Block To Unlock: Protect Your Time And Boost Productivity

Has your calendar crowded out room to think, complete essential tasks, and rest? Most of my clients are doing two jobs: attending meetings and, in their words, getting the real work done.

When meetings slither into every corner of the schedule, tasks overflow and threaten to breach the walls between work and home, rigor and rest. In response, we set in place a perpetual motion machine of working longer and accrue greater debt against our to-do lists and good health.

We all know what our ideal day would be, but it requires mindfulness to resist being run by our calendars. In today’s world, we are not the only ones in need of isolation; our schedules would benefit from it too. We can unlock productivity by strategically blocking out time. Here are six ways to sequester your schedule from meeting pirates and email extravaganzas so you can focus on your “real” work.

1.      Block beforehand. It’s possible to reclaim control of your time, but not on short notice when you have already overcommitted. Establish a regular routine to block out space and rescue it from being hijacked. Give this segment an important sounding title, so others don’t discount it. Perhaps you name it Strategic Planning or CEO Round Table. My son used to help me establish these time blocks quarterly to preserve family time and have a less stressed mom. Depending on your circumstances, you can create these calendar shelters somewhere between two weeks and six months in advance. You’ll liberate hours to work on key projects, step back and think about the bigger picture, or simply catch up.

2.      Twin the time. When taking hours out of commission in advance, allot twice what you realistically think you will need. As the date nears, you know you’ll need to compromise. By initially doubling the allotment, you’ll retain what you need, even if you have to give away half of it. And sometimes you’ll enjoy a double bonus to produce even greater impact.

3.      Hold an hour. If your work routinely drops unexpected urgencies on you, set aside an hour each day that you don’t release unless/until there’s an emergency on that very day. If it’s unsurprising to be surprised several times a week, then not knowing what the surprise du jour will be doesn’t mean we won’t have a container in which to catch it.

4.      Plan your projects. Major projects are not magically accomplished overnight by elves. We usually have a rough idea of how long they take us. Carve out work time for these projects during core hours so you don’t have to transform into an overnight elf yourself.

5.      Anticipate annually. Most jobs have a rhythm of business events over the course of a year. Earmark space during each month based on the recurring tasks in that interval. For example, you can set aside appropriate time to write performance assessments, prepare your quarterly all-hands speech, or present at your annual customer conference. Acknowledging and creating shelf space for predictable work allows you to avert further surprises and prevents procrastinating until the last minute.

6.      Envelop email. Instead of checking email in a steady drip all day with the consequent constant distraction from substantive work, set aside specific intervals to review and respond. Set expectations with co-workers about your email latency and how to reach you in an emergency.

By deliberately architecting blocks on our calendars, we can shift from an overcrowded schedule to carving out crawl space and eventually room to run with our most impactful priorities.

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