Monday, June 13, 2016

How to hold onto your time when time is out of your control

Last week, I posted a story on social media about six productivity secrets of successful CEOs; the six items were essentially ones I talk about in my book, "Time Management:  The Time Famine Solution." On LinkedIn, Sarah D. asked:

"What do you do when you have someone above you who tends to rearrange your schedule for you?  Or when you aren't really allowed to have 'blocked' out time because you are expected to be available for whatever request pops up?"

Great question!  We all have roles in our lives where our time is not in our control - or at least it feels that way.  There are ways, though, to still have a measure of control, even if you're at someone else's beck and call.

First, think about how you deal with appointments; doesn't matter what kind of appointment - doctor, vet, business meeting.  If your time is someone else's, what do you say when you have a conflicting appointment?  Do you scrap your appointment or do you tell the person you will do it as soon as you're done?  What if you were going to be charged if you missed the appointment?  You'd really make sure you were there, with no interruptions, right?

Time blocking is the same thing.  You have scheduled appointments to do certain things in your life, so you do them, without interruptions.  Of course, there will be times when emergencies come up, where you'll need to rework your schedule, but if you can keep to your time blocks as much as possible, you'll feel better and more in control, even when there are times that are out of control.

Here's how you do it.

  • Get up an hour earlier than you normally have been
  • Start and end every day by going through your schedule
  • Analyze each demand on your time to see which are essential and which aren't and get rid of anything that isn't essential.  Essential items include taking lunch regularly, leaving work on time, at least 30 minutes for yourself at the beginning and end of each day
  • Schedule your essentials as close to each other as possible so your calendar is filled in chunks of time and open in chunks of time
  • Let the person you report to know you're trying another way of being more responsive and more efficient by scheduling things every day at set times.  Let them know you're available for emergencies, but if it's one of the times you've got blocked out, it may have to wait until the next open time.
  • Ask your boss for help in blocking out work time.  A good boss will be more than happy to help you work it out.  Start by presenting your idea of an ideal work day and ask for input.  You might be surprised at how many of those "emergencies" become non-essential once your boss knows you're working to be more efficient
  • Try different routines until you find one that works. 
  • Remember - you are not a slave; you work for someone.  You have the right to set your day, provided you get all your work done.  If you're the person responsible for troubleshooting issues that come up at the spur of the moment, schedule in at least an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon for dedicated work so you have more time open for "emergencies."
  • The more time you can control, the better you'll feel, so definitely make sure you're scheduling time for lunch and time to leave; just those two things are SO important when you feel out of control
What should you do if it isn't working?  Try another schedule.  It may require a trip to HR for a little chat on how you can be more efficient, if your direct boss isn't cooperative.  It may require starting with one or two things regularly scheduled and working up to more.

No matter how difficult it might seem to be to block out time when your time isn't yours, keep going.  Keep working it.  You own your own time; no one else does.  You make the decision on how frazzled you get when you're not jumping immediately on every emergency.  Stay cool, calm and collected.  Look at your schedule objectively, without the pressure of someone demanding your time.  Then make a plan.

You are in control.  Really.  If someone else wants to press the issue or require more than is reasonable or healthy, it's time to go somewhere else.  But try these tips first.