The #1 Secret to Amazing Time and Calendar Management
If you’re like most of us your calendar is probably pretty detailed. I bet some of you have every hour from when you wake-up accounted for. That isn't necessarily a bad thing. After all, a daily schedule ensures you get the most of out of your day. Why bother adding a task or event to your calendar if it isn’t important?
What is important -- and how to prioritize.
Unfortunately, it’s not always crystal clear what’s important. As a result, we end-up wasting time on non-priorities. For example, if you work from home, those dishes in the sink may be bothering you. But, do they have to be done this minute when you have a tight deadline for the project you’ve been working on?
That may seem minimal. But, what if you constantly put non-priorities over what’s really important? You’re definitely not going to be successful in reaching your goals if you’re not effective at time and calendar management.
That’s why the most successful and productive people know that the secret to amazing time and calendar management is prioritization. In the words of Stephen Covey, “The key is not to prioritize what's on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.”
It's important to set priorities. As an adult, you’re going to be juggling various responsibilities. In the course of one day this could include picking up the kids from school, meeting a deadline, having lunch with a client and attending to your own self-care somewhere in-between.
Prioritize tasks for success.
If you don’t prioritize these tasks, you’re going to become disorganized, stressed and unable to meet your obligations. How ticked-off would your client be if you were late for the lunch meeting because you were still in your office working? Of course, what if you were late picking-up your children from school? Your partner may never forgive you for that one.
A slip up here and there is bound to happen. If you got a flat tire on the way to a meeting, that’s an unexpected event that you can’t plan for. But, if you aren’t organizing your time and calendar by priorities, your life will get more and more chaotic. Because you missed a deadline, you have to work late and skip the gym or family time. Eventually, you always feel like you’re swamped, but have nothing to show for it.
When you focus on your priorities, you’re better suited to manage your time. You’re organized, well-prepared, and never feel like you’re falling behind. And, most importantly, you’ll always have the time to focus on what matters most in your life.
Prioritization is all well and good. But, how can you determine what your priorities are? Here's how to prioritize for better time and calendar management.
For starters, your priorities should be kept simple and clear by determining the following:
- The things that are most important to you, aka your values.
- The goals that you’ve achieved -- these should align with your values.
- The responsibilities that you have. If you work a traditional job, then from Monday through Friday during business hours, your responsibility is work.
- Knowing how activities impact your life. Playing a video game on your phone during a break at work may be fun but how does this make you a better employee or individual?
- Knowing how to separate the urgent from the important. Just because something is urgent doesn’t mean it’s important. For instance, you don’t need to open and respond to an email the second you receive it.
Here are some ways you can prioritize for better time and calendar management.
Create and order a task list.
“Having a big list of tasks isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it can make you feel stressed about your day,” wrote Kayla Sloan. “Rather than spending time worrying you can prioritize your list for better time management instead.”
Kayla suggests you start with a task list that’s easily accessible by either phone or computer. “This way you can add to it from work or home at any time.”
Next, you’ll need to order your list.
“Assign numbers to each item listed starting with the most pressing duties first,” recommends Kayla. “Conversely, the bottom of your list should include items that are less pressing or could be done another day.”
Choose the right things to work on.
Still struggling with separating the urgent and important? Use the simple 2×2 matrix named after US president Dwight Eisenhower to help you determine your priorities.
The Eisenhower matrix can help you distinguish between urgent and important by creating four boxes. The horizontal axis represents “urgency,” while the vertical axis represents “importance.” In each quadrant you categorize each of your tasks by; important but not urgent, important and urgent, not important or urgent, and urgent but not important.
When you’re done, you’ll know what you need to do right now, which tasks can wait and which responsibilities you can delegate.
Block out chunks of time for 'Deep Work.'
Deep work, as Cal Newport explained in the book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World is the ability to focus on cognitively demanding tasks, without being distracted. Newport adds, “To produce at your peak level you need to work for extended periods with full concentration on a single task free from distraction.”
In the book, Newport explains how Wharton professor Adam Grant is so productive. Grant teaches during the fall semester, but conducts research in the spring. He alternates daily between being completely isolated and having an open door policy with his students.
You can still apply this concept, even if you can’t front-load your work like Grant. Let’s say between 9am and noon, you work on your most important task. During this block of time, you close the office door and turn off your phone.
