After a particularly exhausting Friday which consisted of back-to-back meetings, I resentfully looked at the following week only to realize a glaringly obvious problem—it was just as busy.
The most frustrating part of my predicament was that I was following the sage productivity advice. Looking at my calendar, you would see that it was beautifully color-coded with blocks for meetings, exercise, design/writing, email-checking, personal appointments, coaching calls, reflection, and reminders, all snuggly nestled around my travel and speaking schedule.
It was very pretty to look at, unfortunately, I still felt like I was chasing the carrot I could never catch as the fulfilling parts of life felt just out of reach.
What was clear was that although spots in my calendar were filled up with priorities, there was no space in my brain or energy in my body to effectively carry them all out. Instead I just felt perpetually overscheduled and fried by the end of the week.
At around the same time, my speaking schedule was getting busier, so I invested in an online scheduling platform to work with my calendar and automate my bookings and meetings. To begin using the platform, I had to set specific scheduling parameters such as when my workday began, how long meetings would run, or how many meetings a day.
Coming up with these guidelines was easy as I had been trying to follow these for the past year. The challenge was that I’d had little sustained success. I remember thinking, “This is exactly what I need: a system to make the decision for me!”
A few of my scheduling boundaries included:
· A pre-set maximum number of meetings a day
· 40-minutes blocked for lunch
· Meetings would default to 45-minutes versus the standard 60-minutes
· A 15-minute buffer between meetings
As a researcher, I monitored the changes, charting the day-by-day impact (yes, I love data and am a geek for trends). Immediately, I noticed an amazing difference throughout each day.
Adding a time buffer between meetings gave me the opportunity to shake off the emotions from the previous meeting and mentally reset for the next one. I found myself standing up and moving around more between appointments leaving me less exhausted at the end of the day.
At lunch, I started getting outside more, sitting, walking and just enjoying my lunch away from my desk.
The most notable change was that I now had the energy to start the day, and this energy was sustained until the end of the day. It wasn’t just physical energy, which was noticeable, but I also felt this high-quality mental energy that enabled me to carry out more focused work. I found myself more contemplative in how my “to-do’s” aligned with my business strategy. I was less distracted and more able to work on one thing at a time and finish it!
Within days, my family noticed the difference, too—I was more present and more disciplined at shutting off work. I was more patient, and I laughed more. The weekends stopped being a reprieve to catch up and became a time to actively recharge and recover by exploring new things such as learning to box and connecting with friends and family more.
And yet, with all these positive changes, about two months in, I found myself trying to override the system, attempting to squeeze in more meetings. People would request meetings and, even though I’d reached the maximum allotment for the day, I’d just squeeze them in, anyway!
Now, it may not be obvious, but I’m a logical and self-aware person. I realized that no one else would be checking my calendar and scolding me if I overrode it, so I had to ask myself, Why would I do this?
Upon reflection, I realized that there were a few areas this automated platform didn’t address. It didn’t manage my driving emotions not to disappoint. Nor did it manage my deeply ingrained belief that I should give 110% at work every day. Finally, it did not address my shear hubris that if I was feeling so good, I could or should do more.
Yet, as I started squeezing more in, my energy started leaking out and the benefits quickly dissipated. I had successfully found my tipping point, and it became clear that I needed more personal management before I could leverage the automated management. I practiced a ritual that I use when working with clients that forced me to slow down, shift out of “busy mode” and consider the impact of my choices.
When I feel I need to override the system here is the 1-minute habit I now practice:
1. I take a moment to fully stop.
Fingers off the keyboard. If in a conversation, I stop myself from automatically accepting meetings and say I will check my schedule and get back to the person.
2. I refocus by checking-in with compassion for myself.
I ask myself, What am I feeling right now? I take a few deep breaths and tap into my self-compassion by acknowledging that things are difficult and that I feel pulled in many directions.
3. I then challenge my reality with curiosity.
Why would I choose to be less effective today? This question forces me to think instead of getting swept away in the feelings that contribute to short-sighted decisions.
4. Finally, I shift my thinking out to the world.
I ask myself, What is the value and consequence to saying “yes”? This question realigns me with my values and, just as important, the impact my choices will have on others, before moving outside my boundaries.
Yes, some days require me to go over my allotted number of meetings. Sometimes, I must book a lunch meeting due to a client’s schedule. However, the value of boundaries is that they give you the space to work within.
Now, whether automated or not, my schedule serves as a great reminder to not let the busyness of the moment override my vision of my future. But only my choices will ensure it!