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Living Productivity Work

Lessons from 2012: Take Back a Day/Week

Non-conformist #3

Back when I was a senior executive in a big company, I had an amazing executive assistant who made a big difference in how my work flowed day to day. She could read me like a book – as they say – and could tell when my frustrations started to build. She guarded my calendar carefully (back in the days before meetings could somehow just pop up on your online calendar) – but most days I was almost zombie-like moving from meeting to meeting.

One particularly frustrating day – one of back to back seemingly endless meetings – she caught me at the end of the day. She’d noticed that one hour meetings on my calendar seemed to take all that time – and that I’d often have no time in between one meeting and the next. A day of this kind of back to back meeting schedule was particularly grating on me.

She had a very simple suggestion: saying to me “Let’s change your minimum meeting time block to 90 minutes instead of an hour.”

So simple. I agreed to give it a try – and a few weeks later noticed the difference it had made in my work day. Most of the time, my meetings ended after an hour or a bit more. Her insight was that, by blocking 90 minutes on my calendar, I’d actually have a bit of “recovery time” in between meetings. It was sorta magical – I had “think time” during the day – a time to reflect, recover and prepare.

Sometimes these simple things make a big difference – in your personal productivity and, perhaps more importantly, how you feel about your work – and, ultimately, your life.

Earlier this year, I decided that I wanted to try to apply a similar idea to my work week. I’m fortunate – being no longer hostage to back to back meetings in a corporate setting – and I usually having quite a bit of flexibility in terms of balancing meetings, calls with clients and prospects, actually working, doing email, etc. But I’ve always noticed the toll that interruptions and, importantly, the context switches they bring actually take on my ability to focus and get things done.

So, I began to block each Friday as a day when I would not schedule meetings, conference calls, etc. I’d just try to protect each Friday as a day for me to get my work done. Obviously, I can’t guarantee being able to do so – clients sometimes want to schedule meetings on Fridays, important internal work requires Friday work sessions, etc. And, of course, there’s always email, Twitter, etc. But I’ve been surprisingly successful in protecting many Fridays in 2012 – so that I could focus on the work at hand. I’ve come to think of Fridays as my “crank day” – cranking on work, not being cranky! And avoiding those externally-imposed context switches which seem to add such a burden and create a hit to productivity. Flow – it’s all about creating a zone where you can focus.

It’s proven to be a very useful personal productivity technique for me – and it’s one of my lessons from 2012 – relearned and reapplied from earlier experience. If you’re in a situation when you can apply it, give this simple idea a try in 2013! Would love to hear if it makes a difference for you!

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