Using the Calendar to Make Time for Yourself
by Tamara Martfeld
If you are like many at work, your day gets hijacked by other people and their priorities. Believe it or not, this is an issue at all levels of the organization. If you are at the bottom of the organization chart your day may be hijacked by the bosses or your internal and external customers. If you are at the top of the organization chart your day may be hijacked by your employees needing your input on decisions, the board of directors, or your customers. Those in between the top and bottom can have their day hijacked from all directions. In some jobs you may not have many options. For example, if you are an employee in a store you obviously need to give your customer the best service you can regardless of whatever else you need to get done. However, if you are in an office there are some actions that can be taken to reduce the number of days which get hijacked.
The calendar is a top tool for keeping your day under your control, at least to some extent. Obviously, your boss can overrule whatever decisions you make, but many bosses will look at calendars to see availability before going to an employee’s desk making this tool effective. The key is to schedule EVERYTHING. For example, if you take lunch from 12 to 1, put it on the calendar. If you take morning breaks from 9:30 to 9:45, put it on the calendar. In short, make your calendar work for you!
I recently read an article in an old publication which stated that the most successful people schedule their entire days. If it is on the calendar, it gets done. If it is not on the calendar, it does not get done. Scheduling every hour of the day might seem extreme, but it has worked for other people and can work for you as well.
There is nothing stopping you from re-arranging the appointments you have made for yourself or deciding that something which comes up is more important than what is on your calendar. However making the appointments and keeping those appointments can be beneficial to you.
Within the work day, start with the actual appointments you have. Your breaks are included in this list. Many studies have shown that taking breaks during the work day is more healthy and makes you more productive. If you are using a computerized calendar you might be able to have routine appointments repeat automatically to save you time in the long-term. Once your appointments are on the calendar, schedule the time needed for your other activity. Do you have a long-term project on which your are working? If so, schedule at least 15 minutes each day to work on that project. You will find your project progressing even though you have “no time” to work on it right now. Do you return phone calls or e-mails at a given time of the day? Put it on the calendar. Do you do something routine every day such as process paperwork? Schedule time on the calendar for this activity. Put absolutely everything that needs done on the calendar. Your calendar should have no unscheduled time when you are done.
If you are one who can be pulled into meetings I suggest two calendars. One calendar for the scheduling as discussed above and one to keep some time for yourself in spite of the meetings. On the calendar for the meetings schedule appointments with other people, breaks, and critical time needed for the work needing to be done. For example, I have a critical weekly task which needs to be done every Monday, so I block off my entire Monday for this task. My bosses are aware of this and agree due to the importance of this task. My breaks being on the calendar ensures that I get most of them on time. You might be surprised as to how many meetings I have which get scheduled just before or just after my breaks. Those scheduling on our electronic system only see that I am busy during a period of time, not why I am busy, and most will honor previously scheduled time. If you can be pulled into meetings and have the calendar everyone sees for scheduling meetings without any time available, then people will just pick a time and hope for the best. Do what you can to control when you meet. Another trick I use is to block off the first and last half-hour of each day as “unavailable” so that I don’t get scheduled for meeting the second I walk into the door or right up until the time I leave. When asked, I truthfully state that I am rarely at my desk during this time as I am checking in-boxes in confidential areas, fax machines, delivering the days work, etc.
Once you have your work calendar completed, work on your home calendar. Do you sleep at night? Put it on the calendar. If you sleep until 10 on Saturday and someone wants to do something with you at 6, you can honestly state that your calendar is full at that time and suggest a time which is better for you. You can also schedule the items needing to be done around the house and have better control over your day. Just don’t forget the important down time and time with friends and family – put it on the calendar as well.
Remember that this is a tool for you, not something set in stone. You can change it as needed. However, you may find that using a calendar effectively will make you more productive on the activities you want to complete and can give you more time for the activities you enjoy.
PS: Now is the time to decide if you want a Jack-O-Lantern pie this year. Early planning is needed. Look in the Money Saving portion of my web site for the recipe.
Have a bountiful October!