The Big Idea
You decide how to spend your time.
Questions I Answer
- How can I get rid of distractions?
- How do I take charge of my calendar at work?
- What do I do if I am overscheduled?
- What’s the best way to plan for the week ahead?
Key Topics in the Show
The 5 P’s of planning and why it will help you take back control of your calendar (plus a FREE download to help!)
Creating a weekly habit of looking at your week ahead
Setting yourself up for success by allowing for flexibility for life’s curveballs
Keeping your priorities straight and not letting others impose on your day
Protecting your calendar by time blocking key productive times
Resources and Links
- Watch my TanyaTV episode, Our Family’s Weekly Planning Routine
Welcome to Season 10 of Productivity Paradox with Tanya Dalton, a podcast focused on helping you achieve your best life. Join Tanya this season as she explores the concept of bending time so you could stay focused on what matters most. To get her free checklist, Five Minutes to Peak Productivity, simply go to inkWELLpress.com/podcast.
And now, here’s your host, Tanya Dalton.
Hello, Hello, everyone. Welcome to Productivity Paradox. I’m your host, Tanya Dalton, and this is Episode 122, Take Control of Your Calendar. As we continue our quest this season to find ways to bend time, I thought we’d spend today discussing calendar management. Here’s why. I want to help you find ways to take control of your calendar so that it doesn’t control you. I think many times we feel like we’re a victim to our calendars.
I want to empower you to be in the driver’s seat when it comes to scheduling your days, your weeks and your months. I want you to own your day, not the other way around. Remember, it’s not just about jamming our calendars full of 10,000 different things, just to be busy. We want to rethink busy and focus on priorities, so that we can structure our days to be more effective and more rewarding. But before we dive in, I want to say a quick word about today’s sponsor. Gusto is a great resource for small businesses who are looking for easy to run payroll services, as well as professional HR support. Stay tuned because later in today’s episode, I’ll share how you can get three months free when you run your first payroll through Gusto.
Okay, before we get started, I want to give a quick little pep talk, because I want to talk about a word that may feel uncomfortable to you, control. I’ve noticed that people tend to bristle against this word. They say, “I don’t want to be controlling.” But if you’re not in charge of your day, who is? Who’s in control? Is it your co-workers, your boss, your kids? No, we are in charge. That doesn’t mean that you have to be ugly when you take charge. It just means that you decide how you spend your day. Do you spend it in ways that feel good, that are important to you, or in ways that make you feel like you’re constantly at the mercy of someone else?
I’ve created a system that you can easily customize for yourself, called the Five Ps of planning. I’m going to walk you through that system and give you some ideas on how to take control of your calendar. I also have a download to help you implement this system even more. You can grab that at
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inkWELLpress.com/podcast. Just look for the free download in the resources section.
Okay, so we are going to go through each of the Five Ps. The first one is purge. When we use our brains like a giant filing cabinet for our tasks, and our to do lists, it’s simply not effective. We’re actually overloading our brains and using precious brain power on unnecessary things. The first thing I want you to do is a brain dump. Get the things out of your head and onto a piece of paper. Free up your mind from thinking about those tasks, or rather, worrying and stressing about them. Having this list of things you want to do swirling around in your head means they’re competing with other tasks that also need your brain to focus on them. So, let’s clear the clutter from your head and do a brain dump exercise.
Now, for this first step, for purge, you can do this alone. You could do it with your colleagues at work or even with your family. I like to do it once a week on Mondays for work, and then I do it on Sundays with my family. I actually even have an episode of Tanya TV, where I walk through how my family plans weekly together. I’ll be sure to put a link to that in my show notes.
But this weekly purge is when I can look at the big picture of the week ahead, and I can do a broad planning session. With my family, we talk about all the things that need to get done in the upcoming week. Who’s in charge of what, who needs to be here at this different time, what’s going on with practices, all kinds of things so that we can be in sync. Everyone knows what role they play in the various tasks throughout the week.
Now, I like to do my weekly work purge on Mondays because I like to keep work and family planning separate. But here’s the deal. I want you to feel free to customize this. If you want to plan work and home at the same time, then by all means, do it. I use a weekly kick start notepad that I designed specifically for this exercise. It helps organize my weekly purge. Those notepads are available on my website at inkWELLpress.com/weekly kick start. I’m not trying to sell you something here, you could really do this on a blank sheet of paper, I just find that having the structure of that notepad really does help me.
But really, the key here is that we want to look at the big picture for the week ahead. Get those tasks out of your head, free up that valuable brain space. At this point, I don’t want you to get into the minutia of planning out every single thing for every single day, down to the minute. This is just a really high level view. Sort of a bird’s eye view of the week ahead. That’s what we’re looking forward with our purge.
Which brings us to our second P, which is process. Instead of planning out each day, the week in advance, I want you to process each day as it comes so that way you’re planning for optimal success. I think many times people
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make the mistake of planning too far ahead. And then when push comes to shove, they get thrown a few curve balls. Things don’t end up happening the way that we think it’s going to. That in turn, causes them to feel like they’ve failed or they’ve become frustrated that they didn’t accomplish what they set out to do.
