I’ve been in corporate America game for quite a few years now so I kind of know my way around the ropes. No matter where I worked, one thing was consistent: the amount of work ebbed and flowed. Sometimes there was lots to do. Other times I filled my day talking to others, playing ping pong, or browsing the web.
During the busy times I often found myself working on the weekends. I usually didn’t mind. The office was usually pretty empty and I loved when it was quiet. I could focus and get 2-3x as I normally would.
But as I grow Snowball my time is much more precious. Not a fan of working on the weekend when I really want to make progress growing my own business.
My Time Is Not Your Time
It occurred to me, often my calendar for any given day would look like this:
Seeing this, I would get excited for the day. I only have a brief standup and one meeting. I have so much time for work.
What I typically happens is this:
Other people see I have time free and set meetings on my calendar.
They took my time.
Not cool. But being a good coworker I would hit that accept and go to whatever meeting someone deemed so urgent they had to have it today.
"It's cool" I tell myself. "I can stay a little later and get some work done, and come in early to knock off a bit more."
The thing about those meeting that someone else sets up: they’re addressing someone else’s priorities and not my own. Sometimes those align but usually it’s the persons setting the meeting whose priorities takes place.
So now I once thought I had a day free to focus on my work only to be strung into meeting after meeting helping others with their priorities.
4 Common Themes When Someone Steals Your Time
When people steal your time and take up your day with meetings that are apparently oh so important and they can't wait, I usually find them useless. Or at the very least, they don't need as much time as was taken, and it's something that could wait. The 4 themes I found are:
1. The meeting was not necessary
2. It wasn’t so important it had to happen today
3. Switching between meeting and focus work and meetings made me super unproductive
4. It would be 5 o’clock and though I had a busy day I didn’t get a lot done
Yet since I still would go, this is usually how I found myself making up time on the weekend.
Protect Your Time
I’m a believer you can get all your work done in a 40 hour work week if you manage and structure your time. And of course protect your time. And getting all your work done with the goal to not work weekends is why you need to protect your time.
If you don’t protect your time someone else will take it.
So how can you do this:
Easy. Schedule time with yourself. Block of calendar time so others can’t schedule.
So my calendar that was super free I learned to do this:
All those extra meetings are my meetings I scheduled for myself. I would basically block off my calendar with things I had to do. Now my time is filled up with stiff for me and my priorities. Pretty straightforward right? There's a few tips and trick I picked up along the way to help maximize the benefit from this.
How To Block Off Time On Your Calendar
Don’t block off a whole 9-5.
Block of chunks of time, anywhere from a half hour to four hours. You don't want to block off the whole 9-5 with one long block for a few reasons:
People get suspicious and realize you're blocking your time off and will decide they can grab a half hour or so and it's ok because you blocked off your calendar to everyone else but somehow they're the exception.
You still want to attend work matters. I find leaving a half hour here and there open works well. And it looks more realistic if you have multiple meetings instead of one long one.
Doing it in chunks helps you focus on the work you have to do. When you block off an hour, be descriptive about what you want to do in that hour. Don't just block off time to keep people away. Structure your work.
Give the meetings a name.
This is more for you. Set your goal and plan for that meeting. It’s not only to protect your time but also for you to be efficient with your time. Set a topic and creates a task list.
Schedule with a friend
I used to do this with my buddy Mike. We were both designers and there weren’t many designers where we were working at the time. So we were always being asked to do different jobs and join different meetings. We both needed our time so we would schedule half day “Design Jam Session” and book out a conference room.
We would sometimes work on our own work or actually work together. Main thing was we were focused on what we had to do and not on what someone else wanted us to do.
And when it's a cal invite with more than one person it looks like a real meeting as opposed to time blocked off. People would look at it and say "oh he's obviously busy designing with Mike."
Find a coworker in a similar bind and schedule a meeting to get your stuff done. Even book a conference room so you have space away from everyone else.
Schedule The Morning
This is about having a morning routine and planning your day. This ensures no one schedules a morning meeting that makes you come in earlier than you want to and gives you time and space to plan your day.
Schedule The Gym.
I’m a big fan of taking care of yourself and working out. I missed out so many times on the gym because someone wanted to have a 6pm meeting. I usually call these private appointments or personal business. Get it on the calendar and prioritize leaving work to get that workout in.
Fill The Calendar Before Someone Else Does
Simply get ahead of the problem before it happens. I find on Sunday's when I'm planning the week I'll:
Identify the core items I need to get done this week
Block off a decent amount of time on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday to focus on these core goals.
Be Transparent With Your Goals and Your Priorities
I'm a fan of posting your priorities and goals on your desk or in a place that's visible. Same thing with your task list. This helps when people come by and say "hey can I throw some time on your calendar for this and that." You can show them your goals and what your focus is for the week/month/quarter/year and if it doesn't fit in you can easily say no or treat it as a low priority. It's hard for people to say their stuff is more important than the goals and action plan you already have laid out.
Don't Let People Steal Your Time
When you have a calendar with a meeting or two and there's a ton of free space that looks like free time, it doesn't mean there's nothing there or nothing to do. All that free time is your time, you own it. You can choose to make that time work for you or let someone else take it from you.
We have a natural tendency to assume our stuff is more important and needs to get handled asap. And people will treat your time as a commodity they can take when they want.
Protect your time by blocking off your calendar. It's not the ideal way to protect your time but it is effective. And may even give you your early mornings, late nights, and weekends back.