Every leader shares one very frustrating problem for which there is no viable solution. There are only 24 hours in every day, and there are more things to get done than there is time to do them. We wish we could bend the time-space continuum and find a way to get more hours in our days. But we can’t, at least not yet.
The savvy executive uses every trick in the book to gain control over their workday (and their after-work hours, too). We’ve talked before about delegation, elevating your exec team, giving away your legos, and spending your time only on your highest and best use. There’s one tip that I’ve only shared with clients, until now. I’ve tested it myself, and am confident it will help you as well.
It’s called Time Blocking. It’s amazing. You’ll still have to identify priorities, keep track of your "must do’s" for each day, week, month, etc.
In general, it means calendaring specific blocks of time for targeted work. You use your calendar proactively to put your focus where you want it, rather than letting your calendar dictate where you spend your time (there’s an HBR article on this, if you need convincing).
The concept is simple, and in this case, it’s also easy to implement:
Identify the work you never seem to get to, but is really important for you to do. Include work you're always trying to squeeze in between meetings ("thinking" counts, by the way!)
Take the time to review and refine, so you’re only looking at the critical work. Eliminate unnecessary work, automate whatever you can, and delegate anything that others can do 80% as well as you. (Because you don’t have time to do everything, right?)
Name the blocks of work that remain. For some of my clients, strategic thinking is the most under-invested area. For others, it’s interviewing candidates, budgeting, or (gasp!) regularly reviewing cash flow. Most often, it’s coaching and developing key staff members (including your exec team).
Put these blocks on your calendar as repeating events. Color code them, make them sacrosanct (use "OOO" if you must so nothing interferes). DO NOT let anyone fill these times. Ideally, each block should be 2-3 hours long, so you can make significant progress.
Then, daily/weekly, review your to-do list and put the relevant tasks on your calendar WITHIN the designated block. If your list overwhelms you, enter only what you must do this week.
That's it! OK, not really.
When the time arrives, close your email, turn off your phone, and dedicate yourself to that important (previously neglected) task. Do this regularly, and you will find, as many of my clients have, that they are more productive, less likely to procrastinate, and generally feel better about their own performance. Getting to your important work moves your business forward faster. And that’s your main job.
I started this practice about 2 years ago. My own coach (an amazing guy!) suggested I use time blocks so I could get more done with fewer distractions. I’m a pretty focused person, so I pooh-poohed it for a while, but he convinced me to try.
I identified the work I always got done (client deliverables and meetings, 1:1 meetings with my team members) and noted I usually took time for lunch. But there were several really important tasks that were on my To-Do list week after week with little progress: writing articles, connecting with clients between engagements, keeping up with the latest research to help clients lead better, and developing new offers that clients might need or want. Worst of all - I was not prioritizing my self-care, and it was taking a toll on my health. I went from work to home, and immediately put everyone else’s needs above my own. Then sleep, shower, and back to work. I was wearing myself out. That’s what finally convinced me to try time blocking.
Since I’ve started time blocking, I’ve published multiple articles in Forbes, written close to 18 newsletters for my community, shared key research findings and tips through my LinkedIn posts, and delved deeply into research on micromanagement (keep your eyes open for another substantial post coming on the M-word).
I now block regular time to meditate, walk, cook healthy food, and recharge my batteries through painting and other crafts. And I’ve just added a twice-weekly Barre class to my calendar. I feel healthier, have lost weight, and I end my workdays feeling accomplished (most of the time).
So, if you are ready to take control of how you spend your time, and you’d like to stop regretting the days and weeks that slip past before you get to that neglected item on your own To-Do list, give this a try.
Have you tried time blocking, or do you organize your schedule another way?