9 Ways to Become A Calendar Whisperer and Own Your Time.
#8 Is that a dream or a goal? If it isn’t on the calendar, it isn’t real.
A horse whisperer is someone who has a magical ability to communicate with the animal and gain control over them. You need to adopt this same charming ability when it comes to your calendar and how you plan your time.
The calendar is not a novel concept, but in the always-on, frenetic pace of your day, common sense isn’t always common practice. When you really understand the freedom your calendar can provide, you will begin to use it differently to gain control over your days.
Let’s put this to the test:
· Is your current calendar a combination of white space and a sea of Teams/Zooms meetings?
· Do you structure your day by your priorities or other people’s urgencies?
· Do you start the day with clarity on what you need to tackle, or do you let your inbox dictate your actions?
· If I asked you to show me your calendar for the next two weeks, would I get a sense of what is essential, what you are working on and what skill you are trying to build? If the answer is no, then you need to rethink the gift sitting in front of you.
Here are ten ways to become a calendar whisperer, master your time and truly own your days again:
1. Do not check your inbox first thing.
Most people make the mistake of starting their day by checking their inbox. It sounds logical — what if something urgent has landed in your mails?
The problem with this approach is that you are training yourself to base your first precious hours around other people’s priorities rather than your own.
When you start the day with the mindset of ‘a quick check in’, you will inevitably get sucked into the email maze and it will derail your entire morning. Your one clear goal has now been consumed by at least five more tempting tasks, none of which belong to you.
Start your day by focusing on one important task and work on it uninterrupted for at least sixty to ninety minutes. Once you have made progress, then check your inbox.
2. Schedule activities according to your energy levels.
Most time management advice suggests you should put your most important work first thing in the morning (as I did above). However, only listen to this advice if you are a morning person and you have great energy at this time of the day.
If you are a night owl and prefer to go to sleep later and only really switch on after 10 am, then schedule that strategic planning session later. You need to know yourself and make sure you put the relevant tasks in focus at the most appropriate time that will work best for you.
3. Your personal life is not in the way; it is on the way.
The most significant adjustment to the world of remote work is equating your personal time as equal status to your work priorities. The office gave you a clear boundary of what activities should happen there.
When you work from home, every personal task feels like an interruption to your workday. Instead of resisting these activities and resenting them, start to schedule them like a meeting so you can manage your time with realistic expectations.
Reframe your personal life as on the way — not in the way. Groceries, school lifts, home maintenance are all part of your everyday life. The sooner you schedule them, the more mental bandwidth you will have available. The personal responsibilities are not a disruption to your actual work; arguably, they are the real work.
4. Avoid back-to-back meetings.
The common complaint is people are stuck behind Zoom or MS Teams all day. The irony is you probably feel as rushed as you did when you were attending these physically. Even though you have replaced the commute with a mouse click, your mind is churning through precious energy at this frenetic pace.
Where possible, avoid back-to-back meetings. Question the default setting of sixty minutes for a meeting. Why not send a meeting invite with a twenty-five-minute time allocation?
It will create more focus, attention and deliberate action in the meeting because all attendees will be delighted to get the conversation done in a shorter space. Or even end the meeting at fifty minutes to get settled before the next one.
A meeting shouldn’t be a waste of time. It should be a forum for discussions to move things ahead. If you are rushing between meetings, when are you processing what just occurred and what the next moves are?
How are you managing your energy levels if you are not getting an opportunity to take a break, stretch, get some water, a nutritious meal or do something physical?
Do you need to attend every meeting? You know about FOMO, the fear of missing out. We are now dealing with FOMOM, fear of missing out on meetings.
Be honest with yourself and the next time a meeting invite pops into your inbox, make selecting ‘tentative’ your default before you mindlessly accept. Then reach out to the organiser and discuss what it’s about and how you can contribute. David Grady spoke about this concept in his TED talk, I highly recommend you watch it.
5. Plan your week before you are in it — with a twist!
Take a Friday afternoon or a Sunday and plan for the upcoming week. The twist is you begin where your time cannot go. Schedule your team meetings, school lifts, extramural activities and family commitments first.
Now you have a realistic view of the actual time available to you and can now schedule your work, personal and self-care time into the remaining slots accordingly.
When you begin with your time can’t go, it forces you to become more strategic on where to prioritise your time and attention.
6. Schedule planning time and me time.
Planning your week in advance is only helpful if you make time to plan for it. This practice doesn’t happen on its own; you have to deliberately carve out time for it.
If you feel like the days run away with you, then schedule in a thirty-minute slot on a Monday morning to plan the week. Who do you need to reach out to? Do you need to submit work to a team member?
Making time to think and plan ahead will keep you out of procrastination and reaction mode, a breeding ground for stress and anxiety.
Your self-care and me-time also deserve their dedicated slot. You can’t wake up and intend to fit in a walk somewhere in the day. But when it’s scheduled for 3 pm on Tuesday, it’s a lot more likely to happen.
7. Review the day before to plan.
This simple habit takes five minutes and can save you hours of physical and mental energy. If you know you have a sales meeting or a client presentation coming up later that week, you can percolate on the content in a relaxed and calm way ahead of time.
If it fell off your radar and you only remembered on the morning or even an hour prior, your confidence will be rattled, and you can compromise your performance.
8. Is that a dream or a goal? If it isn’t on the calendar, it isn’t real.
How many times over the last year have you promised yourself that you will get healthier, start tennis lessons, get out your camera again, write, paint, ride, pick up the guitar — you fill in the blank.
Unless that time has a designated place in your calendar, it remains on your someday list. The problem with these kinds of activities is that you want a R.O.M, a return on the moment, for the time spent.
If you spend time on work, it feels justified because there is a good outcome tied to the effort. When it comes to your recovery time and doing something for pure joy, it feels selfish. It’s hard to defend this time when you can’t tie it to a work outcome.
The way forward is to permit yourself to make time for the activities that simply bring you joy. That’s enough of a reason.
Peter Bregman spoke about this in his book ‘Emotional Courage’:
“Here’s the key: you need to spend time on the future even when there are more important things to do in the present and even when there is no immediate and apparent return to your efforts. In other words — and this is the hard part — if you want to be productive, you need to spend time doing things that feel ridiculously unproductive”.
9. When it doesn’t go according to your plan — just let it go.
You can have the most perfectly planned week, and then life happens, and it all turns pear-shaped. Covid has taught you that unexpected things can and will happen.
When things don’t go according to your plan, you need to move into acceptance and let go of trying to control and manipulate the moment in front of you.
Planning your time is crucial because if your slot gets derailed, you know where the remaining gaps are for the week. Suffering happens when you cling to your ideal version of reality versus the actual version that is happening right now. When it doesn’t go according to plan, just let it go.
How you schedule your days is how you spend your life. Be the architect of your calendar rather than the victim of it. Share these simple tools with your team and your colleagues so you can create a culture of calendar whisperers:
· Do not check your inbox first thing.
· Schedule activities according to your energy levels.
· Your personal life is not in the way, it is on the way.
· Avoid back-to-back meetings.
· Plan your week before you are in it — with a twist!
· Schedule planning time and me time.
· Review the day before.
· Is that a dream or a goal? If it isn’t on the calendar, it isn’t real.
· When it doesn’t go according to your plan — just let it go.
Here’s to becoming a schedule whisperer,
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