I wish I could say that a lot of people walk up to me throughout the day and ask me how to get more done every day. That doesn’t happen, but in my head, it does.
What I do hear every day, whether it’s said directly to me or it’s mentioned when I’m walking past someone or I overhear it in my workplace, is people saying, “I have so much to do.” Followed by, “I don’t have enough time.”
I have a lot of thoughts about productivity, mainly because it’s my favorite thing to read about and Pin about on Pinterest in my spare time. I’m always looking for the next new productivity or time management hack to make the most out of my 24 hours a day.
After reading How To Get Sh*t Done by Erin Falconer, though, I realized that the issue isn’t how to get more done every day… it’s how to do less, so you can really do the stuff you want to do.
Yeah, I know. Sounds fishy, but I’m standing by it.
So, I’m sharing with you the five ways I’ve taken charge of my calendar every day to make more time for the things I want to prioritize.
1. Set your working hours.
This is important, and this is something I’ve only recently started to do. But it is a key step to getting more done every day.
Be strict with yourself on when you arrive at the office and when you leave. If you want to be out of the office by 5:15 p.m. on the dot every day, that’s your cutoff for work.
When you tell yourself (and others) that you’re fine staying until 6 p.m., 7 p.m., 8 p.m. … and never give yourself a firm deadline to leave, you also aren’t giving yourself a firm deadline to finish your work.
If you work from home and/or are your own boss, this can be even harder, but tell yourself when you’re going to walk away from your computer every evening. The same rule applies – if there’s no end to your workday, there’s no real deadline for you to actually finish important tasks.
2. Block off time for specific tasks.
If you often experience coworkers or superiors dropping Google Hangout meetings on your calendar when you appear to be free without any warning, take charge of your calendar and stop it before it starts.
(I’ll address this practice in a second.)
I often send my Calendly link to people to set up meeting times, so I make sure to block off specific time before big deadlines or on hefty work days to make sure that I don’t accidentally fill up an important work day with meetings.
I read this really interesting article from Gusto about how small business owners are managing their calendar, and I was so inspired by it.
Now, I block off small and large chunks of Get Shit Done time, and each block has a theme – sometimes, I need to catch up on client work. Other times, I need to work on staff development related tasks. Sometimes, it’s a Saturday and I need to put in time on my own side businesses.
But this means I can’t schedule over my own priorities, and neither can anyone else.
3. Set rules and expectations for yourself and others.
My boss would never and I mean never add something to my calendar without asking first, because she is a superstar and also because she’s known me since I was 18. That helps a lot, when your boss understands what makes you tick.
Most of the time, it’s not like that.
So, set rules and expectations about your calendar and your time that others need to understand.
For example, make sure everyone knows what time you leave the office every day, so there’s no reason to expect you to still be working and answering emails at 7 p.m. (If you work in an environment where this wouldn’t be acceptable… that’s a conversation for us to have another time!)
Be clear with the people in your life so they know how to best reach you and contact you. In response to this, some of my friends have said, “This seems selfish. You can’t expect everyone to rearrange their life to best suit you.”
I agree with this, too. Find some balance. I once heard of a manager who only responded to emails in a four-hour window each day, but this person worked in a field where many of their employees’ shifts ended before or started after that window begun.
So my advice for rules and expectations: It should make sense for you, but it also needs to make sense for your field.
For example, if I told my college students that they couldn’t email me to ask for help after 5 p.m., which is when many of them finish class and start working, that wouldn’t make any sense. The world won’t rearrange itself entirely for you. But you can ask for some flexibility in places where it’s logical.
My calendar rules:
- No meetings before 11 a.m. (unless there’s an emergency)
- I don’t check email after 10 p.m. (but I keep my phone on in case of emergency)
- Tuesdays are dedicated to my students as much as possible
4. Say no.
Let me walk you through a scenario:
Someone emails you, and they want to pick your brain about an idea. You are connected to this person in some way – a colleague recommended them, they’re related to a distant cousin, etc. You feel like you should help them, but you’re swamped for the next two weeks.
- Say no
- Ask them to follow back up with you at a better time
- Refer them to someone else
- Squeeze them in, despite your already tight schedule
- Ignore the email
Many, many, many people go to #4 or even #5 as a response to a request like this.
I’ve encouraged myself and other people to feel OK saying no to things that aren’t in line with the things that are truly important to us. I don’t want to say no to everyone who wants to chat with me – in fact, I would love to always make time for everyone.
But saying no gives you the power to say yes later.
5. Be realistic.
One of the reasons I love Google Calendar so much is because it’s easy to get a bird’s eye view of my entire week, as long as I keep it up to date. And when I block off time for task completion, this allows me to be incredibly realistic with myself.
By Monday afternoon, I can usually tell you if I will have time to add another meeting to my calendar later in the week.
Stop treating your to do list and calendar like a dumping ground, and start treating it like a realistic depiction of your life.
Want to work out? Put it on the calendar. Dedicate the time for it, and work other things around it.
Want to get dinner with your partner? See above.
Want to finish 5 high priority tasks before the business day ends on Monday? See above.
And if you look at your week and see that you can’t possibly achieve all of the tasks that you need to achieve and meet with the person who wants to have a catchup cup of coffee on Thursday… Be realistic with yourself, and be honest with them. Next week would work too, right?