Your calendar is your shield and sword in the trenches of working life.
You can use it to guard yourself from other people’s priorities and to cut through your rapidly expanding To Do list.
All you need a is a proven calendar management strategy.
Plan Ahead By Energy Level
It’s natural to feel more energized by certain activities at different points during the working day.
For example, I like to write in the morning. In the afternoon, I like to procrastinate on Twitter — or force myself to complete administrative tasks like paying invoices or reviewing web stats.
I prefer exercising in the evening and reading fiction late at night.
Now, you might prefer to exercise in the morning because it gives you energy for the day. Others I know prefer working on an easy task first thing because, like a weightlifter who prepares for squats by stretching, it helps them warm up for difficult tasks.
The specifics of your day are less important than knowing when tasks motivate you to work harder and when they sap what’s left of your energy.
Armed with this knowledge, block-book time in your calendar for the coming seven days — and then work on what matters.
Give Your Days A Theme
Let’s consider an overworked entrepreneur with an online business. She might be creating a new product, coaching several clients, writing a series of blog posts and taking a social-media marketing course.
These activities require different skills and involve different parts of the brain. No wonder she finds it difficult to find time to fit them all in.
If this sounds like you, consider planning your days by theme. You could, for example, set aside Mondays for creative work like writing blog posts, Tuesdays for coaching, Wednesdays for learning and so on.
If you can’t dedicate an entire day to a theme, consider allocating a chunk of each day — say two to three hours — to one project. This way, you’ll free up mental bandwidth because you’ll know what to work on and when.
Pro Tip: Color-code or label calendar items based on each theme.
Create Gaps In Your Calendar
Many people in large companies arrange or accept invitations for meetings that run back-to-back. These employees go from one sixty-minute meeting to the next without any break.
To the outsider, this looks like hard work, but more often than not, the stretched executives have the previous meetings on their minds when the next one starts.
Instead, build in fifteen-minute gaps between each of your meetings. Use these to take a break, decompress or attend to less time-consuming actions arising from a previous meeting.
Or go hard-core like uber-successful Elon Musk.
In a letter to Tesla employees, Musk said,
“Walk out of a meeting or drop off a call as soon as it is obvious you aren’t adding value. It is not rude to leave, it is rude to make someone stay and waste their time.”
Pro Tip: Consider reducing the length of meetings you control. For example, a thirty-minute meeting, as opposed to a sixty-minute one, encourages attendees to get to the point rather than engage in small talk.
Review This Week’s And Next Week’s Calendars
I once worked with a social media executive who said, “I always think planning the week’s social media content will take one morning, but it usually takes me two.”
He worked hard at his job but sometimes complained about commitments seeping into his free hours outside of work.
Every Friday, review your calendar and ask yourself how you spent your time during the previous seven days. Then look at the coming week and consider how you want to spend your time.
Make appointments if you need to and cancel irrelevant meetings if you can.
Consider how close the reality of the previous week’s calendar matches up with what you want next week’s calendar to look like.
You might lack full control over your working week, but you can probably find weeds you can pull or activities requiring two mornings of focused work instead of one.
Remember, your calendar is a representation of how you’re spending your time and where your priorities lie. Using it effectively is the best way to accomplish more without burning out.