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Schedule Mercilessly

2010 May 14
tags: Availability, Interruptions
by Andrew   

effective schedulingFighting your schedule daily can strain the best working relationships and sap the energy from your power breakfast as soon as you get to the office…whether that office is in an office building or your home.

Here I will share some tips – learned the easy way and the hard way – for making your schedule work for you.

  • Take a serious look at your schedule from tomorrow to a month out. Do this at least once a week. Delegate attendance at everything that does not require your physical presence, or decline attendance if your commitments are not impacted by whether you go.
  • Review the next week’s schedule and delegate, cancel, or decline attendance at anything that doesn’t support your priority. Do it again each afternoon for the next day.
  • Review today’s schedule quickly each morning and delegate, cancel, or decline attendance at anything that doesn’t support your top priority for that day.
  • Keep space on the schedule for the inevitable has-to-be-done-today items. I call these islands in the schedule, and you need them. 30 minutes a day in which everyone knows you’re interruptible is not enough…or good schedule discipline.
  • Depending on your job, you may not need to attend a lengthy meeting in its entirety. Determine if you need to be there early, in the middle, or late in the schedule to present, observe, or vote, or determine if you can send a delegate. Ensure the meeting organizer understands your commitment.
  • If you have the option, use background colors for your appointments to label them visually. In the following sample calendar, the colors have specific meanings that make my calendar more understandable to me and those who know the color scheme.  My ability to juggle conflicting priorities or unexpected requirements is dramatically increased by using this technique.

In the calendar slice below, the following color meanings apply:

  • Olive Green:  Required prep time
  • Reddish-orange (Staff Time color):  Important, must be rescheduled if a higher priority arises
  • Orange:  Must be done on the day scheduled or productivity will suffer dramatically
  • Blue:  Phone calls, phone meetings
  • Yellow:  Meetings with my supervisor, his or her supervisor, or the top level of the organization
  • Purple:  Birthdays and Anniversaries
  • Light blue:  It doesn’t appear on the calendar below, but I use a light blue to flag time spent with drop-by meetings that take more than a couple of minutes of my unscheduled time.  This can come in handy during weekly reviews of your calendar or even monthly reviews of productivity to identify how much time is taken up by those drop-by meetings.
  • You will also see additional labels inside messages, such as “Urgent Conflicts Only.”  These are used to indicate to me and everyone else that a timeslot so labeled will likely only give way to a requirement coming from a very senior member of the organization and the sacrificed timeslot must be rescheduled immediately.

The extra effort required to consistently apply color labels may not seem worth it, but it pays great dividends.  An added benefit is all appointments that are the default color (white in Outlook) are “automatically” flagged as appointments you still need to make a decision about, regardless of whether you’ve accepted them or they’re still tentative.

effective scheduling

I’ve also written a related article about balancing open door policies with your own need for uninterrupted productivity.

3 Responses Post a comment
  1. Jim Arthur permalink
    May 17, 2010

    Hey Andrew, I have been reading these each week as you publish and have greatly enjoyed looking into your thought process. A lot of your articles do not really apply to me based upon what I do now with life and where I do it, but the concepts of color coding your schedule is a wonderful tool. I wish such tools had existed twenty years ago when we all carried day timers. Maybe we should have invested in a good set of highlighters back then and applied them mecrcilessly to our calendars!

    • May 17, 2010

      Thank you, Jim. I know it would have helped my Daytimer if I had thought about it back then.

      I appreciate your faithful reading. I'm inclined to hope the inapplicability is the result of you being one of the most well-rounded, productive-in-a-way-that-matters, do-what-you-love people that I know.

      Maybe it's time to start thinking about a guest post…

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