Owning Your Own Time – Is It Realistic?

The holiday season was wonderful. My calendar did not beep for alerts. There was no email overflow. It felt like I owned my own time. Now I’m back at work and back to the old normal.

People complain about being busy and having overlapping meetings. Emails are filling our idle time. And most of the time we feel we are not doing the right things.

No wonder. Our whole career we have been used to reacting to triggers. Being busy equals being important. If something is not urgent it’s not worth doing. If our calendars are not filled with back to back meetings, we think we are not doing enough.

Sound familiar? No reason to feel guilty. Old habits are hard to change.

I hate the typical internet lists like “5 tips to this or 6 tips to that”. And then I decided to write my own. I give you “the 5 tips for owning your own time”:

1. Plan time for surprises

Project management professionals know that if project resources are allocated 100% of the time, all the time, the project will be late with 100% certainty. We have no chance to react to unexpected situations. Therefore, the maximum resource allocation we should plan for any project is 80-85%.

The same should apply to our calendars. If the calendar is packed all the time we cannot react to surprises. We work later into the night and our to-do list grows.

Your calendar needs to have 20% unallocated time. This equals to 2 hours every work day. Sound impossible?

LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner tells that everyday he allocates 90–120 minutes of his time for people and thinking. And for the unexpected things. If Jeff can, could you?

2. Learn from Eisenhower

Our calendars are easily filled with less important meetings. Often in the meetings we wonder why we are even there.

General Eisenhower is told to have classified his meetings between their importance and urgency.

Important & urgent – on the top of the priority list and needs to be handled. However, if every meeting in your calendar is important & urgent, there is room for improvement in your prioritisation.

Not urgent nor important – just delete it. Be as ruthless as a black belt Kon-Mari master. You just simply don’t have time for these.

Urgent but not important – danger! Often we think that a topic is important when someone says it is urgent. “Would you do this ASAP?” These meetings are eating your precious time. Be careful!

Important but not urgent – quality time. Topics you don’t necessarily have time to do but they would bring so much quality to your work and life. Discussions over strategy. Reading a book. Listening to customers.

Try classifying in practise. Print out a 3-week period of your calendar. Pick four different colour highlighter pens. Highlight the appointments in your calendar according to the classification explained above. Which class has taken too much space? Which too little?

Remember to include time for yourself. Have you prioritised that high enough?

3. Emails are work

Emails tend to sneak into all the empty slots during our days. We read messages between our meetings, in the train, in the evening at home.

However, reading emails is not something extra to fill in the evenings and empty slots. It is actual work. If we don’t see it as work, our inbox will grow and the pile of messages takes control. We don’t focus and an important topic may slip our attention.

Zappo’s legendary founder Tony Hsieh found his way. Hsieh books mornings to read yesterday’s emails. He works with them as long as it takes. In the afternoons he does not read emails at all but reserves the time for other work. Everyone knows his way and there are no issues. If an issue is important people use other means of communication.

A quick method for emails:

  1. Read emails only 2–3 times a day, during a slot allocated specifically for this purpose. Keep the email closed for the rest of the day.
  2. When you receive email, see if you can handle it in 2 minutes. If you can, do it immediately.
  3. If not, either:
    a.    Schedule it (Now you should have time in your calendar!)
    b.    Delegate if the issue is not your responsibility
    c.    Archive it if you need to keep the information
    d.    Ruthlessly delete it if is unnecessary

This way your inbox will not become the retirement home for a huge number of messages.

4. Guard your sleep

A good sleep is the key to productivity. Unfortunately, we often unintentionally ruin it.

Many of us have a habit of checking our tablet or phone late at night. What happens?

We read the messages, or at least their headlines. Our mind receives more tasks to do. However, we can only start doing them the morning. Nothing has really changed for the better.

Instead, our sleep quality is worse. Our mind is working with the unfinished tasks and we don’t sleep as well as we could.

Read a book in the evening. Take a bath. Take it easy. Leave your phone and tablet be!

5. Idle time is good time

With a schedule too busy, our brain switches into a survival mode which in turn limits our creativity.

According to Tim Kreider, idle time is as important to our brain as vitamin D is for our body. During idle time, our thinking is renewed and our mind is energized.

An idle moment is actually good work, as our productivity increases. So, book slots for idle time in your calendar. Take a walk. Take a nap. Exercise.

Do any of these tips sound feasible to you? Try! One of them could take you a step closer to owning your own time.

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