One good thing about getting older is that you become more aware of your strengths and weaknesses and learn how to use the former to mitigate the latter. This is why my Myers-Briggs scores are skewed these days – questions about whether I make lists etc are answered yes, but that’s only because I have schooled myself in that discipline to rein in my popcorn machine of a brain, not because that’s my nature.
A few years ago – maybe a Uniting thing, but maybe from before as well – I realised that I spend all my working day in meetings being given work to do that I can’t get done because my day is full of meetings. That’s just a recipe for overwhelm and burnout. That’s when I started blocking out time in my diary to do specific tasks.
I came to be very glad of that discipline when COVID struck. Working from home we are in meeting overload as I have discussed previously. By making sure you have some time blocked out for what Cal Newport famously calls Deep Work, you go some way to managing your workload.
Now I’m always quick to have a go at Microsoft for making things simultaneously not quite as good and more complicated that other products. But I am a big fan of their Insights product (which is now being merged into a new platform called Viva and will probably end up being not quite as good as it is at the moment…).
Insights send you a report each week about how you are spending your time: how much is in meetings and how much not, how often you are working outside work hours and who you work with most closely. It also automatically blocks out focus time every day (if that’s how you set it up) so you can have at least 1 hour a day safeguarded to do the things you need to do outside meetings.
I also use my calendar more actively than I used to – as a senior manager in an organisation, I spend a lot of time reviewing other people’s work. So I ask them to let me know when I will get it so I can block out time. This means I can pay it the attention they deserve, as well as avoiding it getting lost in the email morass. And maybe for them, knowing that they have a slot in my diary helps focus their minds!
I have also extended this discipline to my blogging, which is why you are hearing from me so often 🙂 I now put aside some time on a Friday morning to write. During the week I mull over what it will be about and that usually means I can bash it out in the 20 minutes I give myself. I have a Trello board set up with the ideas, so I can select the one that is most relevant for that week. If there isn’t anything useful to say, I won’t write just for the sake of it, but knowing there is time to do it is a useful prompt.