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Scott Eblin offers his take on lessons in the news and his advice on your pressing leadership questions.

How to Create Time in a Packed Schedule

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When we were kids, summer was something that stretched out ahead of us with the promise of fun and play. When we join the working world, we still greet the longer days and warmer weather of the season with gusto, but, paradoxically, it can be the busiest and most hectic time of the year for many of us. With co-workers on vacation, we’re often on backup duty while also managing our own daily work. And we’ve all experienced the pre-vacation sprint, which might leave you wondering: “Is this vacation worth it?”

There may not be a lot you can do to create some white space in your schedule in the weeks before you go on vacation, but there are some steps you can take now so you’re in better position when you get back:

No objectives, no attendance. How many meetings do you attend in a week that don’t have any stated objectives? As they say, if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there. Meetings with no stated objectives end up wasting time. Start insisting on stated objectives for any meeting that you’re asked to attend. The deal is no objectives, no attendance. That should definitely help create some additional space for you to get more important things done. It also provides some good role modeling for colleagues who reflexively schedule meetings without being clear about what they’re trying to accomplish.

The 20 percent reduction. One of the executives I interviewed for “Overworked and Overwhelmed” has a weekly calendar reduction ritual with her assistant. Every Friday, they take a look at the calendar for the next two weeks with the goal of eliminating at least 20 percent of the scheduled appointments. They’re looking for meetings that can be cancelled, shortened, pushed out or delegated to someone else. When they find their 20 percent, they have reclaimed at least eight hours in a given week. That creates a lot of opportunities for two-hour blocks of uninterrupted think time. What would your version of that practice look like, and what difference do you think it could make for you?

Do what only you can do. One of my favorite questions to ask participants in our leadership programs is: “What is it, given the unique leadership role that you’re in, that only you can do?” For most executives, that’s a relatively short, but very high impact, list. Without taking some time to be mindful in answering that question on a regular basis, it’s easy to get sucked into meetings that don’t require your input or expertise.

Executive coach Scott Eblin’s goal is to help you succeed at the next level of leadership. Throughout the week, he’ll offer his take on the leadership lessons in the news and his advice on your most pressing leadership questions. A former government executive, Scott is a graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and is the author of The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success.

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