Is It Time To Prune That Overloaded Schedule?
How many times in the past week have you thought, “I only have __________ minutes right now?”
Judging from my conversations with coaching clients and program participants, we are all saying it a lot more often. Not that it's a bad thing to be cognizant of how much time you have available. It's just that saying the phrase usually leads to choosing an easy-to-complete task (like checking email, social media, or some mindless activity) that really doesn't move your work or life forward in the most meaningful way.
As it turns out, there is an even bigger issue with our overloaded schedules. A study published in The Journal of Consumer Research found that bounded intervals of time (e.g., an hour before a scheduled meeting) feel shorter than unbounded intervals of time (e.g., an hour with nothing scheduled afterwards). Because we perceive that we have less time, we get less work done, especially work on bigger projects.
It gets worse. Overloaded schedules can also lead to:
- Increased procrastination. If you have an hour but feel like it's only 30 minutes because of that next meeting or appointment, you rationalize that you shouldn't start anything important.
- Exponential loss of productivity. If you have three meetings in a day that start one hour after the last one ends, you could be wasting up to three hours of your day.
- Lack of creativity and deep thinking. When you leave no room in your day to pursue answers to the "I wonder..." or "What if...." questions, you shackle yourself to the status quo and miss opportunities for professional and personal growth.
If you're ready to prune that schedule that's growing out of control, here are some suggestions:
Break larger projects into 15-30 minute "productivity pieces."
As you plan your day or week and look at any larger task, ask yourself, "What could I productively do with that in 15-30 minutes?" I recently had a series of 8 written interview questions to respond to, and kept putting the task off because I knew it would take me hours to respond. To help with my procrastination I chose to answer one question between each coaching call over a period of a couple of days.
Focus your overload on one or two days.
On those days you use the bounded intervals of time to get the simpler tasks accomplished. Completing reports and responding to email are a couple of possibilities. Keeping your overload on one or two days allows you to open up the other days to get the deeper work done.
Schedule meetings at one end of your day as much as possible.
Try to schedule most appointments early in the day or in the late afternoon to keep as much of your day open as possible. I have a friend in sales who aggressively tries to schedule all sales calls in the morning and then uses their afternoon to prospect, follow up, and take care of the administrative parts of their job.
Build unscheduled time into your schedule.
I am a big fan of time blocks. One of the blocks I advocate is "strategy." There are countless ways to use this time. The reason I believe so passionately it should be part of your schedule is that the block becomes permission for you to reflect, wonder, and think more deeply about where you are and where you want to go.
If you're saying, "But Jones. The problem is not me. It's my __________________." (insert 'supervisor,' 'coworkers,' 'company culture,' or any other objection), maybe it's time you remembered the words of Margaret Wheatley: "Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters." Aren't you ready to have the satisfaction of knowing that your most important work is not being held hostage by an overloaded schedule?