How To Schedule Your Day to Keep Yourself Sane

My cousin MJ is something of a whirlwind. He juggles phone calls with meetings with the real work that needs to get done in order for his company to grow. (He’s an IT consultant and value-added re-seller, with three or four people working for him.) It all seems disorganized, and more than a few people try to figure out how he gets so much done. True, he works long hours — but don’t we all? Even beyond that he manages to keep his work on track, his staff challenged and his clients happy.

His pace aside, one of his keys is a tactic he taught me years ago: Schedule your time so that you handle different tasks during set times each day. So, MJ handles administration from 8 to 9 a.m., sales calls from 9 to 10:30, consulting work from 10:30 to 2, etc.

It’s a good idea, and I began doing the same kind of self-scheduling. It worked pretty well, though something — usually meetings — often got in the way.

So, I went a step further. In Outlook, I began blocking off some time periods as Busy and kept others Free. That way, I figured, people would have to schedule conference calls and what not during times I wasn’t on deadline or trying to work through items on my checklist.

It sounds good in theory, but protecting your time too stringently doesn’t work so well when you’re in a company with more than a handful of people. Some will schedule meetings whether my time’s marked busy or not. Others will reach out to see if I have any flexibility. (Which of course I do, and unless I’m under a deadline I’ll agree to the meeting time.) And if executives want to see you, well, they expect to see you.

But there’s one consistent advantage to this approach: It makes me feel like I’ve got some semblance of control over my work. Yes, there are times when I can’t leave something undone and so I blow off the schedule I’ve developed. But more often than not my schedule becomes my daily to-do list, so when I stick to it, everything that needs to be done, is done.

Now I have to go. I’ve got five minutes until my scheduled e-mail time.

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