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Appointment bookends: Use ‘em.

Appointment bookends: Use ‘em.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Related Articles:

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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Published on January 16, 2019

How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

We’re all busy, but sometimes we go through periods where the work piles up and it seems like it might never end.

You might have such a heavy workload that it feels too intimidating to even start.

You may have said yes to some or too many projects, and now you’re afraid you won’t be able to deliver.

That’s when you need to take a step back, take a deep breath, and start looking at what’s working and what’s not working.

Here’re 13 strategies you can use to get out from under your overwhelming workload:

1. Acknowledge You Can’t Do It All

Many of us have a tendency to think we can do more than we actually can. We take on more and more projects and responsibility and wear numerous hats.

We all have the opportunity to have and take on more work than we can reasonably expect to get done. Unfortunately, our workload is not static. Even now, while you are reading this article, I’m guessing that your inbox is filling up with fresh new tasks.

To make real, effective progress, you have to have both the courage and resourcefulness to say, “This is not working”. Acknowledge that you can’t do it all and look for better solutions.

At any given time in your life, there are likely many things that aren’t going according to plan. You have to be willing to be honest with yourself and those around you about what’s not working for you, both personally and professionally.

The more you exercise your ability to tell the truth about what’s working and what’s not working, the faster you’ll make progress.

2. Focus on Your Unique Strengths

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a leader or working as part of a team, every individual has unique strengths they can bring to the table.

The challenge is that many people end up doing things that they’re simply not very good at.

In the pursuit of reaching your goals or delivering a project, people end up doing everything themselves or taking on things that don’t play to their unique strengths. This can result in frustration, overwhelm and overwork.

It can mean projects taking a lot longer to complete because of knowledge gaps, or simply not utilizing the unique strengths of other people you work with.

It is often not about how to complete this project more effectively but who can help deliver this project.

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So, what are your unique strengths that will ensure your workload is delivered more effectively? Here’re some questions to help you reflect:

  • Are you a great strategist?
  • Are you an effective planner?
  • Is Project Management your strength?
  • Is communication and bringing people together your strength?
  • Are you the ideas person?
  • Is Implementation your strength?

Think about how you can bring the biggest value to your work and the projects you undertake.

3. Use the Strengths of Your Team

One of the simplest ways to manage your workload effectively is to free up your time so you bring your highest level of energy, focus and strengths to each project.

Delegation or better teamwork is the solution.

Everyone has unique strengths. It’s essential to think teamwork rather than working in isolation to ensure projects can be completed effectively. Besides, every time you give away a task or project that doesn’t play to your unique strengths, you open up an opportunity to do something you’re more talented at. This will empower both yourself and those around you.

Rather than taking on all the responsibilities yourself, look at who you can work with to deliver the best results possible.

4. Take Time for Planning

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”. – Abraham Lincoln

One hour of effective planning could save hours of time. Rather than just rushing in and getting started on projects, take the time to map everything in.

You can take the time to think about:

  • What’s the purpose of the project?
  • How Important is it?
  • When does it need to be delivered by?
  • What is the best result and worst result for this project?
  • What are the KPIs?
  • What does the project plan and key milestones look like?
  • Who is working on this project?
  • What is everyone’s responsibilities?
  • What tolerances can I add in?
  • What are the review stages?
  • What are the challenges we may face and the solutions for these challenges?

Having absolute clarity on the project, the project deliverables and the result you want can save a lot of time. It also gets you clear on the priorities and timelines, so you can block out the required amount of time to focus and concentrate.

5. Focus on Priorities

Not everything is a priority, although it can often feel, in the moment, that it is.

Whatever you’re working on, there is always the Most Urgent, Important or Most Valuable projects or tasks.

One tool you can use to maximize your productivity and focus on your biggest priorities is to use the Eisenhower Matrix. This strategic tool for taking action on the things that matter most is simple. You separate your actions based on four possibilities:

  1. Urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately).
  2. Important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later).
  3. Urgent, but not important (tasks you will delegate to someone else).
  4. Neither urgent nor important (tasks that you will eliminate).

James Clear has a great description on how to use the Eisenhower Matrix: How to be More Productive By Using the Eisenhower Box

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    The method I use with my coaching clients is to ask them to lay out their Top Five priorities for the day. Then to start with the most important priority first. At the end of the day, you review performance against these priorities.

    If you didn’t get everything accomplished, start the next day with your number one priority.

    If you are given additional task/projects during the day, then you will need to gauge their importance V the other priorities.

    6. Take Time Out

    To stay on top of a heavy workload, it’s important to take time out to rest and recuperate.

    If your energy levels are high and your mind and body is refreshed and alert, you are in more of a peak state to handle a heavy workload.

    Take time out of your day to go for a walk or get some exercise in. Leave early when possible and spend time with people who give you a lot of energy.

