When I was nine years old, I attended a summer camp called King’ Camp, where I rode horses for the first time. At the end of the week, our counselors took us on a trail ride around the property. After a week of practicing, I rode the trail with as much confidence as Will Smith in his box office hit (or miss), Wild Wild West. This nine-year old’s swagger came to an abrupt halt as I rounded the last corner and the horse saw the barn. Much like a runner who sees the finish line, the horse went into a dead sprint. I immediately went from casually and confidently holding on with one hand to having a death grip on the reins. No matter how loud I yelled “Woah” and pulled back, the horse was full-steam ahead. I had lost control. The joy ride was over and now I was just holding on for dear life.
Our workweek can fill a lot like this. At one point we were in control of our schedule, our to-do list got done, and we had some breathing room, but at some point along the way we lost control of our workweek and it gained control of us. Much like the Somalian pirate in Captain Phillips, our schedule looks at us and says, “I am the captain now.”
As I felt myself losing control of my workweek, I took five simple steps to regain control. These aren’t silver bullets nor are they a magic potion that gives you more hours for your workweek, but they do help you maximize your time. Most of these principles can be applied regardless if you have full control of your schedule or not. If you don’t think you can make the change due to a boss, have a meeting with him/her and ask if you can start doing one of these practices.
Pause Your Inbox
One of my biggest mistakes was that I kept my inbox open and as mail came in, I responded. The problem with this is that it allows other people to dictate your workday. To regain control of your workweek, you must be proactive, not reactive. Choose two times a day that you will check your email and for the rest of the day, close the window or if you have Gmail, pause the inbox. Though I struggle at times to hold to my own rule, I try to do this at 11AM and 4PM.
If you have established a reputation to being a quick responder, email services like Gmail have automatic responses that are sent out while your inbox is paused informing people of when the next time you will be checking your email.
Wake Up Early
By far the best practice that I have found in gaining control of my schedule is waking up early and beating everyone to the office. As many others have experienced, when there are more people in the office, there are more distractions in the office. If you can get to the office early and spend a couple hours before people get their coffee and become chatty, it is amazing how much you can accomplish.
If you are a night owl, flip this principle. When everyone else goes home, stay late or put in a couple hours work after the family goes to sleep. The idea is to create time in your workweek where you won’t be interrupted by other people. During these hours, you should focus on your most important projects (See previous post on how to identify this).
Do Not Disturb Mode
The average person looks at their phone every 4.3 minutes. When we check our phones, it often takes around 40 seconds to fully reengage in what you were doing. That means the average person is distracted by their phone over 3 million seconds a year or 37 days! Think about all the work that could be done if we reclaimed that time.
A simple step that every leader can make is to put their phone on Do Not Disturb mode. Make the commitment to only check your phone once an hour. At first, you may have anxiety about the idea, but after a few days, you will find a lot of freedom in not being able to be reached. If there are a couple people (boss, spouse, etc.) that need to be able to reach you at all times, then program their calls to go through, but keep the list short. There are plenty of times where the President of the United States can’t be reached….I am sure your business will be fine for a couple hours.
Share Your Calendar
Gmail allows you to share your calendar with other people. In doing so, it allows people to know when you are available and when you are not. What’s important is that you don’t just fill the calendar with meetings, but also you schedule your project planning, brainstorming, personal development, etc. When you do this, it will require you to schedule you week and will allow your team members to know when is a good time to talk and when it is not.
Though I don’t share my Gmail calendar with my team, I have told my team that the mornings are when I work on big picture projects and need to focus and in the afternoon is where I focus on actions and we will collaborate as a team. If you come by my office, you will see the door closed in the morning, but open in the afternoon. This is an intentional way for me to share my calendar with my team.
Set A Curfew
When I was an apprentice in college, I had a supervisor who taught me about time management. One of the first things that he forced me to do was set a bedtime. In doing so, it gave me an idea of when my day would end causing me to make the most of the day (Ephesians 5:15-17). The hard end time for my day created urgency, forced me to prioritize, and minimized my procrastination.
The same principle applies to the workweek. Set a time in which you will end your day and hold to it. In doing so, it will force you to prioritize your day better, say no to overloading your schedule, and gave you a sense of urgency in your tasks. In addition, it will help create a healthy work/life balance. My boss appreciates the productivity this principle produces and my family enjoys always having me home for dinner and bedtime.
How do you stay in control of your workweek?