is a real thing and should be blocked off accordingly).
Color coding not only helps me, but others who have access to my calendar can also very quickly see when I am, or am NOT, available. As a courtesy for internal clients (colleagues, employees, boss), I also include a few timeslots every day that are available for those “need to talk” conversations. Turning an “interruption” into a scheduled conversation helps others prioritize the discussion so they come to the meeting with an agenda, applicable deliverables, and other outcomes. This also helps me prepare for this conversation and show up ready to fully serve them.
Finally, at least twice a month, as I review my weekly/monthly activities, I also assess the merit of the activities, projects, and meetings I’ve committed to. I call these “Value Questions”.
- What am I pretending to ignore?
- Did I invest my time correctly?
- What do I need to stop doing?
- How can I help my team more?
- How do I feel I did this week overall?
- What enabled me to reach my goals this week?
- Has anything stopped me from reaching my goals this week?
- Which actions did I take this week that will propel me towards my long-term goals?
- How can I improve for next week?
- What can I do next week that will set me up for my long-term goals?
As leaders in your organization, designing and communicating your vision is an important aspect of your job. This starts with proper scheduling and focusing on the right tasks and projects. First for you, then for others.
You can do one thing a week. Don’t have the time? If you just can’t find 30 minutes once a week, start with five minutes to appropriately schedule and label just one thing a week. The next week find 10 minutes, the week after that make it 15, etc., and soon you will have those 30 minutes for clarifying your values and obligations, which will enable you to become more productive, efficient, and effective – and less stressed.
Consider the implication of having a personalized and organized work system. Are you intentionally building the right processes, or do you leave productivity to chance with disorganization, poorly designed workflows, and ad hoc meetings?
As a certified coach, and an executive with three decades of business experience, I can help you get better organized. Let’s chat. Schedule a call now.
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P.P. S. With over three decades of professional experience in corporate operations and executive human resources, I am a proven results-driven leader. My expertise includes strategy, change management, talent management and organizational development, employee relations, and executive and leadership coaching. I am a highly effective communicator and team leader with demonstrated ability to build long-term relationships across internal and external customer environments built with integrity, confidence, authenticity, and trust.
 Interruptions - Time Management Skills from MindTools.com