Managing Interruptions: Fixing Your Calendaring — Beyond the Chaos
Managing interruptions is a huge deal for me. Despite thinking that I’m an awesome multi-tasker, I’m probably just a good fast switcher. As we know, multitasking isn’t a thing. And, it’s why I can’t even listen to a podcast all the way through. But, managing interruptions with calendaring is a thing. And it usually works…unless it breaks. Let’s start by talking about what can break it and then we’ll talk about getting back on track.
My calendaring broke this morning. Here’s why. I’m trying to leave for vacation and doing all those last things to allow for a work-free time away. So, I’m managing interruptions in advance. The first part of that is getting all of next week’s must-do’s done. And that includes writing this blog post. Which I was supposed to start an hour ago.
Breaking Your Calendaring
But, I got interrupted with a last-minute dog boarding change, which resulted in me having to coordinate that, change plans, reverse payments, pay new people, and whatnot. Following that, I got a response to a for-sale item I had listed online. Wanting that extra $150 spending money for my vacation, I set up a time for the person to stop by and made that sale.
Compound that with a business issue where I’ve been troubleshooting something through a support ticket. It all got put back on me to address with another provider. So, I also had to re-start that ticket somewhere else. So, how did I get off track this morning? Life. Life just happens sometimes.
Many other things can break your calendaring as well. Sometimes, it is just procrastination. Or, a flat out emergency. One of my clients got called away for a family emergency the other day. Not only did that break her calendaring, but it also broke mine. What about when something just takes longer than was expected? Or a big one…you just don’t feel focused enough to work on the task you designated at that time.
I’m not going to lie. I’m feeling a little overwhelmed this morning, trying to get out for vacation. Managing interruptions and respecting my calendaring hasn’t worked for me today. But, that doesn’t mean all is lost! So, let’s get to the meat of this. How do you get back on track?
Getting Back on Track
The first step is to recognize that you’ve blown it. You’ve probably passed up some calendar blocks. Hopefully, you didn’t actually miss any meetings, but it’s possible.
Once you are aware you’re off track, the next step is to avoid scrambling around like a crazy person. You have to actually stop and assess. Go back and figure out what you missed. If you actually missed a meeting with another person, it is imperative that you prioritize that communication. Get in touch with them, apologize, and figure out when you can reschedule.
The beauty of calendaring is that you did the active planning. So, you know what you were supposed to do, which allows you to accommodate, now, what you have to do. I will reference one of my favorite quotes here:
“Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.”
I’ve heard this attributed to Dwight D. Eisenhower, but also that it was a US Army maxim. The gist of this is that you learn so much from the planning that you can readjust. You learn so much through the exploration of options and contingencies that it is much easier to adapt.
So, let’s get to moving calendar blocks to accommodate the changes. It can be like working a puzzle. I find it kind of fun. If I could plan and schedule all day, that would probably make me happy. But, it’s also fairly unproductive, which makes me unhappy. So, the goal of rearranging is to do it as efficiently as possible.
If it is a working block you missed, there are four options:
I try to cushion my calendar blocks because I know I like to get up, check Slack, pet the dog, get a drink, etc., while I’m working. So, for example, I’ve been thinking about the topic of this blog post all week. I’ve been pretty excited about it. It’s actually kismet that my calendaring broke this morning so I had good examples. With that said, I was able to reduce the 2-hour block for writing down to 1 1/2 hours, especially by not allowing myself to interrupt me!
Assess whether your calendar block is necessary to do today. Look ahead a week or two and see where it might fit. If you are calendaring regularly, you should be able to see where you have availability. Perhaps you have to move some other things to accommodate the timeliness of moving the current block. But, if all your blocks in place, you should be able to find a hole.
There are times when you might be backed up and have to find a Saturday or an evening to fit the block. I don’t recommend that you allow this practice to become a habit. You need your time with your family and to recreate so you can clear your business brain to become more creative during your business time. But, from time-to-time, you might have to bite the bullet and give up some “free” time.
What happens if you just choose to not do the “thing” at all? Was it time-sensitive and you missed the window? Or, in retrospect, with crunched time, is it just not important to ever do? It could be something that you just add back to a someday/maybe list that you will address at some time in the future. So, in this instance, that calendar block just disappears.
Change Something Else
Perhaps there is something later in your schedule that could be rearranged to accommodate your missed block of time. Go through the future items the same way that you went through the past ones. Can you compress, reschedule, or skip those? One of the things that helped me to get my schedule back on track today was that it appears it will never stop raining. So, I canceled the dog walk. Bummer for Shelby, but I can compress my part of that exercise time, which usually takes about 45 minutes, into a 20-minute yoga session. It gets me some exercise (although not as much), but gets me back on track.
Managing Interruptions (in the first place)
If you are living in a world where you are constantly managing interruptions, you need to look at your overall process. What are those things that are regularly interrupting you? Can you get a virtual assistant to help you answer the phone, manage your emails, or to set your appointments? You can turn off Slack and email. It will be there when you come back.
Do you have processes and procedures set up in your business to handle client changes or support? What about sales? These are areas where you can automate and/or systematize to prevent interruptions. And, to help hand off tasks to others if you prefer.
Some interruptions are true, important, and urgent. But, if they are not, block those into your calendar to handle in the future and don’t let them take you off track.
If you need help systematizing, don’t hesitate to reach out. It’s part of what Beyond the Chaos does!
Originally published at Beyond the Chaos: Small Business Project Management and Operations Consulting.