The best way to really set ourselves up for success is to make sure our days are actually achievable. We do that by planning each day. Let me give you an example. Let’s say you just spent your Sunday night planning out every single day until next Saturday. You schedule every meeting, every phone call, the carpools, the grocery runs, everything. Great. You feel like you’re ahead of the game and on top of everything. Then Wednesday comes, and as you get to your car to had to work, car doesn’t start. Oh oh, now you’re going to be late for work and you have to cancel the morning meeting you’ve scheduled with your co-workers. Get someone to tow your car, figure out what’s wrong. Have to reschedule the carpool for soccer that you were supposed to do that afternoon. Switch it around with another mom. Take her Thursday carpool shift. You’re dealing with an urgent fire here.
That’s fine because things happen, except what about all those tasks that you scheduled way back on Sunday that you were going to do today? Well, those get pushed aside while you’re dealing with all this inferno of a task, right? Not done. The dominoes continue to fall. Wednesday’s wreaked with havoc, and by Thursday morning, you feel frustrated, and super stressed before the day even starts because Wednesday’s tests aren’t even done, and Thursdays tasks are already scheduled. Feels like you’ll never get ahead.
Look, life is full of curve balls, we need to allow for some flexibility. Instead of planning too far ahead, spend five or 10 minutes at the beginning of each day to schedule out that day. Pluck things from your purge list. Work them into your daily schedule, taking into account your energy level and what else you have on your priority list for the day.
I like to do my planning in the morning because I’ve had enough visits from kids in the middle of the night to know I’m better off planning early in the morning. Just in case my curve ball comes at 4:00 AM in the form of a 12 year old who has a fever. But if you would rather spend 10 minutes at the end of your day planning for tomorrow, that’s fine too. You do what works for you.
Now, don’t forget as you process each day to break down your big tasks and figure out what you can get done during that day. You don’t have to eat the elephant in one sitting. It’s okay to break it up if it makes the task more manageable. Small steps are better than no steps. So, put things on your plate that you can actually accomplish. When we’ve hired too much into our day, we end up feeling frustrated when we don’t accomplish all of them. So, think about what is achievable for today and plan your day in that first five or 10 minutes.
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Now, part of processing that purge list and working through our daily schedule is our third P, which is prioritizing. I want to dive into that in just a minute. But first, a quick word from our sponsor.
As I mentioned at the beginning of the podcast, this episode is sponsored by Gusto. An online resource that can help you with your payroll benefits, and your HR needs. They make it really easy to organize, sign and store your employee documents, all in the cloud. So, everything’s available, just a few clicks. Gusto also offers expert HR support, which is a huge help for small businesses like mine, who doesn’t have an HR department. Gusto also automatically files and pays all state, local and federal payroll taxes. That is one less thing for you to worry about.
Right now, our Productivity Paradox listeners get three months free, just by setting up and running your first payroll. It’s really easy to do. It’s something I do myself using Gusto. Just go to gusto.com/paradox to take advantage of this easy to use small business tool.
All right, on to our third piece. Just as a recap, our first two Ps were purge and process. Now, the third P is prioritize. Basically, I want you to find ways to schedule your own priorities before other people cram your calendar with theirs. That means filling your calendar first. Making sure to slot in your important tasks and priorities before you allow others to impose on your day. Whether you have a shared meeting schedule, or an administrative assistant who helps organize your day, or if you’re the calendar administrator, be sure that you are in the driver’s seat of what’s important and not really mission critical.
Like meetings for example. I know a lot of you struggle with meetings, right? Because it’s really a struggle to prioritize them. To meet or not to meet, that’s really the question. It’s hard though when someone invites us to a meeting, or they request our presence, especially when it’s a manager. Whether it’s a face to face gathering or a conference call or a video call, be sure to assess if you’re really needed at the meeting or not. Maybe there are ways to delegate the meeting to someone else. Or maybe you could just attend part of the meeting that pertains to you.
I think we can all agree that too often we find ourselves stuck in an hour long meeting, when we’re only contributing to 10 minutes of the discussion. Meetings can be the biggest time wasters if we don’t have a clear agenda, and if the right people aren’t involved. Inevitably, people are late or they leave early or they’re preoccupied with their devices, so they’re only half listening to the meeting. And then those disruptions mean the meetings last way longer than necessary. A lot of the conversations require repeating when people aren’t 100% focused.
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So, don’t let meetings become a time suck for your calendar. I’m actually going to talk about meetings in just a few weeks in an upcoming episode. So, I don’t want to get into it too much for today. But for now, remember if you’re prioritizing a task or a project, you need to honor that and turn down or turn off any distractions that will make you less productive and effective. If you schedule an hour to work on something, don’t spend half of that time taking phone calls or checking emails, or scrolling through Pinterest. Do you think surgeons check emails or take calls when they’re in the middle of a surgery? Let’s hope not. I would hope they would schedule the surgery time to focus on that one task at hand. They use that time before and after the surgery to attend the tasks that are not related to the surgery.
We should all think the same way. Don’t let these distractions hinder your productivity when you prioritize something. Treat it as if you’ve scrubbed in, and any distraction would mean you have to go back to the sink and wash your hands for 10 more minutes. Back to square one, let’s make sure we treat our priorities, like priorities.
