“If I’m in meetings all day from 8am until 8pm, when am I ever going to get time to do this Clarifying and Organising thing?”
“Well, quite” I reply, “and what about actually working on all the items you have already put on your lists?”
Following this common coaching conversation, I discuss with clients that they should take back control of their calendars and recommend that they block time at punctuated points throughout the day to Clarify all the new ‘stuff’ that’s arrived into their world, and also to block other chunks of time to Engage with the lists and actually start “Getting Things Done®”. People seem to treat their diaries as though they have no say in them anymore, and they simply have to obey what is in there – even if someone else has put it there.
For the Clarifying part, how about 30 minutes, three times a day? For Engage, how about a two-hour slot every day? Not forgetting the Weekly Review® of course, for 90 minutes once a week. Then it’s a case of fitting any meetings around these commitments. Instruct anyone who can control your calendar, including you(!), that if something means these have to move, that is what must happen: move not cancel. Then tweak this as needed: if you’re not feeling good about the length of your lists, add Engage time. If your email and meeting notes are overflowing, increase Clarifying time.
If you find this calendar strengthening a useful idea, how about also saving time to ‘think strategically’ or to ‘read recent work-relevant books’ or ‘work on your most ambitious project’ or simply to sit and think?
When I started to learn and practise GTD®, I didn’t need to block time in this way in my own diary; for the simple reason that I wasn’t very busy. I was starting my own business and balancing that with being an actor: I wanted to be busier, I wanted more meetings and for more people to be emailing me! By the time things were thankfully busier, I had strengthened my own GTD muscles and could rely on gut feel for when I needed to Clarify more or Engage more or do a Weekly Review, and fit this in with my other daily activities.
While these muscles were working well however, it seems others have been a bit neglected, leading to my personal trainer recently suggesting that I put times in my diary to do the exercises he has recommended to me. Immediately on the defensive, I asked if he did this himself. He said that he didn’t need to as it was such a habit for him to work out, he managed to find time and fit this in naturally with his other daily activities.
It seems the calendar can be a great tool to help develop new virtuous habits – be they the mental press-ups of the Clarify, Reflect and Engage steps, or actual physical ones.
I still don’t need a calendar reminder to tell me when to get my inbox to zero, however, I have just done a short exercise routine because my diary told me to!
I’ll leave you with this delightful 90-second video from a 2017 interview with Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. In it, Gates explains that he learnt a lesson from how careful Buffett is with his time. He talks about how he had fallen into the busy trap himself before realising “It’s not a proxy of your seriousness that you’ve filled every minute in your schedule”.