Time is precious

How precious is your time to you?

I’ve mentored a lot of younger-than-me nonprofit communications directors (I’m 45), and in between the marketing talks, we often chat about career development and how to be more focused, productive and happy in the job.

When I look at my own job satisfaction working in this field — and what I think holds back a lot of nonprofit marketers from really loving their jobs — I think much of it comes down to (1) who controls their daily schedule and (2) how much control they exert over the unscheduled time they do have.

Because I am self-employed, I control my calendar. Yes, I have to be responsive to clients, business partners, my family, and a few select others, but with few exceptions, I really do have control over when a meeting gets placed on the calendar — but only because I am very conscious about it.

If I were to decide for example, that I wasn’t going to take any meeting before 10 am or after 3 pm, I could make that happen.  In fact, that’s my plan for this summer, and I’ll probably limit it to a few days a week too. But it means being willing to say No or to tell white lies about being busy when people ask for meetings outside those boundaries, and to only cave in when truly necessary.

I’ve self-imposed other limits on my calendar this year too. I try to block out every Friday as meeting/training free, so that I can either focus on a strategic project, write, or just take the day off. Looking back at the 2014 Fridays so far, I can see that I did let some meetings creep on to the calendar. I ended up scheduling several trainings or work-related travel on Fridays, but compared to the other days of the week, Fridays were still fairly open. I’m trying to do the same with one week out of every 6 or so: I keep the week very light on meetings/trainings so I can focus on what’s needed most then, which is usually writing or just taking a break.

I’ve also made great use of “office hours” for meetings that other people want to schedule with me. I use a tool called You Can Book Me that syncs with my Google calendar. I block out chunks of time as “office hours” on my calendar (typically 2-hour chunks of time on days that already have meetings anyway). People I invite to use my special link can pick a 30 -minute meeting time that works for them from the “office hours” I have pre-selected.  That way all these different meetings on various topics are “confined” in the calendar, leaving larger blocks of uninterrupted time for project work, writing, etc.

Here are a few other ways I maintain control over my calendar:

Question whether I personally need to do it. Can my husband do it? Can Kristina do it?

Question whether it really needs to be done at all. Do I really need to talk to this person? What happens if I don’t? (It’s amazing how many “urgent” things shrink as priorities or  take care of themselves with a little benign neglect.)

Question how long it should really take. Do you work in one of those environments where every meeting is automatically an hour, and people drag conversations out to fill the time? That’s a total productivity killer. My default is 30 minutes.

Question the timing. Does this really need to be done NOW? What if it waits a day, a week, a month?

Don’t feel like you have this much control over your calendar? First, I recommend that you take a really hard look at how you are putting items on your schedule now, and start pushing back where you can. Be as ruthless as you can possibly be, including with yourself. It’s hard, I know! Start small, with just one or two suggestions I’ve shared here.

Next, work toward getting a better job that gives you more control and flexibility. It’s definitely one of the perks of being higher up in an organization. But even then, you still have to take advantage of it and assert that control!

I admit that even with these systems in place, I often still feel too busy. But that’s because I’m not exerting enough self-discipline on the number of projects I want to work on or subjects I take an interest in. I need to build in those limits next!

How about you? How are you controlling your calendar and how you spend your time?