Here because you need some help with time management? Fed up of constantly feeling behind? Do you have an endless to do list that gets longer every day no matter how many tasks you cross off? Are you always playing catch up, rushing reports and never feeling that you are able to produce quality work?
If so, this is the post for you. I am going to go through in detail how you can plan and organise your working day so that you never feel rushed again and at the end of every day you have that sense of achievement that you have completed everything you wanted to get done.
So, what’s this magic time management tool I hear you ask? It’s what Natalie Bacon calls ‘calendaring’. I have previously mentioned this on a couple of occasions, but in this post I am going to give you a comprehensive description of how you can implement this in your working day. I will also let you know what in my experience are the benefits and challenges in using this method of organising your time.
In a nutshell, calendaring is allocating every single item on your to do list a slot on your calendar. The starting point is therefore to make a list, probably a very long list, of every single task that you have to do over the coming months. Some of these will be repeated on a weekly, daily or monthly basis. For example, all of us read and respond to emails. Most people though just do this throughout the day, as and when the notifications pop up on their screens. With calendaring you are going to have one or two slots a day where you do this. Other repeat tasks that you might have are making phone calls, preparing for interviews or attending regular meetings.
Once you’ve got all of the regular tasks set out on repeat on your calendar, now go through the others on your list and again give them a slot on your calendar. If you’ve got some very short tasks try to group those with other similar tasks in one block, like you will be doing with emails and phone calls. Deciding when to schedule them will obviously depend on how urgent they are and it may take a bit of juggling, but that’s the beauty of an electronic calendar as opposed to a paper diary, there’s no crossings out.
Obviously, this is an ongoing process. Every time you get a new task to do, instead of putting it on your to do list give it a time slot on your calendar.
And that’s it, simple right?
This way of working makes you feel as though you have done everything you need to do. When you have a to do list it’s never finished. At the end of the day you’ve still got a list. Alright, you’ve crossed some items off, but you’ve also probably added a load of others. With calendaring your to do list is shorter. Basically, you do the tasks on your calendar for the day and when they’re complete then you’re finished for the day. You don’t have to worry about all those other tasks that are on your list because they’ve all got a time slot and you’ll get around to them when your calendar tells you it’s time to do them.
By planning everything out there’s no last minute rush. Nothing will sit on your to do list for weeks on end and never get done until it’s urgent. If it’s a task that you’re not fond of doing you can break it down into small pieces and just do a bit at a time. It won’t seem so daunting as trying to get it all done in one go.
When everything has a slot you have a sense of calmness as you know you can get everything done. There’s no surprises. You won’t forget to do something because you didn’t notice it on that scrappy to do list that you’ve had for weeks.
Calendaring enables you to set clear boundaries for your day. How often do you sit there past five o’clock thinking, I’ll just tick one more thing off of my to do list. With this method, once all of the tasks on your calendar are completed then you’re done for the day. Anything else can wait, as it already has its assigned slot and it’s not today.
Putting all of your tasks on your calendar gives both you, your manager and your team an idea of the amount of work you have on. There should be no arguing with managers about whether you have capacity to take on more work. If there are vacant slots in your calendar you do, if there aren’t, you don’t. If they want you to take on something urgent then they can see what other tasks you’re responsible for that would need to be delayed for this to happen.
Now whilst the idea is that your agenda for the day is to complete the tasks on your calendar we all know that things can and do change at the last moment. To me, using your calendar in this way is like creating tiles of time. When circumstances change you can move those tiles around very easily. Now this doesn’t mean you should keep moving the writing of that report that you don’t really want to do to the following week, but in a situation where change is really unavoidable there is the ability to be flexible.
On the other hand, when meetings get cancelled and time opens up you just bring some of the following day’s tasks forward. No wasting time deciding what your going to do with that extra couple of hours or wasting time browsing emails or your company chat room.
For me, this method increases the quality of my work. Instead of doing a report all in one go, but instead in several parts, you will have the opportunity to review it at least once if not more. Often you will see mistakes, poor sentence construction, wording you could improve/make clearer when you return to a document refreshed.
It also gives other people time if you need to have your work reviewed by someone. You may get better/more considered feedback as they aren’t rushing.
It serves as a reminder of due dates e.g. if you read others’ work, by calendaring in a block of time to do so, it acts as a reminder that it is due and if you haven’t received it you will remember to chase it.
So, what are the challenges of this way of managing your time?
Firstly, it’s a lot of work up front. As you know, I am a social worker. When I get a new case I make a list of all of the tasks that I need to do on that case. Most of the time this is actually fairly easy as I use a checklist and just adapt it to that particular case. Then I give every task a slot on my calendar.
There are going to be days when you don’t want to do what it says on your calendar and the challenge is to do it anyway. Basically, you have made an appointment with yourself and you need to turn up for it. I can assure you that over time this will get easier as you reap the rewards of this way of working.
One question often raised is how long to give a certain task. You just have to give it your best guess. You don’t always know how long something will take. It’s a matter of trial and error. If you find you haven’t given it enough time, when you do a similar task in the future, give it more time. Other days, you’ll get things done more quickly than you planned, particularly if you’re not constantly answering emails whilst you’re doing it.
It may all seem like too much work or maybe you think it’s not for you. The question is, what have you got to lose? Why not give it a try and if you don’t find it helpful then you can always return to how you do things now. My guess is, once you’ve tried it, you’ll never go back.
If you’ve got any questions please let me know, either in the comments below or by sending a message via the contact page. I would love to help you try this out and am happy to help with any difficulties you encounter.
Want to know more about time management? Have a listen to Natalie Bacon’s podcast on calendaring.
Want to learn more about changing your mindset, why not check out ‘Grow You’, Natalie Bacon’s life coaching programme (affiliate link) or one of her free trainings: