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How do I manage a hectic schedule that is always changing? (Part 2)

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In the first post in this series on how to manage a hectic, constantly changing schedule, we reframed individual hectic moments within a big-picture lens of your “Blue Sky.” What’s a higher, meaningful purpose for your being in that space today and/or every day? Applying that filter to those smaller moments will focus and motivate you.

In this post, we’re tackling the elements of your day that make it “hectic” and “constantly changing.” You might initially think this is as easy — or impossible — as just clearing your schedule. Don’t mass delete just yet! To truly fix an issue, you have to understand its root cause, then solve for that, or the issue keeps cropping up like a weed. So your next step towards effective time management is another internal one (of course!). It’s asking yourself where you fit in all this chaos. You might assume you are the victim or target of other people’s bad time management — and you may be at least partially right. But an earnest audit of how you arrived at where you are will help you permanently fix what’s actually causing the upheaval.

Your next step towards effective time management is another internal one (of course!). It’s asking yourself where you fit in all this chaos.

Here are three questions to ask yourself in a quiet moment:

  1. What specific experiences made today feel hectic? Write them down so you can interact with them as information, not emotionally resonant memories.
  2. For each one, ask: “Why did this make my day feel hectic?” Write the literal answers down. For example, you might say, “I already had two meetings set first thing this morning, and a third one was too much.” Or “I was running behind when they stopped me in the hall and asked for that favor, and it set me even further behind in the day.”
  3. What would have made the experience better? (And how active, vs. passive, can you remain in your answer here?) If you’re resisting any possible options, write them down anyway…then ask yourself why “better” isn’t a possibility. Yep, write that down, too.

As you’re conducting your audit, especially the last part, check for any internal reasons your day might be overbooked, in addition to external things you don’t control. Are you seeing patterns of leaving or arriving late that quickly back your day up? Are you suffering the consequences of putting off prep work until the last minute? These are common habits that you’ll more easily undo after your Blue Sky starts connecting even routine or dreaded tasks to meaningful possibilities. Now go deeper: ask yourself, “Is my feeling hectic and overscheduled in any way in service to myself?” For instance, do I have a fear of saying no and being disliked or marginalized…do I associate being busy with relevance or value…do I stay extra-busy to avoid bigger or more complicated tasks, conversations or thoughts? This isn’t to blame you for your too-busy days; it’s to see what part of your scheduling issues might be in your control to fix.

Ask yourself, “Is my feeling hectic and overscheduled in any way in service to myself?” This isn’t to blame you for your too-busy days; it’s to see what part of your scheduling issues might be in your control to fix.

Write this down: “When my day is busy, I feel bad about ______. And I feel good about _____.” It’s important to think about both of these things, because in trying to eliminate the things that make you feel bad about a jam-packed day, you want to preserve the things that actually make you feel effective and even proud. As an example, you might feel bad about missing lunch or not spending enough time prepping for an important presentation. But you might feel good about having interacted with every team member that morning or about having solved a critical problem for someone. 

With all of this information before you, there’s one more step: rewrite your hectic day as a blissful one — but only change the things you control! Do you wake up 20 minutes earlier to allow for unpredictable commute times? Do you tell the friend you chatted with in the garage that you’ll check in with them after your morning meeting instead? Do you stay after the meeting to review priorities with your boss after being given a second big assignment that's due the same day as one you’re already working on? Write down multiple possibilities for each of the hectic moments on your list. Bonus step: now write alternate responses to the “constantly changing” moments in your day. How might you respond differently to a last-minute meeting being added to your day or to a critical meeting being canceled? We’ll talk about this more specifically in a later post in this series, but brainstorm even small moments of agency on the page now, to continue shifting away from feeling like a passive participant in your own day. Remember to connect all your choices to your Blue Sky as you go!

With all of this information before you, there’s one more step: rewrite your hectic day as a blissful one — but only change the things you control!

Once your audit and do-over are done, it’s important to socialize what you’ve learned and decided. Tell a colleague, friend or boss that you’re working on optimizing your workdays and may have questions, conversations or requests of them over the coming week. And if you’re a leader, go through the same steps and questions with your team members about their hectic days. That will help you find patterns within the team you have the ability to fix with new workflows or technology. And, at minimum, it can earn you trusted partners in prioritizing and executing when your own days get way too full. Then you can begin the actual work of overhauling your hectic days with support behind you — and possibly help others take control of their days, too.

Ready for the next step? It's time to optimize.


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