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Protecting Your White Space

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You open your calendar to preview the upcoming day, and find just two commitments on your schedule. Your reaction? I suggest it should not, in fact, be a sigh of relief, driven by the assumption you’ve got an easy day ahead. On the contrary, I propose you block off time for your priorities, before someone else grabs your open availability. White space on your calendar is much more than a luxury. It’s your focus time for strategic thinking, creativity and overall productivity. Open time on your schedule is not something you want to leave to chance or give away or simply let slip away.

Time Management is Key to Greater Productivity

We can’t magically create more time in the day, but we can effectively manage the 24 hours we’re given. Effective time management is fundamental to personal productivity. It’s all about building in proactive behavior and reducing reactive behavior. No doubt, things will come up that will take us off course, but, if we’ve allotted adequate time to cover our responsibilities, we’ll not only have time for the surprises but will also have the opportunity to advance our core objectives.

Time Blocking is Proactive Time Management

Time blocking, which is proactive time management, involves strategically plugging in tasks and activities for specific times in the day. I’ll give you an example of time blocking in action. Let’s say you learn of a new client project. Once you’ve determined the deadline for completion, you work backwards on your calendar, logging in the time you’ll use to work on the project through finalization, navigating around existing priorities and obligations. With this approach, you won’t put yourself in a time crunch where you risk diminishing overall output. Instead, you’ll work consistently on the project based on the schedule you’ve outlined. You will be confident you’ll have the time needed because you’ve cordoned it off strategically.

Plan for Interruptions

“Nancy,” I hear you say, “What about the inevitable interruptions?” Your answer? We plan for them. In your time blocking, it is important to block off time for housekeeping and surprises each day. How you block your time will be unique to the way you work. Maybe thirty minutes daily for housekeeping works for you. And/or maybe a two-hour Friday afternoon block is best. Reflect on what you typically react to and go from there. Once your blocking is in place, if you find you have no surprises and/or your housekeeping is low one day, you’ll have yourself some bonus time to get ahead. But, importantly, this won’t be wide-open space on your calendar up for grabs.

Plan Time to Make Solid Plans

On the opposite end of the spectrum, scheduling time for strategizing and planning your time is just as important as the planning for interruptions. Having time to plot your course of action safeguards against reactionary behavior. Many people find starting their week with a block of time dedicated to planning or fine-tuning their plans to be a highly productive use of time. Some choose to do this daily. No matter the cadence, the key is to block off this time to ensure it’s available for your use.

Email Processing

As effective as it can be, email communication poses real risks to time management, so I felt it warranted its own section in our discussion. I encourage all my clients to turn off email notifications and set aside time to manage email. To stay on track, plan to only venture into the email inbox during your scheduled email processing time.

Again, how you schedule your email processing will be unique to the way you work. If you can get away with email processing once daily, I recommend you schedule it for mid-morning or mid-afternoon. Email can trigger or warrant a change in your well-planned course of activity. So, if you have something pressing you want to accomplish, get it out of the way before you process your email. If you are waiting on something important via email, it might make sense to scan your inbox first thing, but save the task of email processing for its scheduled time. Finally, don’t wait until the very end of the day to process email because, again, you may come across something that needs your attention before you call it a day, and this could throw off your personal obligations or after-working-hours free time.

White Space & Energy Levels

As you develop your strategy for time blocking, honor your personal energy level cycle. If you’re most focused in the mornings, schedule in tasks requiring greater cognitive load before lunch time. Slot in the more mundane work for the end of the day. If caffeine enhances your focus, you might schedule a writing or editing task to follow your scheduled coffee break. If you’re usually sluggish after lunch (and caffeine is an unproductive salve), try scheduling routine tasks or engaging phone conversations for this time of day.

Be realistic with your expectations. Don’t block off four straight hours to hammer out something that requires deep focus. There is no hard-and-fast rule, but most experts believe we need to take breaks every 45 to 90 minutes to preserve productivity and optimize output. Through his consulting firm, The Energy Project, Tony Schwartz helps businesses and leaders effectively manage and capitalize on individual energy levels. He believes productivity blooms when we effectively manage a cycle of energy expenditure and energy renewal. He advocates taking a break every 90 minutes and encourages individuals to find what works best for their own renewal activity. It might involve taking a brisk walk, deep breathing, having a coffee, reading from a novel or taking a short nap.

Effective Communication Further Protects White Space

Communication plays a role in protecting your white space, too. When you’ve blocked off time to work independently, let those around you know what you are doing. It is ok to request no interruptions unless of emergency. To be certain, this type of activity might encourage others in your orbit to engage in similar time blocking which could enhance your collective output.

Similarly, if you obtain information you know others need to complete their work on a shared project, make plans to communicate with the relevant parties as soon as possible. Be sure to schedule time appropriately when collaborating with others. Ensure they have available space on their calendar and plan any meetings in line with the overall project timeline. This will ensure the other parties’ progress happens optimally, in tandem with yours.

Capitalize on your White Space

Summing up, it’s not only “OK” to be stingy with your time, it’s your responsibility. To protect your white space, engage in thoughtful time blocking. Give your projects and goals their rightful space at the table. Be strategic. Plan for interruptions and housekeeping. And, finally, be true to yourself. Honor your unique energy levels to capitalize on your full potential.

If you’re looking for more ways to protect your time and increase your productivity, plan to join us June 15 for PTA’s Focus Your Productivity Power webinar!  This free event will cover time saving and productivity techniques designed to help you get – and stay – focused.

Sara Genrich & Nancy Kruschke, founders of Productivity Training Academy, came together with the vision of creating practical, results-driven online on-demand courses for time management, productivity and technology training.  With over 50 years of combined productivity experience, Sara and Nancy’s knowledge, skills and talents illuminate valuable paths to business gain, serving as an effective catalyst for positive change.

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