Additionally, you can start batching “shallow work.” These are less challenging tasks like returning emails and phone calls.
Use a calendar app.
By using a top calendar app, you can rank which priorities need to be worked-on for the day, week or month. You can also use your calendar to set reminders so that you’ll never forget an important deadline or event again.
What’s more, because you’re using your calendar app as both a to-do-list and to view your schedule, you can cut down on the number of tools you use.
Is this meeting necessary?
It’s been found that 15 percent of an hour long meeting is wasted. That’s nine minutes that you could have been working on something else. Before accepting a meeting, always ask if it’s necessary. For instance, a status update on a project could be done through email, Slack or a project management tool. Meeting with a prospective client or employee could be done via 10-minute discovery call instead of an hour-long lunch meeting.
If a meeting is necessary, make sure that it:
- Has an agenda that’s been sent out in advance.
- Is short, concise and stays on-topic.
- Includes a small number of participants.
- Has someone to facilitate the meeting.
- Uses the right tech that everyone attendee knows how to use.
Don’t put the priorities of others over yours.
It’s not uncommon for someone to ask you for help. It could be a friend asking you to help them move or a colleague requesting your assistance on a project.
While there’s nothing wrong with helping others out, you should only do so when you have the availability. Don’t put their priorities before your own. If you’re swamped or have a previous commitment, then you may have to say “no.” It’s not fun. But, if you’re honest and upfront, they’ll understand.
Email. Your smartphone. Phones. YouTube. Friends, family, co-workers. These are the types of distractions that prevent you from getting stuff done. So, how can you block them?
One of the simplest ways to eliminate distractions is by turning-off your phone. As for your computer, you could use an app like RescueTime to block distracting websites. And, if you have an office door, you can always keep it shut while focused on your “deep work.”
If you don’t have your own office, try working somewhere more quiet like a coffee shop. Or, purchase a pair of noise-reducing headphones.
Instead of managing time, manage your energy levels.
We only have so much energy, which is why it’s important to take frequent breaks throughout the day. It gives us a chance to replenish our mental and physical energy.
Become aware of your energy levels and schedule accordingly. For instance, if you are more energetic in the morning, that’s when to tackle your most important task.
As Jim Vaselopulos writes in Forbes, “Consider again a task that you would unproductively toil over for an hour during your afternoon doldrums but could knock out in 10 minutes at peak energy (perhaps eight a.m.).”
If you shifted “your schedule to shorten a morning meeting from 60 minutes to 45 minutes and then spend 10 of those extra 15 minutes focused on that same task.” Eventually, “you would gain 60 minutes each afternoon.”
Work smarter, not harder.
If you want to be effective at work, while focusing on what really matters, then you need to start working smarter and not harder. After all, research shows that output decreases sharply after a 50-hour workweek.
- Think before your act. Don’t just create a lengthy to-do-list and then jump into it. Think about your most important tasks for the day, which should be no more than five items, and focus only on them.
- Measure results, not time. Don’t get caught-up in how long a task took you to complete. Instead, focus on what you accomplished during that a specific time-frame.
- Have a positive attitude. Those who have a positive attitude are more likely to take initiative.
- Communicate. Develop and strengthen your communication and collaboration skills so you can work with others easily and quickly.
- Create and stick to a routine. When we establish routines, we can work faster. The reason? We don’t have to think about what we need to do. And, we can prepare accordingly.
- Automate more of your tasks. Use tools to handle repetitive tasks. Prevent decision fatigue by preparing your meals or outfits in advance so that you don’t have to think about them in the morning.
- Stop multitasking. It’s doesn't work,
- Take advantage of procrastination. Don’t always wait until the last minute but a deadline getting close can motivate you.
- Relieve stress. Find ways to relieve stress, like exercise, yoga or meditation.
- Do more of the things that you enjoy. This may not always be possible. But try to do more of the work that you enjoy.
Repeat and evaluate.
“Now that you have a system for prioritizing what you do, repeat your actions every day,” suggests Kayla. “You will probably still have days that don’t turn out the way you planned. However, the more you prioritize the easier and faster it will get.”
“On days in which your whole schedule goes out the window, evaluate to find out what went wrong,” adds Kayla. “Could you have done anything to change the situation? If so, determine what that is so you can avoid it in the future.”