How to Manage Your Workload So You have Time for the Unexpected
Hint: Don't start your day answering email.
Most leaders have calendars that are what an engineer would call a tightly coupled system. Their schedules are so packed with back to back meetings and commitments that they have no margin for the unexpected but inevitable problems and issues that pop up. At that point, their calendar gets shredded and they have a fight or flight inducing crisis on their hands as they try to address the surprises while keeping everything else moving. As a result, productivity, quality of outcomes and health and well-being all suffer.
Here are three action steps you can take to manage your workload so you have time for unexpected problems or issues.
First, start your workday with 15 to 30 minutes of planning time to flag the two or three things that you absolutely need to get done that day based on your bigger picture priorities. Don’t start your day answering email because an hour and a half later, you’ll find you’re still doing email and reacting to everybody else’s priorities and not acting on your own.
Second, reduce the length of your meetings. If you’re like most leaders I work with, your meetings run in 30 or 60 minute increments. And that’s only because those are the default settings on Outlook. Could you get as much done in a 15 or 20 minute meeting as you could in 30? As much in 40 or 45 minutes as you could in 60? Of course, you could. Start scheduling shorter meetings and use the time you get back to stay on top of your inflow and outflow throughout the day.
Third, schedule blocks of “you” time throughout the week. Maybe start with three 90 minute blocks—one each at the beginning, middle and end of the week. That gives you time to plan, catch-up, think, read and reflect. That kind of approach means that you’d be spending around 10% of your week focused on the things you need to do to lead at your best. It’s really not a big investment of your time if you look at it that way but the return on that investment can be huge for you, your team and your organization.
For more ideas on how to manage your workload so you have time for unexpected problems or issues, check out this recent post on preparation best practices along with chapter three of The Next Level: Pick up regular renewal of your energy and perspective; let go of running flat out until your crash.