Pull up your calendar and take a look at last week. How many scheduled appointments were for the benefit or convenience of other people – updates, planning meetings, conference calls, providing feedback, etc.? If you’re like most people who work with other humans, the answer is probably “most of them.” How many of the appointments were strictly for you and scheduled by you? Time blocked off in order to accomplish your most important work of the day, the week, the month, or even the year? Again, if you’re like most people, the answer is probably “none of them.”
Have you ever been driving home at the end of a day and had to ask yourself what you really managed to accomplish? Or wondered where the day went while you were busy attending meetings and conference calls, putting out fires, and responding to other people’s priorities?
Our calendars and our days rapidly overflow with the unimportant, the hey-do-you-have-a-minute asks, other people’s emergencies, pop-up exploratory meetings that create no actions, “idea bouncing,” and on and on and on. Meanwhile, the non-urgent but important project that could have made a significant difference slides to the backburner and we hope to have time for it tomorrow. A tomorrow that bears an uncomfortable resemblance to yesterday. If you strive to end each day with the satisfaction of accomplishment, this is an unacceptable situation.
You cannot leave to chance the time needed to perform your most important work. Instead reserve that time in advance, like a prospector staking out his territory before it’s overrun with claim-jumpers hoping to grab the gold for themselves.
Pick a 90-minute block of time tomorrow (or Monday if you’re reading this over the weekend) and schedule an appointment with yourself. Name the appointment whatever is needed in order to not be interrupted. If you work in an environment where calendar items are visible to others, name it “conference call with Michael Devers.” I’ll cover for you. Use that time to start work on the most important item/goal/task that remains incomplete. Notice, I didn’t say “most urgent.” The rest of the day can be given over to the urgent. This time is reserved for the important.The meeting you schedule with yourself will quickly become the most important meeting you attend every day. Click To Tweet
Commit to this appointment and schedule one every day. Make this appointment the bedrock of your schedule and hold it sacred. Don’t let the urgent, the unimportant, the nice-to-do, the last-second request, or – God forbid – a meeting violate this sacrosanct place on your calendar. Be brave. When someone asks (and they will) to meet at that time, tell them “I’m sorry. I already have an appointment then.” Don’t rearrange your schedule.
Now that it’s on the schedule every day, take extraordinary measures to make it the most productive hour-and-a-half of your day. Shut the door, either literally or metaphorically. Turn your phone off – all the way off. Disconnect from the internet unless the task requires online access. If it does, invest in a site-blocker to limit accidental and aimless browsing during this crucial 90-minute period. (This shouldn’t be your excuse to indulge in a 90-minute social media fest.) Turn off all notifications that would in any way distract from the task at hand. These ninety minutes are about one thing and one thing only. FOCUS. Insist on integrity with the only person you can control – yourself – and stay centered for the entire 90 minutes.
Once this appointment with yourself is complete and everything is turned back on, someone is inevitably going to say they tried to reach you and ask why you didn’t answer/reply/click/etc. Simply say, “I’m sorry, I was in a very important meeting and couldn’t respond.” Amazingly, the other person will then offer their own apology, more often than not. And no need to feel like you’re being dishonest with them, because if you maintained focus for the majority of the time, your statement will have the advantage of being the truth.
In case anyone wonders, this post was written during a very important meeting on my schedule.