While working with a current executive coaching client, she explained that she was completely overwhelmed by trying to remember all the things she needed to do. She was failing at it and felt overwhelmed and like she was going crazy. It reminded of the participants in a three-day long time and productivity management course I led many years ago. All participants were required to bring their calendars with them to the course. In those days they were rarely electronic. Most people had “Filofaxes” or bound diary calendars. I would ask the entire group to look up (say) Wednesday two weeks from today, and then I would ask a few individuals what they had in their calendar. Usually the only things in the calendar were appointments: doctor appointments, meetings with the boss, regular sales meetings, or deadlines. Apart from that the calendar was empty for the day.
“So, what are you going to do for the rest of the day?” I’d ask.
“Well, I am going to work, obviously.” Would come the answer (usually with a note of sarcasm attached).
So, for these folks the calendar did little more than tell them where to put their bodies:
- “Take your body to the doctor.”
- “Take your body to the conference room.”
- “Use your body to login for a call.”
Consider this: If that is how a calendar looks, then the working day is essentially 100% reactive. How else can you describe a day that unfolds based on what happens, who calls and what you remember — rather than what is important, planned and executed?
Is that how your calendar looks? Appointments, deadlines, meetings and little else? Well, here are some key insights and some solutions. They reveal how to better utilize tools and practices to be productive and experience peace of mind:
- Your Mind is Not a Storage Device. I know, you think it is. But as we grow older our realms of responsibility and numbers of relationships grow. So do the associated tasks, chores, ideas, information and demands. The effort required to remember things you mean to do, have to do or want to do is greater than you have in expendable energy. So inevitably, things escape your memory? Why? Because what you are doing now takes energy, and that energy depletes the “remembering” energy. So spend your energy where it makes the biggest impact – in focusing on what you’re doing now — not remembering what you need, want or have to do next.
- Time is the Common Denominator. What does that mean? Well, think of all the ideas you have, things you want to do, stuff you promised, chores or tasks. They all take time. None of them happen instantaneously without using seconds, minutes, hours, days or so forth. Nothing. So, if you don’t allocate time to them, how will they happen?
- More than one to-do list is like having NO to-do list. The only purpose for a to-do list is to store items until they are put into time. What do I mean “put into time”? I mean, IN YOUR CALENDAR. You need one and only one list. The purpose of the list is to “capture” things as they arise. The list should be with you all the time, on your smart phone (or on a single, tiny notepad). And the list should be empty every night and every morning (at least) because it is nothing but a layover on the way to your calendar.
- Digital Calendars are super-flexible. Use them that way. Scheduling something in your calendar is essentially like creating a placeholder IN TIME. So you can always move that event to a later time or earlier time or different day, etc. But putting it in your calendar means you can forget about it until the day, hour and minute it is time to address it. Ah, free space in the mind!
- Digital calendars extend into perpetuity. Your time horizon is far greater than you think. Unless you are terminally ill and know your expiration date, you have lots of time. Decades. For some reason, modern humans operate in about a two week time window. If it can’t be done in the next two weeks we don’t schedule it (annual vacations not withstanding), and then it becomes a nagging or forgotten piece of mental detritus, or the source of overwhelm. But you can schedule things two years or 20 years out in your calendar. So if you mean to write a book “someday”, schedule it. How’s March 4th, 2021? Want to climb K2, schedule it (I recommend spring or autumn). You can always move it closer.
- Use alarms. Set a default alarm for your calendar. Most items don’t require tons of prep, so 15 minutes or 30 minutes may be perfect. For those items that you need preparation for, or if there is a project that culminates, you may need to set the alarm far further in advance. For that book in 2021, maybe set the alarm 18 months in advance. Then schedule all the hours you will write on the days when you will do so. And set alarms to remind you of those occasions too. I have recently had an alarm breakthrough… by setting one for bedtime. No idea why I never thought of it. It works.
- Marry Your Calendar. Stop playing the field and get serious! Have a wedding, tie the knot, and then SURRENDER to it. Be exclusive. No using other calendars, scraps of paper, post-its or, worst of all, your mind. Until death do you part! And by death, I mean when you upgrade your phone (and restore your calendar via the cloud to a new device).
- Embrace the mantra “If I mean to do it it’s in my calendar. If it’s not in my calendar I am not going to do it.” ‘Nuff said.
This is a very general overview. I will dig in a bit deeper in later posts. For more information on powerful time management methods I strongly recommend visiting 2Time Labs (founded by my former business partner Francis Wade). Francis and I first discovered many of these approaches a long time back. He has gone on to become an expert, while I remain a dilettante. I promise, he has a lot to teach you (and me)!
Implementing behavior changes is tough! Performance coaching provides the tools and partnership to make even the toughest changes — like altering your time management habits! Contact me for a complimentary initial consultation.