Creating Space

Post #1 in the “Simplify” blog post series.

Do you create space for yourself during a typical workday? When do you strategize, reflect, exercise, think, re-fuel or just catch your breath? Many of the leaders I work with find themselves activity, in reactive vs proactive mode when it comes to their calendars and they have little time for themselves as they are often scheduled to participate in to back to back virtual meetings or phone calls for 60-80% of the workday. The rest of the time left in the day is often spent in a vain attempt to catch up with the work they couldn’t get to because of meetings and calls. This unfinished work then spills over into evenings and weekends and negatively impacts family/personal life. Does this sound like you?  If it does, here are four difficult thoughts to ponder:

  • More activity and longer to-do lists are not likely to make us more effective, productive or happy.
  • Time to look in the mirror and ask: Does our work exist to support our family or does our family exist to support our work?
  • Many of us are simply uncomfortable with anything less than a full schedule. Calendar holes often trigger feelings of guilt and anxiety instead of recognizing them as gifts of time.
  • We must control our calendars…our calendars should not control us. Let’s admit that our calendars are over-scheduled because we have likely allowed it to happen. It is time to fight back and take control.

What can we do? How do we change this dynamic for the better and create the space we need? Better calendar management is the key.  Here are five proven ideas to consider:

  1. Simply learn to say “NO”. Be more discerning about what meetings you attend. Learn to say NO when necessary rather than agreeing to every meeting request. See if one of your team members can attend in your place if possible. Block out meeting-free periods on your calendar and train those around you to respect these windows. Say no to meetings without clear agendas and a logical purpose. Learn to identify and thwart time thieves who want to take over your calendar. In listening to my clients who have embraced this one simple step, they estimate they are getting 3-5 hours of time back every week! What would you do with that much extra time each week?
  2. Conduct a schedule audit. Review your calendar from last month over a typical two-week period (do this every Quarter). Make note of the meetings you attended where your presence was not really needed or the meetings you led which could have been shortened or avoided altogether. Use this information to help plan more wisely where you spend time in the future.
  3. Build “air” into the schedule. Try adding a 15-minute window between every meeting/call and avoid going back to back. Use the extra time to plan for the next meeting, collect your thoughts…whatever you need. Also, try adding a 30-minute window to your schedule every day for two weeks. Do not fill it with busy work or meetings, but instead enjoy some quiet time to collect your thoughts or white board a few ideas. Maybe you can take a walk outside or have a meaningful conversation with a team member. If you survive this change (and you will), gradually increase the time the following week until you attain one hour a day. Every leader I know who faithfully does this is a fan and zealously protects this daily respite.
  4. Schedule everything that is important. If something is not on my calendar it is not likely to occur. So, everything goes on my calendar. This includes dinner, other family activities, time for writing, time for brainstorming, reflection time, meetings with my network, my prayer life, exercise, etc. Everything important should be scheduled because if we don’t, these other important areas of our lives will only get the scraps of time left over from our hectic and over-scheduled workdays. Helpful tip: See ideas one & two. You will have more time for other important areas of your life if you reduce time wasted in unnecessary meetings!
  5. Set clear boundaries. When does the workday end and family/personal time begin? If the lines feel blurred for you, here are a few ideas to draw clearer boundaries around your schedule:
    • Don’t send or respond to non-emergency emails after 6:00 pm M-F or on weekends. It can wait. Every sent email creates an expectation to the recipient that you are “on” and working, which perpetuates the problem of afterhours email.
    • If someone wishes to schedule a non-emergency call or meeting with you after the time you have set as a “boundary”, politely say no and offer them alternatives that work better for your calendar.
    • Put the iPhone in another room or turn it off during family time (if you recognize the need to give your brain a rest). One of my clients gives his iPhone to his wife from 6-9 pm each weekday evening to help him focus on family dinner and quality time with his loved ones. Do whatever it takes!

Time is a finite resource, yet we often foolishly behave as if there is an endless supply of it to accomplish everything on our daily to-do lists. We need to embrace this idea of creating space in our days or we run the risk of being less effective, less efficient and experiencing burnout. This is one of the most effective forms of self-care, but also one of the most overlooked. I know from experience that you, and everyone around you, will greatly benefit if creating space becomes a priority.

Give it a shot, starting today.

Good luck.

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