Let me start by saying that, yes, there are too few hours in the day. Your to-do list is never empty, you’re not getting home as early as you’d like, and you don’t feel like you accomplish everything that you want to get done.
Since I can’t magically grant you more time in the day (though I’m pretty sure that would be the best super power ever), let me share with you the secret to getting more done in the time that you do have: aggressively guarding your schedule.
By this, I don’t mean not taking meetings (though I do believe that fewer are better), I mean managing the balance and sequence of events in your day to give you maximum productivity. This is one of the most powerful things you can do for yourself—in fact, it almost feels like adding more time to your day.
Here are two simple steps to get you started:
Step 1: Imagine Your Ideal Week
First, sit down and briefly answer the following questions:
- What are your work hours on an average day and week?
- What are your standing meetings—or things that must be done at a certain date and time?
- At which time of the day are you most productive? (e.g., Do you get a lot done in the mornings, then have a lull after lunch?)
- Are there days of the week that are more or less productive for you? (Case of the Mondays, anyone?)
- Are different types of work better accomplished on different days or times? (My co-founder Kathryn jokes that sending sales emails Friday afternoon is a black hole, so she does different types of work then.)
Once you’ve answered these questions, take a step back and see how your schedule, meetings, day-to-day tasks, and productivity levels would all fit together into one perfect work week.
Then, use an empty calendar to actually plot out that schedule. Include blocks of time that are best for focused work (ideally chunks of time when you feel very productive), blocks that are best for meetings (my co-worker Adrian likes to schedule them in the afternoon—they energize her when she’d otherwise be feeling drowsy), and, of course, blocks for answering email.
Step 2: Reverse Engineer Your Calendar (By Making Others Fit Your Schedule)
Now, things come up, and you might not be able to stick to this schedule every week. But you can and should guard it like a (friendly) fire-breathing dragon—particularly your time for getting focused work done. I’m telling you, having a handful of uninterrupted blocks where you can really work is invaluable in squeezing more time out of your day.
Treat those periods of work like any other meeting on your calendar. When someone asks you if you’re free then, you’re not (unless you can reschedule that time for later in the day or week). If people at your company can see your free or booked time on your calendar, you can even put your working time on it to avoid having it taken from you.
Another great way to guard your time is to take the lead in scheduling meetings. Now, I’m not saying to take over from someone else if you’re not the one who usually coordinates scheduling—that would be taking on more work, and that’s definitely not a move in the right direction!
What I mean is, let people know what times work for you as soon as humanly possible—and ideally, before anyone else has thrown out a time. If you like to have meetings in the afternoons or on a specific day, throw out “Anytime after 3 PM” or “Friday is wide open.” That way, the options will be anchored in your suggestions, not in times you want to keep to yourself.
You’ll never be able to add time to the day, but you can be smart about the hours you do have. And by maximizing your productive times (and your not-so-productive times, you’ll quickly find that you can get more done.