A client contacted me to make an appointment recently, and told me he had absolutely no space for a meeting for 4 weeks. It’s a problem I’ve seen worsen in recent years, and often made worse by some in-company scheduling tools that enable people to book your time for meetings automatically.
In the last 15 years most executives have become used to time management principles, but people often make the mistake of thinking that cramming a schedule efficiently is good time management.
But life and work don’t just happen as scheduled. The unplanned and the unexpected happens – and it happens often. Crisis, urgent issues, customer requests, senior management demands, home emergencies – all these things come “out of the blue” to interrupt our well planned diaries. What this means for people with full, or nearly full diaries, is that their working day has to stretch to cope - people rarely plan to work a 60 hour week!
The best time management advice you can adopt is to plan for the unplanned. The first point is to realise how much time you spend dealing with spontaneous needs, and therefore how much you overestimate the time you’ve got available in your schedule. The second point is to deliberately leave empty spaces in your diary, ideally in chunks of 2 or 4 hours. Whatever you do guard this space well! Don’t succumb to the temptation to release it ahead of time.
What’s the space for? Well the first thing is that it’s there as a buffer. This enables you to flexibly deal with the unexpected and readjust your schedule without having to work too many excess hours.
The second, and arguably even more important reason for the space, is to deal with important things like long term planning, reflection, strategic think and so on. But don’t plan what important things you’re going to do in this time, otherwise it’s just like any other booked time. You might even decide when that free time arrives that what’s important is a well-earned break or a surprise for your family.
If you can plan for space and use it wisely, you might just find at the end of the year that you’ve accomplished something that you wanted to do, but could never find the time for.
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