In the last couple of months in 2019, my schedule felt crazy and made everything feel out of control. I could sit here and beat myself up, but I won’t. I’ve learned throughout my career that our work evolves, demands change, and we need to step back and adjust to those changes. For me to feel "organized” and “prepared”, I have to feel like my schedule supports me. I took the natural break over the holidays and evaluated my calendar for November and December to understand what was happening with how I was spending my time. These are my four big take-a-ways:
- I hadn’t blocked off time for holidays, prep time for the VA Women's Business Conference, and recuperation time after all that, so I was feeling exhausted.
- My days were incredibly choppy and I wasn’t getting enough dedicated time for thought work, so everything was taking me much longer to complete.
- I didn’t block off time for client work forcing me to do more in the evenings and weekends.
- There was absolutely no routine for the work I need to do to support my business, so I was skipping it.
I prefer to think about my schedule as a cadence. I love the word cadence because it means a rhythmic flow of a sequence, flow of events, and pattern in which something is experienced. The absence of a business cadence, our work is chaotic–perhaps interrupt-driven, react oriented, often aimless without a clear purpose. That was exactly how I was feeling. What I needed was to define my business patterns and build systems to support them, create routines to manage recurring activities, and prioritize my time on the most important activities.
I have followed this same three-step process many times as an employee. This was the first time I was doing it for my business with enough experience to inform how I laid out my cadence.
1 - Blocking off time for holidays and big events
After looking at the last couple of months of 2019, I realized I had allowed my calendar to be wide open for prospect meetings, client meetings, networking events, etc., with absolutely no time for family time around the holidays.
When you work at a company, you generally get 9 holidays and a few weeks of holiday time. My first order of business for the new year was to define my company holidays and allocate time for vacations. Family time is a big driver for why want to work for myself, so I really need to honor that time. Identifying the days was pretty straightforward because I went by the days my kids and husband have off and added in the weeks we normally take a vacation.
Then I updated my online appointment scheduler (Calendly.com) and removed those dates from my availability and blocked them on my calendar.
As big events come up, especially for speaking engagements, I will be more realistic and proactive in blocking time for both preparing for the event and recuperating from it.
I feel really good about this commitment and already planning long weekend trips with the family.
2 - Getting a handle on my weekly cadence
In 2020, I am going to track my time to better inform how I spend my time. In looking at my calendar and what was scheduled, I was able to see patterns and opportunities to batch similar work. My goal was to define an ideal weekly cadence that batched similar work, blocked uninterrupted time and created a rhythm for the type of work I did on which days.
As I developed my ideal cadence, I kept these things in mind:
- Batching similar work is the best use of time. It's more efficient and I lose less time having to regain my train of thought.
- Time blocking my calendar is the best way to make time for routine activities.
- Friday is not the best day for me to engage in deep-thought activities.
- I need to incorporate time for silence, prayer, and exercise.
I prefer to play with my schedule in a spreadsheet because it is easier to move the blocks of time around. If you’d like to create your ideal weekly cadence, here is a link to the template and examples I share with my clients.
I started by defining the main timeframes of my day or themes for the day. It broke down to my time for myself (mornings), my workday, and family time (weekends and evenings). Then I decided on the themes for each day of the week. My plan is to kick off the week with marketing activities because that is when I am the freshest and deserving of my creativity. I will end the week with administrative work because there isn’t as much of it.
Below are my daily themes.
- Monday - Marketing & Sales Appts
- Tuesday - Client Work
- Wednesday - Networking & Sales Appts
- Thursday - Client Work
- Friday - Admin & Sales Appts
Next, I lay out the blocks of time on the spreadsheet for the main types of work. This took me some time as I worked through recurring events I attend and other things to figure out the best structure. I do not get super detailed because I don’t like to feel overscheduled. I focus on guidelines for my time vs 15-minute increments. You can see below what I’ve laid out below.
Now that I have this laid out, I have added events to my calendar for these activities. For Friday and Monday, the events are reminders and I don’t mark the events as busy. I am optimizing availability for new prospect calls. On the Client Work days, I am blocking time for specific client work and setting the time as busy.
The final step is updating my online appointment scheduler (Calendly). I am doing this by event type. For my new prospect appointments, I am available all day Monday+Friday and in the morning on Wednesday. For event types I use with clients, I am available Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. I can always make exceptions to these rules, but it provides good guidelines.
3 - Creating Checklists for Routine Activities
I hate doing routine things, which is why I automate as much as I can. But, there are routine activities that can’t be automated. For these, I create tasks in Asana, so I can’t avoid doing them. By removing the ambiguity, I can’t avoid the work.
Below are my template tasks, which I keep in my Operating Procedures project in Asana. I define the tasks with descriptions and subtasks for how I do my work then copy the task into an active project to work. Every six months, I review these and update them. When I start bringing on staff, I will have my training manual already built out.
With all of this in place, I feel much more in control of my schedule and work. I am ready for what 2020 has to throw at me.
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