Let me share a “secret” from my consulting/coaching practice. I ask to look at people’s calendars.

Looking at someone’s calendar tells me a lot. I understand their priorities because I see where/how they are spending their time. I look for things that should be on their calendar that aren’t. This tells me what they might be missing.

People are busy, their calendars tell me quite a bit about how likely they are to be effective or ineffective. Recently, I coached an executive whose calendar was filled with meetings. He schedule meetings in 30-45 minute segments for at least 12 hours a day. There was no buffer time, there was no “think” time, not even time for meals. Sometimes, he scheduled several meetings at one time.

You know what happened. He was always late to meetings, everyone on his agenda grew to accept that. They were, in fact, surprised and commented on it when he was less than 5 minutes late. He was unfocused and poorly prepared for what was supposed to be accomplished in the meeting. And he left many meetings before any conclusions were reached.

And when a crisis occurred, everything was abandoned. Interestingly, because of his style, a lot of crises occurred.

This executive prided himself on his busyness, he wore “running at 200 mph” as a badge of honor and was deeply disappointed that others didn’t match his work rate and “stamina.” It should not be a surprise, the organization consistently missed all their performance goals—which drove more meetings on why.

Sometimes, I see the opposite. I see calendars with huge open spaces, huge blocks of unscheduled time. It’s not that these people aren’t busy, but they aren’t setting and managing their priorities. They are letting their priorities be driven by others, choosing to react and respond, rather than proactively establish their priorities and invest time in achieving them.

Our calendars give us a lot of clues about how effective we are likely to be.

Some thoughts:

  1. Block time regular time for things that you have to do regularly. One of my favorites is blocking prospecting time. But look at certain regular meetings or tasks that you have to do weekly. Block them for the same time every week, make it a habit to get them done during those times.
  2. Protect those blocked times as much as possible and do the work you had planned. Minimize the number of times you move things around to accommodate other’s schedules. This may sound weird, but you get into a certain rhythm that improves your effectiveness and productivity. Every time you move/disrupt that, you had an adverse impact on getting things done.
  3. Schedule “administrative,” and other similar types of work at the “fringes” of your day or week. We all have certain types of admin and reporting work. Schedule these away from the core of the business day. Consider early mornings, evenings, weekends. Keep the core of the business day open for working with others. Be available for customers, team-mates, or your people, during the work day when they are more likely to be available.
  4. If you are in sales, as much as possible, schedule internal meetings at the fringes of your day, so you can maximize your availability for customers. (There are some caveats to this. For example, in my prospecting to senior executives, I schedule my prospecting time for early mornings and late afternoons. This is before or after their normal business day, so I have a better chance of them picking up the phone.)
  5. If you are in sales, look at the amount of time you spend with customers. Look at the amount of time you spend in direct follow up/action around your customer activities. If you aren’t spending a minimum of 70% of your time on these activities, you need to re prioritize your work.
    1. This is an important issue for managers to look at with their teams. We need to maximize the “time available for selling.” Sometimes, the complexity of getting things done within our own organizations robs sales people of their time available for selling.
    2. It’s not surprising for me to find 15-30% time available for selling in organizations. Most of this is not malicious, it’s just the continued piling on of things that distract sales people from selling.
  6. If you are a manager, make sure you are spending at least 50% of your time coaching and developing your people. The highest leverage use of your time is coaching because through this, you maximize the performance of each person on your team.
  7. If you are a manager, make sure you are spending at least 50% of your time with customers or directly supporting your people on customer related activities.
    1. Managers, if you are paying attention, you will notice I’ve scheduled 100% of your time. What I’m suggesting is your time is best spent in working with your people, developing them, and doing this in the context of their meetings with customers, developing deal/account strategies, etc. Too often, I find too many managers attending “important,” internal meetings and or sitting behind a screen doing “analysis.” Most of this time doesn’t create value for your people or customers.
  8. Schedule 10-15 minutes for “catch up” after each meeting. We spend lots of time in meetings, sometimes they are even useful. We may identify a lot of action plans or next steps. Then we go to our next meeting, forgetting all the things we committed to in the prior meeting. Take 10-15 minutes after each meeting to write notes, to add to-dos and next steps to your calendar. You’ll be amazed at how much you accomplish!
    1. I normally schedule meetings for 20 or 45 minutes, as much as I can. On my calendar, they show up as 30 and 60 minutes, because I’m reserving time to capture notes and next steps.
    2. And while I try to keep meetings on schedule, this extra time gives me a little buffer between meetings, in case something runs late.
  9. Be on time! My parents raised me with the view, “If you aren’t 5 minutes early to a meeting, you are late.” It’s created a mindset–actually a compulsion–to be on time to meetings. I’m stunned by the amount of time wasted by people being late to meetings, not to mention the lack of respect it shows everyone else. It’s interesting, organizations tend to develop a certain culture around time integrity. As an outsider, I observe this. Some companies tend to start meetings 5 minutes late, others are 10 minutes late. The worst I’ve encountered averaged 27 minutes late! Imagine the lost productivity! (My favorite client is a Danish Multinational. 100% of their meetings start on time and end on time—we get huge amounts of work done.
    1. There is no “executive privilege” for being late to a meeting. If we are going to drive a culture around time integrity, executives have to set the example. Plus it’s a stunning display of how little executives respect the time of their people when they are consistently late.
  10. Don’t over schedule yourself. Shit happens! Unanticipated interruptions/crises happen. IF we schedule ourselves in all day, back to back meetings, and a crisis occurs, we have to cancel and reschedule everything. The ripple effect through everyone’s schedule creates a stunning loss of productivity.
    1. I like to leave about 25-30% of my day unscheduled. This allows me to have time available for crises, as well as having time available for opportunistic or ad-hoc meetings/calls. Even if I don’t have something that I fill that unscheduled time with, I have plenty of things I can use to fill that time, if necessary.
    2. It is rare that a crisis demands your immediate attention, so when they arise, don’t interrupt your schedule, but schedule time to deal with it during some of your daily unscheduled time. Our knee jerk reactions to crises are seldom our best, most thoughtful reactions. It’s amazing how giving a crisis just a few hours to “sit,” actually improves our ability to respond to the crisis.
  11. Don’t forget to schedule “personal time.” My life isn’t just about my job and work. I block time for meditation, for exercise, and reading every day. I schedule haircuts and other things into my day. If I don’t take care of these things, they will impact my ability to focus on the things I need to get done in my work.
    1. Consciously schedule “learning time,” each week (ideally every day). Figure out some new things you want to learn. Enroll in an online class, read books, participate in online group discussions.
  12. Finally, perhaps most important, schedule “think time” every day. Take the time to reflect on things, to think about other bigger issues, to think about where you want to be, new opportunities. Too often, we get so enmeshed in responding/reacting to what happens every day, that we lose sight of where we are going or considering new possibilities.

Look at your calendar right now. Does it reflect your priorities? Does it enable you to grow and learn? Are you spending time where you should/need to spend it?