Not sure what Darwin would say about this but I don’t like leading my professional life (or life in general) in survival mode. That feeling of chasing your own tail, not having time to breath, plan and strategise just makes me severely unhappy and unsatisfied.
Blame my half Millennial- half Gen Z self, but I’m an optimist. I think we can do things much better and it’s simply a matter of mindset and choice. In some environments where I worked, the opposite was celebrated and promoted. The more madly crazy and ludacris your days were looking – the more leadership assumed you were motivated and “giving it all”.
I’ve been one of those workers too for long, but let me tell you something- if you reach the end of your day with your energy depleted, totally zoned out- it’s just a matter of time until your burn out.
Not having a strategy to manage your calendar, especially now with WFH when lines between work and life are blurred- is a recipe for inefficiencies, lack of control and well, too much unnecessary stress.
I’ve listed below 7 tips I use everyday and that made a huge difference in my life. The purpose is to mostly inspire you to find the recipe that works for you and start building your own strategy and work frame.
- Block off 2 hours on Monday morning (before you read emails)
If you’re anything like me, it takes me time to gear my motors up Monday morning. I won’t be able to utter much intelligent blabber before my second coffee and listening to Reggaeton Top 50. Not only that, but I actually find I have a lot more creative energy and inspiration precisely in those first 2 hours before I read emails- it’s the zone where your mind is fresh but not fully awake yet- fertile grounds for inspiration.
So…I block them off. Ta-duh! The start of your week has to be good, fun and provide a soft landing before jumping into burning fires. I use these 2 hours to:
- Read news from the industry I’m serving to keep myself updated and ahead of the curve
- Plan out my week with the most important activities and tasks
- Brainstorm new ideas to tackle big problems
- Pump myself up for a very exciting week ahead 💃🏻
- Expect the unexpected and block a few “for emergencies” one-hour slots in the week
Don’t you just love having to answer sudden urgent emails and slack messages while you’re supposed to be having lunch or listening to an enablement session that’s actually finally good?
I find that most time-management related stress stems from exactly this point- not expecting that there will be urgency, surprises, unexpected new tasks, things going wrong. Yet they never fail to knock on our doors :).
So, I started incorporating the unexpected into my calendar: I block off a few 30 mins/one hour slots per week to accommodate such situations. If nothing major happens I just focus on other tasks- but almost always I have some new urgency lined up for me to tackle so it works!
- Turn email notifications off (desktop and mobile)
Alright before you throw apples at me- hear me out. Unless you work in a profession where seconds and minutes matter for reaction (e.g. brain surgeon, NOC engineer) – consider turning email notifications off.
I’ve had them off for a few years now and guess what? I’ve never failed to answer an email in a timely manner, I’ve never missed out on anything important or pissed a client/colleague off.
To me, checking my emails when I CHOOSE to do so gives me the freedom, space and peace to own my day and not get distracted. I still check it quite a bit but when I’m in a meeting or working on a complex task- my full attention is with you.
- Sync your calendar with Slack
Are colleagues pinging you, emailing you and calling while you’re at a meeting or busy trying to focus on a big task? It can be extremely distracting especially while working from home since they just don’t know what you’re up to.
Do yourself a favor and watch the guide below to sync your slack status with your calendar automatically so everyone’s aligned.
- Close off 30 mins before and 15 mins after meetings
Although jumping around from one call to another is quite admirable- it won’t on average bring out the best in you. Constantly having many back to back meetings will turn your brain into a mush so whatever you spoke about just becomes a string of events you’re not sure where they started or ended.
For important internal meetings and especially for client/parter facing meetings, always block off at least 30 mins before. Allow yourself to tune in, recap on your plan, prepare and just relax to be at the top of your game.
Also, meetings tend to run a few mins longer (there is always that person that has “one last thing to say” 🤷🏼♂️) so take out the stress of finishing and jumping into your next thing- and block off 15 mins after meetings as well. Use them to summarize some notes while they’re fresh, send out calendar invites for the next meeting and recap next steps.
- Ask for an agenda
Yeah, you just dropped off another call that could have been an email. Hurray 😒. If a meeting doesn’t state a clear agenda- is it really necessary? Don’t think so.
Some fluff meetings can’t be avoided, true. But by simply asking for an agenda it will actually help the organizers better plan it out and be more concise. I’ve never received an annoyed response back by the way, like “how dare you ask how we will use your time you brat”- so I guess it’s alright to just ask politely, right?
- Spread out your meetings and important tasks
No, I don’t have an obsession of demonstrating to the world how crazy my days are and how much I’m a superman navigating this sophisticated jungle of a life I have. I just care about results I’m bringing. ✅
If I can help it- I try to spread out my meetings or most important activities throughout the whole week. Persistence is more important than short-term crazy workloads.
So everyday I aim to have 2 important meetings, one big problem to solve (aka “the task that will make a big difference”) and then mid to low level tasks to handle. Managing my energy levels allows me to wake up fresh on a Friday and look forward to Monday actually. I don’t feel burned out at all.
So to sum up- don’t just flow with your schedule- start owning it, controlling it and making it work for you. A good strategy will make you more inspired, will reduce friction with colleagues, will allow you to properly concentrate, work at a comfortable pace and leave you with enough energy for your, you know, personal life.
Let me know if you have some cool tips yourself in the comments- I’m always experimenting and would love to hear!