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Living Productivity Work

Take Back a Day per Week

Non-conformist #3
Non-conformist – San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park

Update: I first wrote about this back in 2012. The lessons remain powerful – even in retirement! Suggest you give these techniques a try if you have the freedom to do them! With the New Year, I’ve been looking back at some of my older posts – and this was one I re-discovered with a couple of important lessons!

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.

Back when I was still working, 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 had quite a bit of flexibility in terms of balancing meetings, calls with clients and prospects, actually working, doing email, etc. But I always noticed the toll that interruptions and, importantly, the context switches that come with them actually took 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 was surprisingly successful in protecting many Fridays – so that I could focus on the work at hand. I’ve come to think of Fridays as my “crank day” – that’s about 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. If you’re in a situation when you can apply it, give this simple idea a try!

Would love to hear if it makes a difference for you!