Sculpt Your Schedule for Effectiveness
Your goal: Do the right things at the right times (Real-World Time Management, part 2)
“SCHEDULE SCULPTING” IS an intentional approach to pursue greater effectiveness and results in your work. As a reminder, I define “Efficiency” as “doing things right” (quicker, easier, cheaper). “Effectiveness” is “doing the right things.”
In Part 1 of this series, I addressed the essential attitude adjustment required to manage time more effectively. Reject “passive reactivity,” a helpless victim attitude toward demands on your time. Instead, determine to have an “empowered agent” attitude where you thoughtfully plan and take as much control as you can over how you will invest your time and energies and when. Schedule sculpting is the implementation of that plan.
1. Thinking time is essential. Otherwise, you are left at the mercies of circumstances and other people’s urgencies, the essence of the passive-reactive mindset. We are not talking about hours here. Just a few thoughtful minutes of planning can make a huge difference.
2. Identify “the top of your license.” As explained in Part 1, this refers to the most important roles and results for which you are responsible. Ask, “What is the highest and best application of me in this position?” Remember that if you are in a leadership role, time to invest in and serve your people is at the top of your license.
3. Identify activities in the “Important but Not Urgent” category. These are functions that you certainly agree are important, but they never flash that urgent hot light at you demanding attention: Things like personal development, self-maintenance, building relationships, long-term goals or projects, team development, or strategic thinking.
The challenge with these important activities is that, because they are not urgent, they can be put off indefinitely: “I’ll do it tomorrow.” The truth: Unless you deliberately plan time to do them in your schedule, you probably will not do them at all. Today’s urgencies will crowd them out.
With this preliminary planning, you’re ready to begin sculpting your schedule.
The path to Schedule Sculpting
For most people, viewing their schedule a week at a time works best. You can download a simple grid page I developed from my website at the bottom of this article (it’s also attached to the PDF version), or simply sketch out a week’s activities on a sheet of paper.
You want to think in large blocks of time, not planning every half hour. Consider: Ideally, what shape would your week take on? Then follow these steps.
1. Begin with required activities
We all have regular commitments beyond our control, such as required meetings. They’re like boulders in a stream; you simply must work around them. They’re not going anywhere, so go ahead and block them in.
I do believe, however, in periodically challenging these. Ask if you really need to attend a given meeting. Renegotiate with your boss whether you can drop it. Perhaps you can “meeting-share” with a colleague and attend only every other one yourself.
If you are a leader with decision-making power, reconsider meetings regularly. There’s too much time wasted. I’ve always thought of meeting patterns like my children’s school clothes when they were growing up. When you buy your first grader new clothes for the year, how long do you expect them to last? Kids outgrow clothes at an alarming rate.
Meetings are the same. Over time their usefulness is outgrown, and they should be ended. I believe in the principle, “When the horse is dead … dismount!” If you’re not sure, ask your people. If a meeting is still important to them, they will let you know.
A pet peeve of mine is how badly most meetings are led. That’s the fault of the leaders. The leader of a meeting is responsible for the effectiveness of the group, and for protecting the precious time of the people. Meetings can start on time, be led efficiently, and end early, if the leader is determined to do so.
2. Consider your Prime Time
Prime Time refers first to the best strategic time for doing an important activity. It can vary widely based on the nature of your work.
I have a long-standing coaching relationship with a man who has been a successful commercial real estate broker for 30 years. We were discussing Schedule Sculpting, and I asked him a series of questions. Interestingly, when I asked each question, he immediately replied with the answer. It went like this:
Q: What is the single most important success factor for you in your work?
A: Getting in front of decision-makers.
Q: What is required for you to get in front of decision-makers?
A: Getting an appointment with them. Unfortunately, it’s usually by cold calling.
Q: Is there a best strategic time for that?
A: Yes. Early in the morning or late in the afternoon at the end of the day.
Q: Is there a best strategic time for that?
A: Yes. Early in the morning or late at the end of the day.
Q: Why is that?
A: Because the gatekeepers aren’t there. Executives like these are often in the office early before their assistants arrive, and they usually stay late working after they leave. You can sometimes get them directly on the phone.
Q: Then when is the best time for you to sculpt your schedule to make your calls?
By this time the answer is along the lines of “Duh.” But this kind of thinking is exactly what people do not do when they are in the passive-reactive frame of mind! People with the helpless victim mentality do not even stop to ask those questions.
As another example, I worked with a gifted Registered Nurse who is a care coordinator for patients with chronic illnesses. Asked what her key success factor was, she answered, “One-on-one appointments with patients.” As I walked through questions like those above, she explained that the best times to have those appointments are in the afternoon, because patients are more likely to keep them.
Plus, since new patients take 50% longer than established ones, she settled on a schedule where she accepts new patients on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and only established patients on Tuesdays and Thursdays. She dedicated morning and end-of-day hours for phone calls, emails, and documentation.
An additional application of Prime Time concerns your biorhythms. I’ve learned through long experience that I am most creative in the mornings, but my creative mind shuts down around 2 pm. Therefore, my habit is reserve morning hours for writing and other creative work and hold coaching and other appointments in the afternoons. It works!
No one’s first attempt is perfect. It’s simply the first step in a never-ending process. But your calendar can begin to take a rational strategic shape as you carve it according to your most important purposes.
Besides the most important top of license activities, don’t forget other things you want to make time for: Mentoring and leading your people; time for self-maintenance, whether a break, lunch, or exercise period; an hour to make progress toward a long-term goal.
The goal: Blocks of uninterrupted time
As usual, Peter Drucker was a prophet regarding this challenge. The effective executive, he says, “knows that he needs large chunks of time and that small driblets are no time at all.”
Schedule sculpting is the way to get those large chunks of time. But then you have the challenge of defending them. We’ll take that on in in Part 3.
Consider hosting a workshop
I have created a workshop on this subject called “Managing Your Time for Greater Effectiveness,” an all-day intensive training with options for additional subjects. It can also be narrowed for a half-day or two-hour workshop and can be delivered in person or virtually. Get in touch if you’d like to explore possibilities for you and your team. Invest in learning a time management method that works in the real world and leads to greater effectiveness. Li