I don't know about you, but my calendar is one of the most valuable tools I use.
Between calls, meetings, lunches, trainings, outings, and events, I rely on my calendar to keep me organized -- and sane. Trouble is, sometimes things can get a little messy. Whether I've overbooked myself or forgotten to make important updates, there are times when my schedule could certainly use a facelift.
Know the feeling? Check out these seven strategies for decluttering your calendar and regaining control of your schedule.
Before You Begin: Complete a Calendar Audit
Before you can fix a problem, you have to understand where one exists. Perform a calendar self-audit: Review the past month and ask yourself the following questions:
- When are you most productive?
- On average, how many meetings do you have per day?
- Are there any recurring meetings on your calendar that only happen sporadically or have stopped occurring?
- When do you generally take breaks?
Once you know how you’re spending your time, you can optimize your schedule.
7 Scheduling Strategies to Streamline Your Day
1) Schedule internal meetings strategically.
It takes about 25 minutes to return to productivity after an interruption, and while you can’t minimize the number of unexpected distractions you encounter throughout the day, you can design your schedule to make yourself more efficient.
Schedule internal meetings right before or after lunch, or back-to-back if you have multiple meetings in a day. That way, your day isn’t punctuated with several short interruptions from your regular responsibilities.
If you’re a manager, hold one day per week for all of your one-on-ones with your direct reports and your administrative work. This way, you’ll be able to devote the rest of your time to crossing things off your list.
2) Hold specific hours for meetings with international folks.
Often times you'll run into a situation where you'll need to defer to someone else's preferred meeting time. This might be an international colleague, partner, or vendor that you have frequent calls with.
If that's the case, make sure that you hold specific hours for those calls in advance, as the window might be small depending on the time zones you're dealing with. This will make it far easier to schedule consistent meetings that make sense for both of your schedules.
3) Put “available to book” times on your calendar.
Don’t leave your colleagues in the dark. Make it explicit when you’re free for internal meetings or quick chats. This way, they won’t have to ping you asking if you’re available during a certain time -- they can just book you.
4) Remove unnecessary recurring meetings.
Take a step back and evaluate the importance of all of the recurring meetings you have on your calendar.
Have your responsibilities shifted? Are you adding value to these meetings or just filling up a chair? If it's not absolutely necessary for you to sit in on all of them, get them off your calendar.
5) Build lunch into your schedule.
Ideally, you’ll be able to take breaks from your work throughout the day, but sometimes things get busy and you just can’t. Something you can’t afford to miss is lunch.
Not only does eating improve your productivity, but the extended time away from your desk gives you the mental break you need to enter your afternoon refreshed.
6) Leave 10-15 minutes between each meeting.
Always leave buffer time between meetings in case it starts late or the conversation runs over. This will help to ensure that you don't wind up having to choose between cutting off a meeting and being late to the next one.
The extra time can also be used to fire off a follow-up email or write call notes while the memory of the meeting is still fresh in your mind, instead of at the end of the day when the finer nuances may have escaped you.
7) Every Sunday, review next week’s schedule.
Often times our calendars act more like a suggestion than a prescription -- last-minute things seem to always come up. But you should start your week with as organized of a schedule as possible. We recommend spending 10 minutes every Sunday reviewing next week’s meetings to make sure everything that’s on your calendar needs to be there.
How do you organize your calendar to safeguard your time? Let us know in the comments below.