Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Living In Your Calendar

I just read an article today on Harvard Business Review, thinking I might learn about a new productivity tool.  The article is called To-Do Lists Don't Work by Daniel Markovitz.

Turns out I was already following his suggested alternative, I just hadn't thought to give it a name.  I like the one he's come up with, Living In Your Calendar.  Having used this method for a few years now, I share it for your consideration. 

Here's Daniel's advice:  "The alternative to the feckless to-do list is what I call "living in your calendar." That means taking your tasks off the to-do list, estimating how much time each of them will consume, and transferring them to your calendar."  "In essence, you're making a production plan for your work."

For me, what that means is that my day, while still full, is realistic.  If the task doesn't fit, I move it to a day and time where it does.  And if something of higher priority comes up (for example, a client meeting), I move the task to a future day/time on the calendar to make room. 

  • Sanity  As I said, it makes for a realistic day.  Things don't so much move off the list as they just get done.  And I don't lose track of the rest of the work because it's already been scheduled somewhere else on the calendar.    
  • No Guilt  The to-do list always made me feel like I was starting my day with a backlog of things I "should" have bene able to cross off yesterday.  The calendar method instead follows the philosophy that there's a time and place for everything.
  • Prioritization  Since I'm scheduling, not just making a running list, I put things on the calendar in a manner that corresponds to due dates, appointments, and even best time of day for my work style. 
  • Running Time Tracker  When I look back on my week or my month, it's easy to see where I've spent my time and then I can adjust on the go-forward if I think it's not in balance with my business goals.  It can also be an easy way to keep track of accomplishments.
  • Tough Fit For The Corporate Environment  If your typical day is back-to-back meetings with other people, you'll spend too much time moving your to-do appointments around.  At best, you might be able to work them into early or late day, but even then, only if you have little to no meetings with people in other time zones.
  • Public Viewing  If others (like your team) have access to the contents on your calendar, they will also see these appointments, along with the details.  Unless the whole team has adopted this method, these appointments with yourself to do work may look to others more like free time such that they can insert themselves by calling/stopping by.  It can take a lot of discipline for you to protect these to-do appointments.
  • Harder To Delegate  If you set up to-do's as tasks (Outlook), you can delegate them.  If you set them up as appointments, you can't.  The calendar approach assumes you are the only one who can do the task, or at least that you need to be involved while it's been accomplished.
So depending on your work situation, Living Your Calendar is an approach to consider.  The small business leader, solopreneur, or senior leader with a manageable meeting schedule (perhaps, 4 hours or less per day spent in meetings) would seem like a good fit.  Corporate leaders who are already double and triple booked in meetings from morning til night, not so much.

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