The more successful you become, the more guarded you have to be with your time. Between your work assignments, meetings, answering emails, networking events, mentoring, family, and friends, there just isn’t enough time in the day to recklessly agree to everything. And, when you do agree to do something, you have to make sure that it isn’t infringing on other tasks. You can’t spend your morning answering non-urgent emails, sit at lunch for two hours, hop on a zoom call and engage in small talk for another two hours, go to happy hour for three hours, and still expect to get your actual work done. So, here are some tips to better guard your time:
1. Be upfront about how much time you can devote to any given meeting or call.
When scheduling a meeting or call be upfront about how long you can attend. Whether it’s 30 minutes or an hour, you have to be realistic about how much time you can commit to based on the nature and importance of the meeting. Responding to a meeting request with “I can meet on Tuesday from 2-2:30pm or 4-5pm” is completely acceptable. Rather than saying “I am available Tuesday afternoon, give a definitive day and time, as it is more productive and eliminates the time-consuming back and forth of scheduling. It allows the recipient to simply pick one of your windows. Once the time is agreed to, make sure to calendar the call so that it starts on time.
2. Don’t be scared to end the meeting on time.
Meetings and calls frequently run long but, that does not mean you can’t exit at the end time. If you were upfront about how long you could commit to the call and the call is running over, it is ok to say “I have another appointment so, I need to jump off but, I’d be happy to schedule another call to go over anything I miss.” You can also preview your exit and say “I have a hard stop at 5pm and we have a few minutes left, did we cover everything you wanted to discuss”? One of the biggest challenges in guarding your time is making sure that scheduled appointments do not run long. Sure, it may be 10 minutes here and there but that quickly adds up and derails your day.
3. Every call does not have to be a zoom call.
Just because someone asks for a zoom call doesn’t mean you can’t say no. Use your judgment to determine whether a zoom call is necessary. If you are struggling to find an open window of time and know you will be in the car for 25 minutes headed to pick up your kids, you can use that time to talk. Responding with “I’ll be in the car and can join by phone” is perfectly fine. If it’s an important meeting that requires you to turn your camera on, then make that judgment call and respond with your availability but, if the call can be an old-school, pre-pandemic, regular phone call, then don’t feel pressure to be available for zoom calls at all hours of the day.
4. Block out time to complete projects.
When I know I have to draft a brief or prepare for a deposition, I block the time off on my calendar. The calendar entry will show that I am busy from 9am to 12pm for “deposition prep.” This ensures that nothing else is scheduled during that time and reminds me to focus. Of course I will have things that come up like an urgent email so I have to remain flexible and adjust the block of time if needed but, I make sure that my work assignments get the same amount of priority as any other meeting or call.
5. If you’re truly too busy, say no.
Understand that some days/weeks are just too busy to say yes and that’s ok. If a friend or mentee asks to go to lunch saying “this week isn’t good but, next week Wednesday at 11:30am works” is completely ok. Speaking honestly, you will also be asked to do things that you simply do not want to commit to. That’s ok too. Telling someone no is one of the hardest lessons I’ve learned but, you can’t say yes to everything. Guarding your time means being selective with your “yes.” If it does not add value to your goals or relationships, then don’t be scared to say no. And, don’t feel compelled to explain why either. Saying “I am unable to take on new commitments” or “thank you for the opportunity but, I am not interested” is something you have to learn how to do so that you leave room for the things you are truly passionate about.
The most precious resource we all have is time – Steve Jobs