Calendars: a battle worth fighting
Let’s step back from business for a second. We will get back to it, but just for a second:
Think about the last time someone said “It’s been a long time since we’ve seen each other. Let’s grab coffee sometime.” Your response is “Yes, that sounds great. We should definitely get together soon.”
Now, if you follow that up with some proposed dates, you have a shot at actually linking up with the friend and finding out all the things that have been going on since you last saw each other. It may take some travel across town, but it will ultimately occur.
If, on the other hand, you leave it at the ambiguous “soon,” it might take months before either of you remembers that you had wanted to make time to catch up.
Make time. That’s sort of the key, isn’t it? We are always carving out minutes and hours from our days to complete tasks. We would be happier as a whole if some of those tasks, some of those priorities for which we “make” time, were things we wanted to do like catching up with an old friend over some frothy drink upon which a barista spent way too much time perfecting the design for his Instagram account.
But we can’t “make” time any more than we can make the same intricate design of political figures in latte foam. We can’t replicate ourselves, not yet, so instead we have to rely on my favorite tool in my life: a calendar. This is, in fact, how we can make time. Not just carve it out, but actually create time where before there was never enough.
Does it seem amazing? It is. I learned some tricks about calendars when going through cognitive therapy a few years ago. Having had my brain rattled enough for surgery, you end up needing a lot more tools to do many things you could do automatically before. But even before, I could never create time. Here’s how I do it now:
Put it all in there. From critical work deadliness and client meetings to your darkest secrets, like your knitting for cats appreciation club, everything should be in one spot. If you must keep your calendars separate, such as one is in a work program that will not sync, have them both open and both accessible at all times. But the key is that everything should be visible. You need to know what is in there before you can do your magic, and need to know what is due in the coming days as well.
Color code. Use a system that works for you. I use Google’s calendar, and I share my work account’s calendar with my personal calendar. Then I color code everything according to priority. Is it a client-set, immovable time? Red. Is it something I can mess with, such as a happy hour? Blue. Tentative because friends are being wishy-washy? Yellow. I have my system that works. I also have tried work as one color and personal as another color.
Whatever helps you…
…Prioritize. This is where we are going to make our time work for us. Once all of our tasks are in one place, we have a better perspective on what can move and what can’t, and what may suffer if we have to shift or adjust.
Observe. You will start to see how items affect one another. It’s obvious when tasks butt right up next to each other and make you run late or adjust on the fly, but it can be more subtle as well. You might see time working on a project not due for two months as a flexible task right now, but as you use that time to cut into now, you will find that later you not only can’t make it flexible but you need more of it to make up for what you lost in the beginning. Or you may observe that you are spending too much time on another task that you didn’t need or overestimated (see recent blog post on task completion and overestimation here). Take a couple of weeks (no, really, it’s not that long) to really budget out time and observe results.
Backwards Plan. Now you are ready to really start planning, and as such making your days better. You start to notice how much time things really take and get a better estimate of your own capabilities, which can then help you to backwards plan your projects better. You have a due date to a client in two months. You’ll need the presentation finalized before then, so allocate some time to make the final changes. Before that it needs to be edited. Make time. Before that, created. Before that, the data compiled. Before that, created. You can go through nearly every task and come up with the subtasks, which you can then enter into the calendar. It starts to look like a lot, but chances are with a closer look you are just looking at smaller subtasks and it’s not nearly as intimidating - or as time consuming - as you thought.
Make some magic. As you break down your larger tasks and your other, routine tasks, you’ll start to see that there are more gaps than you thought in that schedule. If you stick to the timelines you put forward, it will be like magic as more time seems to appear in those gaps. Now that you aren’t cramming for the presentation to the client, you don’t need the whole day before reserved for finalizing the material. All of a sudden, time starts popping up in between tasks that you can then adjust and complete things early, allowing for more time. Now, that 3pm coffee doesn’t seem like a stretch even if it is a block further away, and that all-nighter you were going to pull is filled instead with sleep.
Be flexible. Yes, you want to know what your tasks are, but you also need to remember that life is always the priority. The point to make here is no, you can’t schedule everything. Nor should you. You want spontaneity. You want your kid (or your cat) to come and bother you for a little bit. But the real key here is that with the proper planning, this won’t cause stress. You can adjust, you know that there is time to be made.
So get out and have that coffee. And get it on the calendar. It’s worth it for your friendship and your sanity, and really, you can make the time.
Elana Duffy is co-founder and COO of Present Tense LLC, a communications company dedicated to helping people express their ideas through better business storytelling. Working with everyone from authors to Fortune 500 companies, we provide a range of writing, editing, and training services. Lana is also a veteran of the US Army, a masters of engineering graduate, and a freelance writer in NYC. She is the co-author of the first in the Present Tense “singles” short ebook series, 10/10, for sale on Amazon and other major retailers.