I have some very simple advice for you this week which can revolutionize your workweek productivity.

It describes a habit I had fallen into out of sheer necessity when I was a corporate VP in operations, finding that appointments could easily and completely dominate my entire day if I allowed them to. My calendar was a parade of interviews, employee counseling, staff meetings, vendor appointments, and customer meet-and-greets, all those same scheduling challenges you probably have too, with people wanting or needing their piece of you. You can’t say no to them, and you may not want to, but you can get much smarter about how you schedule them.

What I’m going to describe for you is a straight-forward scheduling habit, but it takes strong will and self-discipline because it’s so easy to break. We break it because we are good at honoring appointments with everyone but ourselves.

This is one of the first habits I teach to the managers I coach, for without exception I discover they must learn to get their time back, claiming it as their own, and giving it the degree of worth and importance it deserves. Second, they inevitably need more help with follow-up.

The objections are immediate, and are the same from everyone, nearly verbatim, “but Rosa, I just can’t afford to do this!” My response is the same too: “You can’t afford not to. Do you want your life at work to get better or not?” Once they get it, and get into it, they never give it up.

So here it is, a new habit for you to cultivate, and one you will deem priceless once it starts to work for you too— do it, and I guarantee it will work: Bookend all your appointments.

For every appointment you place on your calendar which involves meeting with another person or group of people, schedule a half-hour beforehand as one bookend, and another half-hour afterwards as the second bookend. When using Outlook, I went so far as to label them Mua (‘before’ in Hawaiian), or ‘PREP’ and Mahope (‘after’ pronounced Ma-ho-pay) or ‘DE-BRIEF’ as totally separate entries, with the following checklists in the Notes section as my reminders.

During PREP, you do just that:

  • In a strategy of ‘paying yourself first’ focus on what you should get out of the appointment to come: Define for yourself your best possible outcome for when the appointment is over. Never ‘wing it’ in an appointment again: Claim it and Own it.
  • Gather everything you will need; strive to dazzle your appointment with how prepared you are for them, and how intentionally focused you are. Review any related documents, and make notes of the questions you can get answered during the appointment. Appointments should be people-time, not paper-time.
  • If you are about to go into a meeting, do a mental roll-call of all the people who will be there, and compile your questions and outstanding items for them, whether related to the subject matter at hand or not. This part of the habit saves so many emails and phone calls in the rest of your week; you are capitalizing on the presence of others in a proactive way.
  • Another Outlook tip on this last item: I use the Notes section of Outlook Contacts extensively to capture any conversation-agenda items I have for people. Then, this step became as easy as printing their Contact sheets and taking them with me to my meetings; notes on their responses were written on the sheets for easy processing into my system later. If my ‘Prep’ was shorter than the half-hour I’d allotted, I went to the meeting early, caught everyone as they came in, and was able to complete many if not most of my pending conversations with them.

These prep steps help you focus so much better during the appointment itself. In my Hawaiian language of intention: Mua becomes Imua, going forward with strong momentum.

During DE-BRIEF, you do just that:

  • Again, take care of your own needs first: Write down your de-brief of whatever memory you need to capture from the appointment. Grab your take-aways and lessons learned; reflect and rejuvenate.
  • Process your notes and get any new data you’ve captured into your system; file, calendar, replace and delete as you need to: The goal here is that meeting and appointment data by-passes your inbox and is immediately processed. Any new paperwork generated gets done or gets started when fresh in mind.
  • Get your jump-start on follow-up: Brainstorm all related next-actions related to the appointment or meeting you just had, and calendar what you can, including appointments with yourself— time blocked for those priorities you deem most important.
  • Use whatever time remains in that half-hour to get something done. Choose from that list of next actions you just wrote down, and do them.

The strategy here is working proactively with full mindfulness. When the appointment was a significant one —you know which are key for you and which are not— my De-brief bookend was a full hour; I wanted and needed my most important work to get done!

Important coaching, and where your will and discipline come in: These bookends are just that, bookends and not cushions of extra time. You must discipline yourself to start and end your meetings and appointments on time, keeping them efficiently focused as well.

I can hear most of your objections now; believe me, I’ve already heard them all. But you ignore this advice at your own peril. Start as you can: Many of my execs will squeeze themselves into the habit little by little, starting their appointment bookends with every new booking which comes on those calendar days which are weeks into the future. They’ll call me after the random one they’ve done, saying, “Rosa, these appointment bookends are golden!” and that glorious day comes when the habit is firmly entrenched and they never ever go back.

You can do it too: Get your time back. Imua!

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Rosa Say is the author of Managing with Aloha, Bringing Hawaii’s Universal Values to the Art of Business and the Talking Story blog. She is also the founder and head coach of Say Leadership Coaching, a company dedicated to bringing nobility to the working arts of management and leadership. For more of her ideas, click to her Thursday columns in the archives, or download her manifesto: Managing with Aloha on ChangeThis.com.

Rosa’s Previous Thursday Column was: What would your banner say?

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