Now, on to the fourth P, which is protect. This goes hand in hand with the prioritizing step. It’s all about protecting your calendar. You don’t have to have a strong suit of armor to protect it and defend your calendar. But you should treat it like a precious commodity. It’s true, our time is precious. So, don’t let others steal away your time by jamming their way into your calendar, wasting your precious time with unproductive meetings or phone calls.
How do you protect your calendar? Well, by filling it up, you need to make sure your calendar doesn’t seem wide open and inviting as if your time isn’t valuable. Anyone can jump into your calendar at any given time. Now, I’m not saying you should fake being busy or being booked either. Be sure to schedule things that maybe you wouldn’t normally put into your calendar. Schedule some meetings with yourself.
One way to protect your calendar is by calendar blocking. I like to block off key productive times into my calendar as if their meetings. That way, other people don’t feel like they can just interrupt. Even if it’s a meeting with myself, I treat it just as if as important as a meeting with a boss. I also block off breaks and I give myself buffer so I have time in between my different tasks. We’re going to get into locking later on in the season. So, we’ll be talking more about this.
But one other thing that I do to bend time to get more hours out of my day is I batch my tasks, which is basically grouping similar tasks together, putting them into the same block of time. For example, I like to batch my email time. Instead of checking email every two minutes, I set aside a few blocks of time throughout the day, where I’ve dedicated time for answering emails. My days are so much more productive when I’m not interrupting myself every single time the email app pings at me, because I want to stop, and I want to
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check it. So, I turn off the notifications, and I only open up my email app when it’s time to answer emails.
Did you know that every interruption, every time that you stop, and then start something back up, it takes your brain over 20 minutes to get back into the rhythm. So, each of those interruptions, each time you stop because the email pings, and you go and you check it, and then you come back to your task. Each one of those interruptions means it’s going to take us 20 minutes or really more to get back into the flow, to really get back into our zone.
That’s why I really stress getting these distractions out of the way when you want to focus on something. When you really want to tackle something big, really make sure that you are blocking out your time and you’re batching your tasks.
Now, planning and scheduling won’t do you any good without the fifth and final P, propel. Basically, we need to have a little velocity, a little bit of momentum to propel us and to push us forward. Planning and planning and planning but not taking any action, that’s going to get you nowhere, literally. So, we need to find a little spark to get things going. Sometimes it just takes a little step in the right direction, a tiny spark to get us moving. Baby steps can lead to small wins, small wins lead to bigger wins and then bigger wins and then even bigger ones. Remember, once you knock one domino down, it becomes easier for the chain reaction to follow. It’s just a matter of getting that first domino in motion.
One tip is that when you have to stop a project to make sure that you’re leaving them in a good place. This is that whole idea we’ve talked about before with leaving some water in the well. You never want to return to a task when it takes more work and energy to get going. For example, if you start a painting,
and then you leave the paint brushes and the paint out, the next time you come back to that project, you’re going to find dried out paint brushes and crusty paint. Which means you spend the first few minutes doing a cleanup that should have happened when you finish the project last.
Leaving a project in a good place, for example, cleaning those paint brushes and protecting the unused paint, that means when you come back to that task, you can start right where you left off, instead of taking two steps back first. That’s a more positive jumping off point than coming back to these dirty brushes, right? It’s the same thing with any sort of projects you’re doing. Leave yourself some notes, leave yourself some ideas of what you want to work on next.
We really want to set ourselves up so we keep that momentum going. At the end of your day, maybe leave yourself a note of what you want to work on tomorrow. Leave a little water in your well so that you can start from a good
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place the next time you’re ready to pick it back up. You want to push forward and you want to propel.
All right, those are the Five Ps of Planning. Just to review them really quickly with you. We have purge, process, prioritize, protect and propel. To make this even easier, I’ve got a download for you of the Five Ps of Planning so you can start to implement this system. Just go to inkWELLpress.com/podcast, and look under Episode 122. You’ll see it in the resources section.
I really think you’ll find this helpful as you try to take control of your calendar. Before I share what next week’s episode is all about, I’d love to ask a quick favor of you. If you are enjoying the podcast, if you’re finding the episodes helpful, if you appreciate and enjoy the messages that we share here about productivity, would you be kind enough to leave me a five star rating and leave a review? It really does mean a lot to me.
But even more than that, it helps to spread the word. It helps to spread the messages that we have here. When you leave a rating and review, or when you post about the podcast in Insta Stories, or if you share it on Facebook, it helps us reach more people. It helps get this message out about stopping the glorification of busy and really focusing our time on what matters most. If you don’t mind doing that, I really would appreciate it.
All right, next week, we’ll continue to find ways to bend time as we talk about how to spend less time on email. Yep, I know it’s a major time suck for a lot of us, right? So, we’re going to dive even deeper on how to spend less time in our inbox. Until next time, have a beautiful and productive week.
Thanks for listening to Productivity Paradox. To get free access to Tanya’s valuable checklist, five minutes to peak productivity, simply go to inkWELLpress.com/podcast.