One of the frequent issues I come across in my coaching work is out of control diaries! What's in our diaries determines on a day to day basis how we spend much of our working lives. Unless we're disciplined, or we impose discipline on the other people who can add meetings and appointments to our diaries, we can very soon find we are run by our diaries - and run ragged!
Some common mistakes - and their remedies:
- only putting meetings that involve other people in our diaries: Much of the work we have to do doesn't get done in meetings. If we allow our diary to fill up with meetings, then when do we get to do this work? One answer (not a very good one) is to come in early and work from say 7-9am before the block of wall to wall meetings from 9 to 5 starts up, and/or to stay late at the end of the day. A better answer is to schedule meetings with yourself.
- only saying "no' to attending a meeting when you genuinely have no space left in your diary: Whether or not you have space in your diary should not be what decides whether you attend a meeting - your clarity about your priorities is what determines whether something goes in your diary.
- not negotiating over how much of your time people need - and not encouraging them to need less time: Try "You can have 5 minutes this afternoon, or half an hour next week".
- putting meetings in your own diary rather than delegating them to someone else's diary: Ask yourself if you're really the person who should be going to this meeting.
- assuming that if someone wants to meet you, then they should get time in your diary: They may want to use their time this way - but do you?
- assuming that your PA knows who to schedule meetings with and for how long: If PAs aren't very clear about what the criteria for getting in your diary are, then they will often find it easier to give someone an appointment with you than say "No". Give them clear guidelines, and then ensure they keep to them.
- assuming that you'll have the time to do your emails, have regular one-to-ones with reports and all the other predictable, have-to-do tasks you have to complete each week: Block out the time in your diary to do these predictable tasks - and have them automatically repeat (e.g., 10.30-11.00am daily appointment with self to do emails; Thursday afternoon each week for report one-to-ones). Sometimes you'll have to reschedule or even cancel these meetings (you can never be in total control of your diary - for example when the boss says he wants you at one of his meetings you're proably going to be there!), but you're still more in control overall.
- working on the important stuff when you're below par: It's too easy to start off by working on the urgent tasks and only get round to the important ones at the end of the day. And that's fine if that's when you're at your best. And that's the point - choose to do the important stuff that you have to do well when you're at your sharpest. If that's the 11-12 slot each day then make sure that's when you schedule the work that needs you to be creative, focused, and in flow.
The bottom line is - Are you in control of your diary - or does it control you?