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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Productivity

The 5-Minute Scheduling Trick That Makes it Possible to Leave Work on Time

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I love collaboration.

I also love dogs, hate-watching cheesy ’90s movies, and convincing myself it’s OK to eat an entire block of cheese if I cut it into cubes first—but that’s neither here nor there. Because this article isn’t about things I love (although that is available upon request). Instead it’s about how to balance my love of collaboration with the fact that I need solo time to complete my work.

I got so into collaboration earlier this year that I ended up saying yes to every invite that came my way, from brainstorming sessions, to coffee walk ’n talks, to “Do you have a second to talk?” deskside chats.

“Find time on my calendar, and I’ll be there” became my catchphrase. And that was bad for two reasons. One: What a weak catchphrase. I can’t think of anybody—including the drunkest college kid on spring break—who would buy a T-shirt that said that. Two: Despite being a time management maniac, I found myself without any actual time to get through my to-do list.

Instead I’d end up with 15 minutes here, 30 minutes there. Enough time to look at my inbox, but not enough to actually complete anything. Before I knew it, I was staying way later at the office than I originally planned just to wrap projects up. And “staying later at the office” is second only to “splitting the bill evenly even though your friend drank a bottle of wine and you ordered water” on my list of horrible evening activities.

I decided I had to put up a few calendar guardrails to save myself designated time to work each day. So I scheduled out two daily recurring calendar slots that would allow me enough time to power through my assignments. (And I scheduled them around recurring weekly meetings.) Now, no matter what people add to my calendar or even what I put on there myself, I know I have a guaranteed four hours devoted to heads-down work every day.

Setting this up took a grand total of five minutes. And once it was set up (and I was following it strictly), I found myself able to check off everything on my to-do list.

Oh, and it gets better! Because I’m in control of those “heads-down, work-hard” slots, I can move them around as needed.

Before you’re all like, “Jenni, on a scale from one to anal retentive, this feels like an 11,” let me suggest a few calendar slots you might want to create for yourself. Block off:

  • time for lunch every day. Hanger is real, don’t let it get the best of you.
  • your golden hours.
  • 15 minutes after any meeting that you think could run over so you’re not rushing to the next one.
  • 30 minutes solely dedicated to checking your inbox in the morning (so you can stay out of it for a bit afterwards).
  • the time you want to leave the office every day so no one can schedule a late meeting.
  • Monday morning if you’d like to spend that time easing into your workweek
  • Friday afternoon if you’d prefer to spend your last few hours wrapping everything up.

Of course, the trick to making this work is sticking to the schedule after you’ve created it. And look, I’ll be honest with you: There have been plenty of days when I’ve had to change it up. But overall, it’s been a huge success when it comes to finding a way to both be a team player and also do the work I have to get done.

But if you’re not sold on this being the right hack for you, that’s OK! I’m not sold on cheese rationing, so I get it. That’s why I’d love to throw a few more ideas your way: this super simple sticky note time-saving trick, or this one to make your mornings more productive, or even this free app that’ll organize your life.

Once you pick one, use all your new free time to tweet me and let me know how it’s going!