    In the background, it’s essential to get a good night’s sleep and eat healthily to sharpen the mind.

    Take a look at this article learn about The Importance of Scheduling Downtime.

    7. Maintain a Healthy Work-Life Balance

    Maintaining a healthy work-life balance can be tough. The balance we all crave is very different from one another.

    I’ve written before about 13 Work Life Balance Tips for a Happy and Productive Life. Working longer and harder doesn’t mean achieving more, especially if you have no time to spend with the people that matter most. The quality of who you are as a person, the relationships you have, the time you spend in work, deciding on what matters most is completely within your control.

    Work-life balance is about finding peace within yourself to be fully present, wherever you are, whether that be in the office or at home, right now. It’s about choosing what matters most and creating your own balanced life.

    If you feel there is not enough balance, then it may be time to make a change.

    8. Stop Multitasking

    Multi-tasking is a myth. Your brain simply can’t work effectively by doing more than one thing at a time—at least more than one thing that requires focused attention.

    So get your list of priorities (see earlier point), do the most important thing first, then move to the next item and work down your list.

    When you split your focus over a multitude of different areas, you can’t consistently deliver a high performance. You won’t be fully present on the one task or project at hand.

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    If you allocate blocked time and create firm boundaries for specific activities and commitments, you won’t feel so overwhelmed or overworked with everything you have to do.

    9. Work in Blocks of Time

    To keep your energy up to produce your best results it’s essential to take regular breaks.

    I use the 60-60-30 method myself and teach it to my coaching clients.

    Work on a project for a sustained period of 50 minutes.

    Then take a 10-minute break. This could be taking a walk, having a healthy snack or just having a conversation with someone.

    Then continue to work on the project for a further 50 minutes.

    Then take another 10-minute break.

    Then take a complete 30-minute break to unplug from the work. This could be time for a proper lunch, a quick bit of exercise, reading or having a walk.

    By simply taking some time out, your energy levels stay up, the quality of your work improves and you reduce the risk of becoming burned out.

    10. Get Rid of Distractions

    Make an estimation on how many times you are distracted during an average working day. Now take that number and multiply it by 25. According to Gloria Mark in her study on The Cost of Interrupted Work, it takes us an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to return to the original task after interruption.[1]

    “Our research has shown that attention distraction can lead to higher stress, a bad mood and lower productivity.”

    Distractions don’t just take up your time during the distraction, they can derail your mental progress and focus for almost 25 minutes. So, if you are distracted 5 times per day, you could be losing almost 2 hours every day of productive work and almost 10 hours every week.

    If you have an important project to work on, find a space where you won’t be distracted, or try doing this.

    11. Commit Focused Time to Smaller Tasks

    You know sometimes, you need to simply tackle these tasks and take action on them. But there’s always something more pressing.

    Small tasks can often get in the way of your most important projects. They sit there on your daily To Do list but are often forgotten about because of more important priorities or because they hold no interest for you. But they take up mental energy. They clutter your mind.

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    Commit to spending a specific period of time completing all the small tasks you have on your To Do list. It will give you peace of mind and the space to focus more on your bigger priorities.

    12. Take a Time Audit

    Do you know exactly where your time is going each day? Are you spending too long on certain projects and tasks to the detriment of bigger opportunities?

    Spend a bit of time to analyze where you are spending your time. This insight will amaze you and give you the clarity to start adjusting where you focus your time and on what projects.

    You can start by taking a piece of paper and creating three columns:

    Column A is Priority Work. Column B is Good Work. Column C is low value work or stuff.

    Each day, write down the project or task and the time spent on each. Allocate that time to one of the columns.

    At the end of the week, record the total time spent in each column.

    If you are spending far too much time on certain types of work, look to change things so your focused time is in Column B and C.

    13. Protect Your Confidence

    It is essential to protect our confidence to ensure we don’t get overwhelmed, stressed and lose belief.

    When you have confidence as a daily resource, you are in a better position to problem solve, learn quicker, respond to anything, adjust to anything, and achieve your biggest opportunities.

    Confidence gives you the ability to transform fear into focused and relaxed thinking, communication, and action. This is key to put your mind into a productive state.

    When confidence is high, you can clearly see the possibilities at hand and create strategies to take advantage of them, or to solve the challenges you face each day.

    Final Words

    A heavy workload can be tough to deal with and can cause stress, burnout and ongoing frustration.

    The key is to tackle it head on, rather than let it go on and compound the long-term effects. Hopefully, you can take action on at least one of these tips.

    If it gets too much, and negatively affects your physical and mental health, it may be time to talk to someone. Instead of dealing with it alone and staying unhappier, resentful and getting to a point where you simply can’t cope, you have to make a change for your own sanity.

    Featured photo credit: Hannah Wei via unsplash.com

    Reference

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