If you don’t manage your time, someone else will manage it for you.
One of the key tactics for getting out of “overwhelmed mode” is understanding that you are a powerful person, in charge of your own schedule. You get to decide when to say “yes”, and when to say “no”.
That’s simple enough. But simple does not always equal easy, and managing your time defensively-protecting it from abuse by other people-requires that you do something that is not easy.
You must set and enforce boundaries.
Because this is the most difficult part of defensive time management, here are three tips that should give you some free space in your schedule.
Get Rid of “Got a Minute” Meetings. Any time someone asks you if you have “got a minute”, your internal alarm should go off. Your schedule is about to be hijacked, your productivity throttled, and your objectives for the day afforded. Have a standard response ready for those “got a minute meeting” requests. Something like this works nicely: I have to focus on something else right now. Let’s meet at 3:30, and we can go over everything on your list then.
Batch Process Your Emails and Voicemails. Email and voicemail are great tools-especially for other people who want to add tasks to your to do list. Batch processing puts an end to your being manipulated and controlled by others. For this to work, you have to make one giant adjustment in your daily routine: only check email and voicemail once or (at most) twice a day. You don’t have to make a big deal out of it, you don’t have to announce it, you certainly don’t have to make an autoresponder to brag about. Twice a day is perfectly reasonable. I would suggest 11 AM and 4 PM. That way the first part of your day is not derailed by other people’s priorities, and you catch anything that comes in at the end of the day. Now, outside those two times each day, just don’t give into the temptation to check your email or your voicemail. This habit alone will transform your life. Try it.
Become Hyperaware of the Time. Ever notice how there are no clocks and casinos? The reason is casino operators know that if you are not aware of what time it is, you will spend more time lingering in their establishment. The same is true of your workday. If you are not conscious of the passage of time, the time required to complete each task will expand. While that state may be great if you are relaxing and don’t need to get many things done, it doesn’t work well for most of us in the business world. At the very least, use a digital timer to set boundaries around the time you spend working on particular projects. Contrary to many popular expert opinions, my experience shows that if you become hyperaware of the time, you get more done in less time. Imagine that. You will also come to jealously defend your precious productivity and revenue producing hours.
Become a defensive manager of your own schedule, and watch your productivity soar (and your stress level plummet).