A few years ago I had completely lost control of my calendar. In a newly created role on my sales team, I was launching a new initiative at my company. As a result, I had over 15 people directly scheduling time onto my calendar to speak with their clients. While wanting to spend every possible minute client-facing, I quickly ran into two problems:
I needed time to think about the initiative: what was going right and wrong? What were the challenges and opportunities? What were the staffing changes we needed to make to support and scale accordingly?
I needed time to do the work: I was reporting to the company’s top executives, but was frequently completing important work like my sales projections and pipeline analysis late at night — and always in a hurry. That wasn't my only homework: I needed to follow up with all the clients I was jamming into my calendar and also do the follow-up work associated with all the internal meetings I was joining.
It’s counter-intuitive, but the one scheduling hack that changed my life was a “no scheduling” rule. I took back control of my calendar and held the first and last hour of my workday for doing actual work. Here are four ways that using two daily “do not schedule” work blocks changed my life:
1. I could quickly check things off my to-do list.
It was so simple but by having dedicated work time, I could suddenly get through all the little things on my to-do list that I owed to myself or to others. For example: “yes, that email to your client looks great and here are my additions to the document you're sending over.” Or, “here are my edits to that slide deck for Friday’s leadership meeting.” By carving out time to get through my own work, I became an even better business partner to my colleagues.
2. I had time for “deep work.”
I had uninterrupted time to complete project work, to think critically and to simply complete tasks that required more than five or 10 minute bursts of attention. That was a game-changer.
3. I reduced after-hours work (and got my evenings back in the process).
Instead of “catching up” on to-dos or completing projects after hours, I was now doing them during core work hours. Often, because I held time at the beginning of each day, anything that came up at 6pm or 7pm could be handled first thing the next morning. By building that grace period into my mornings at the office, I significantly reduced the number of evening hours I spent on my laptop.
4. I also reduced the end-of-day-scramble.
As a working mother, this was huge. I was running into an issue where, without the "do not schedule" blocks, I’d be back-to-back in meetings until 15 minutes before daycare pick up. The choices were either to scramble and frantically get something done in a hurry, be late to pick-up or give up my evening to get it done. The end of day “do not schedule block” reduced that end-of-day-scramble, allowing me to wrap up for the day more effectively and reduce my stress.
With the use of my two daily work blocks, not only did my productivity sky-rocket, but I reduced my stress significantly and my engagement at work soared. The key to owning my schedule was embracing time to not schedule, a calendar hack changed my work life.
A version of this post previously appeared on Fairygodboss, the largest career community that helps women get the inside scoop on pay, corporate culture, benefits, and work flexibility. Founded in 2015, Fairygodboss offers company ratings, job listings, discussion boards, and career advice.
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