Finding time for every item on your extensive task list is difficult. How can we manage our calendars so no task gets left behind?
Tip 1: A Task’s Time is Sacred
A common mistake when managing your tasks is assuming that your schedule has time for them. Every request takes time to complete, from the ones your manager makes in passing to the biggest goals in your strategic plan. As you might already do, make it a habit to immediately write down that task when you receive it. This time however, write down how long you think it will take. Do this with every task you receive. Once you have that information, block the necessary time on your calendar and label those blocks by task. Let’s say you get a request to reorganize a digital file and you think it will take 3 hours – you must go directly to your schedule and block off three hours for this task, labeled “Reorganize digital file.”
These blocks can be separate or all together, as long as the third hour occurs before your deadline. This way you can ensure that time has been set aside, you have added the task to your to-do list, and you can forget about it (for now). Sub tip: If you receive an email or document relating to your task, add it as an attachment in your time blocks. This will help you remember what to do if the block is further in the future!
Tip 2: Make Adjustments as Needed
One thing is for sure – nothing goes quite as planned. Tasks take more (or less) time than you planned for, and meeting requests will pour in and eat away at your much needed blocks of time. The key in this case is adapt, adjust, and remain calm. When you have reached the end of a two-hour block for a task and you are 50% finished, you know that another two hours is necessary to complete it. Look back at your schedule, block the additional time needed before the deadline, and let the task slip from your mind. The task is now accounted for, and you can focus all mental energy on what is in front of you.
If a task goes faster then planned, get on your calendar and reflect that change by shortening the allocated block. Now that you have opened free spot on your calendar, you can pull a task from later in the week and get it done now.
If a coworker schedules a meeting over one of your blocks, never fear, you know that you have the time set aside for every task. Now you just need to move the blocks around to accommodate the incoming meeting. Push back the blocks that have later deadlines, making room without deleting time that you allocated for a task.
Tip 3: Communication is Key
When you add time for every task you need to complete to your calendar, it will start to look a little crowded. While you know what is going on, your co-workers may get stressed or confused, especially when they are hoping to schedule you for a meeting. Take some time to explain your new system, and use a code on your calendar to let peers know which times can be scheduled over, and which ones need to remain untouched. One common practice at OPG is adding “NO OVERBOOK” to the beginning of an important block of time. Also, using color coding (such as yellow for travel time and meals, or purple for phone calls) will help you and your peers develop a quick understanding of what the day looks like. The more information you communicate with your team, the less stress and confusion they will experience.