How To Regain Control Of Your Calendar

Scary Schedule? How to Regain Control Of Your Calendar

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“My calendar is out of control! I have so many meetings that I can’t get my work done.”

This sentiment has become increasingly common among managers and leaders. The need to work collaboratively and cross-functionally has led to a proliferation of meetings, and in many organizations, where calendars are visible to all, colleagues feel free to schedule meetings at any open time. People wind up with chopped up days, back-to-back meetings and, oftentimes, no idea as to why they have been invited. The result? Participants are often late, unprepared and disengaged.

But perhaps the biggest cost for professionals is that they find themselves in low-priority meetings, rather than doing high-value work. Their calendars drive how they spend their time, and other people are at the wheel.

In order to take control of your workload, you must take control of your calendar. This involves playing defense by setting boundaries and saying “no.” More importantly, though, it requires upping your offense by proactively scheduling time for high-priority activities.

1. Schedule time for reflection and critical thinking. Block off at least 45 minutes at the beginning of each week to identify your top three priorities. If you are afraid people will schedule over it, you might try naming it “Critical Planning Time – do not schedule over without asking me” or, if that fails, “Out of Office.” (To make it true, head out to the local coffee shop!)

2. Make time for your commitments. When you promise a work product to someone—a report, proposal or talking points—set aside the hours required to do it before the deadline. Do not promise something by Friday if you cannot find time to do it between now and then.

3. Set boundaries on your own meetings. Meetings are often an essential part of doing your job, so make them count. Have an agenda, be prepared, start on time, stay on-track and keep meetings to 25 minutes or 55 minutes. Cancel meetings if critical people are missing or if a written update will do.

4. Know your highest and best value and set your priorities accordingly. Which meetings are high-priority because of the people or the content? Which are low-priority? Review your calendars from the past few weeks—which meetings could you have skipped?

5. Build your “no” muscle. If you are invited to a meeting of marginal value that will get in the way of a priority, push back. Psychologist Liane Davey suggests a number of great strategies for declining unwanted meetings in this great HBR article. Here are some potential responses:

  • “I see you included me in X meeting. I have a conflict and won’t be able to attend. If I’m essential to the meeting, let’s look at next week.”
  • “What’s on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting?”
  • “What would you think of switching our weekly status calls to bi-weekly or written updates?”

If you begin asserting control of your calendar, it can become a powerful tool for getting work done.