I Have More Control Over My Time Than I Realize (And You Probably Do Too)

Originally posted here.

I’m taking a keen interest in mapping out my week. I’ve avoided trying to impose more structure in my week in the past because I believed there were too many extrenal variables outside of my control that would preclude me from doing so.

But when I sat down today and sketched out what my weeks look like, I realized that’s not nearly as true as I believed.

In a given week, I might do a dozen meetings, mostly over the phone, at widely varying times of day. Sometimes the conflict, sometimes they are stacked right on top of one another, and sometimes they’re just inconvenient.

But I accept those times when they’re proposed, or, worse, I set the times myself with only a passing evaluation of how it might affect my day’s flow. If I don’t agree to a meeting time that isn’t optimal for me, then the meeting doesn’t happen.

It takes two to make a meeting.

There are, of course, many external forces that impose things upon us. The most obvious external forces are usually the ones that pay our bills, whether a single employer or many clients. Myself and others have used this big external force as an excuse to not try to better structure our time, because we perceive ourselves as having very little control.

But it’s often not as true as we lead ourselves to believe. When I took a critical look at how my time gets scheduled, I found that I had much more control over what happens when than I realized– not total control, mind you, not even close– but more control than I was giving myself credit for.

Identify the external forces

I realized, too, that my days follow a fairly consistent pattern– the mornings are quieter, when not a lot of people are at New Work City yet and I’ve only received a fraction of the emails I’m destined to receive for the day. After lunchtime, more people show up, more emails arrive, and more tabs are open on the browser. I can say with near certainty that my ability to think and work lucidly on creative “maker” tasks at 9am is far better than it is at 4pm.

I can work on changing that dynamic, but I can also learn to work with that dynamic. If I know I’m going to end up distracted after lunch, then that’s when I should be setting my meetings– when I know I’m going to be dealing with communicating with other people anyway. It’s probably not that hard to do, either, because shifting suggested meetings to the afternoon from the morning is rarely a problem for others.

And it’s not about absoultes– if half of my 12-ish meetings are currently in morning time slots in a given week, reducing that from 6 to 2 would open up my creative pre-lunch time considerably.

Speculative meetings

As described in Paul Graham’s great post, speculative meetings are those which aren’t directly related to things on your critical path. Usually the phrase “grab a coffee” or a drink is involved. These meetings, while useful in aggregate and in the long term, can be a terrible distraction from your day-to-day obligations, when not scheduled properly.

So often I’ve had a call or meeting with someone, just to get to know them better, at a time when it was horribly inconvenient and I felt that I could not give that person my full attention. Same goes with catching up with a friend. I hate feeling like I want to avoid hanging out with friends simply for fear of being too distracted when the time comes because of the events unfolding that day.

So I either avoid setting speculative meetings, which makes them pile up, or I schedule those meetings and hope it works out. If, instead, I can identify an ideal time to have these meetings, and schedule everything I can into those slots, I might be able to improve this situation.

I’ve noticed that, once I hit 5pm, odds are that whatever anyone is expecting of me is going to be able to wait until tomorrow– so a lot of built up pressure from the day is relieved. I may likely not be able to return to a creative mode, however, so right at this point is an ideal time to schedule low-priority meetings and calls.

Make a plan

Given my evaluation of my week’s structure, my plan is as follows:

– Creative “maker” work before lunch. Aim to accomplish 6 Pomodoros before lunch, and be happy if I actually pull off 4 or more.
– Meetings after lunch. If it’s up to me to decide, the meeting will be at 2pm.
– Do speculative and personal phone calls and meetings at 5 or 6pm, when I am in full social/”manager” mode and the pressure is off.

I’m starting with this, and I’m accepting that I’m not going to be able to stick to it 100%. If I try to do that, I’ll fail and give up.

I’m aiming for 80%. If I can enforce the above structure with 80% efficacy, then I have to conclude I’ll have a much more efficient, manageable daily life.

 

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