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We seem to be managing our calendars like the game Tetris – plugging every last gap until our week is fully blocked

So, we’re all at home – working, that is. What would, before the pandemic hit, have taken companies 10 years to convince us and themselves was a good idea, has come to pass in a year.

The situation has thrown up some new challenges. ‘Oh, you’re at home – have a nice day off,’ quickly became ‘How the hell do I juggle the kids, and balance working at home with home life?’. Now the biggest problem is back-to-back calls. Sometimes 10 in a day. We seem to be managing our calendars like the game Tetris – plugging every last gap until our week is fully blocked. As one client said to me last week: “If I’m in back-to-back calls all day, when do I do the work?” Sound familiar?

It’s a tough one. Let’s start with the home truth: some people like being ‘busy’ and want to be seen to be busy. In fact, most of us want some of that. The feeling of belonging, being wanted, and making a difference. Fair enough.

The place we need to get our minds to, though, is understanding that being in your inbox or in a call/meeting is not the only way to be busy. We need to ask ourselves how and where we make the biggest difference in our jobs. The answer is unlikely to be ‘in our inbox all day’ or ‘in back-to-back meetings’. Yes, I know you are in demand and you have to attend many meetings and reply to many emails, but to use an old phrase: Time flies. The good news is that you’re the pilot!

What I’m really saying is that you have to want to change. Change is hard. It is very easy to be busy. It’s much harder to work on the things that make the biggest difference. I believe that the most successful people are two things. First, they’re the ones with the emptiest heads – they get it all out into a system, even if that is just paper. Secondly, they have the ability to ignore distractions. And yes, I do suggest turning off all email pop-up notifications.

My top tips for managing your calendar as the precious resource that it is: your time.

  • Set your Outlook defaults to 30 minutes or one hour. Make your one-hour meetings 45 minutes.
  • Book time with yourself on the system to get the big stuff done. Then no one else can book that time and take it away from you.
  • Convert some weekly meetings to 20 minutes. See what you can get done in that time.