In order to coach an achievement oriented person to avoid the 'squeeze it in' philosophy of scheduling, It's important to attack the process of time blocking in the right order, scheduling in first things first.
Steven Covey, in his book of the same wave, uses "big rocks" as a metaphor for people's most important priorities and values. What are the big rocks in your life? Is it time with loved ones? A worthy cause? Your faith, education, or future plans? Providing for your family? Mentoring others?
Whatever they are, it's critical to put your big rocks in order first to make time blocking work for you. That means identifying your most important priorities - not just at work, but in life - and blocking out time for them before filling in your day with tasks and activities that don't support those priorities.
When Steven Covey and A. Roger Merrill used this story in their book First Things First (Simon & Schuster), they didn't cite the source. But its message is powerful and worth my re-telling here:
One day an expert in time management was speaking to a group of business students. Standing before the group of high-powered overachievers, he said, "Okay, time for a quiz." He pulled out a one-gallon, wide mouthed Mason jar and set it on a table in front of him. Then he produced about a dozen fist-sized rocks and carefully placed them, one at a time, into the jar. When the jar was filled to the top, and no more rocks would fit inside, he asked, "Is this jar full?" Everyone in the class said, "Yes." He said, "Really?"
He reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. He dumped some gravel in and shook the jar, causing pieces of gravel to work themselves down into the spaces between the big rocks. He asked the group once more, "Is the jar full?" This time the class was on to him. "Probably not," one of them answered. "Good!" he replied.
He reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. He started dumping in the sand, and it went into all the spaces left between the rocks and the gravel. Once more, he asked the question "Is the jar full?" "No!" the class shouted. Once again, he said, "Good!"
Then he grabbed a pitcher of water and began to pour it in until the jar was filled to the brim. He looked up at the class and asked, "What is the point of this illustration?" One eager beaver raised his hand and said, "The point is, no matter how full your schedule is, if you try really hard, you can always fit some more things into it!"
"No," the speaker replied. "The truth this illustration teaches us is if you don't put the big rocks in first, you'll never get them in at all."
The first step toward effective time blocking is to grid your day into 15-minute increments. Why 15 minutes? For an effective executive, manager, salesperson, or administrative person, time is of great value. Even 15 minutes can represent a lot of revenue and production. Losing even two or three of these small blocks could represent hundreds of dollars.
Family and Personal Life Comes First
The most common mistake people make is not putting their personal life in first. We tend to start with work and squeeze in the family into what is leftover. Start with the family!
Do you have dinner together as a family? Block it in. Are there activities you don't want to miss your children do? Do you need a date weekly with your spouse or significant other? Are there family traditions you wish to establish?
In my house Saturday morning is breakfast out with the whole family. It really helps us connect as a family for the whole week. Sunday night is game night. We turn off the television and play board games as a family that night.
Where is your personal workout time, quiet time, personal improvement time, study time? What time do you go to bed and wake up every day? You have to put all those things in first or you will never get them in.
Once you have blocked all your personal appointments in including your rest or sleeping time, you will find you have close to seventy or eighty hours each week that you could devote to work.
The truth is that would be too much to invest in work over the long haul. I find that people who work that much do so because they are highly inefficient with the time they do work. In my view no one should work that level of hours each week. You might have to crank it up to hit some deadlines periodically but it should not become a weekly occurrence.
Once you place your personal life into your time blocked schedule you have ample time to do any job well, put in that extra so you can advance your career, and still have more left over.
Key Daily and Weekly Appointments
Whether you are an executive, salesperson, or an administrative person, there are key activities each day and week that should be appointments. They need to be blocked into your schedule. What are the meetings that need to be daily or weekly? Who needs to attend these meetings? You have to ask that so they align their time blocked schedule with you. Do I need to set the agenda for the day or week for anyone?
The key daily or weekly appointments flow out of my job description and key tasks and objectives for my job. What are my top half dozen responsibilities? How are results and success measured by my superior? What are the things that I can do to improve my company's bottom line? What can I do that will increase sales or increase customer retention rates?
These are the questions to reflect on no matter your job title. These are universal whether you are a mid-level manager, administrative staff member starting your career with a new company, or a salesperson on the front line. Your appointments that you put in your time blocked schedule flow out of these questions.
Insert Your Flex Time
You are now ready to strategically place your flex time. Where in your schedule are you going to need the catch up slots? How can you best use the three to four slots of thirty minutes flex time you are allocated in your schedule daily. One caution is to avoid your break time or lunch time with your flex time. You might be tempted to increase your lunch break since you have more time that the standard one hour most of us allot.
The best method is to use the flex time right after you have a block of very important uninterrupted time. In a salespersons schedule that would be right after your prospecting or lead follow up block. Some people use the flex time before they go into their important activity time. I don't recommend that because you might get distracted with a problem and fail to stay on your time block.
Minimize Your Low Level Activities
The more that we can squeeze the lower level activities in smaller amounts of time the more productivity will increase. We will never be able to remove low level activities out of our lives. The best we can hope for is to minimize their presence and impact.
There are two techniques that will allow you to reduce their influence. The first is to know what they are. By knowing what the typical low level activities are you can better construct your time block schedule and plan around them.
I would define a low level activity as something that doesn't add to company revenue or increase the quality of customer experience. These are broad categories so be careful. It's easy to take the view that all you do fits into one of these two categories. This is especially true for the second one of customer experience. The "really" question is: Is it "really" important to the customer or does it just make you feel better about yourself? For example, does the customer really need to talk with you now, or can they wait?
Most struggling companies and businesses are struggling because of a lack of sales. An increase in sales or revenue tends to fix a lot and cover a lot of internal mistakes. If you are going to over focus on one of the two, focus on the sales side. Push off the other lower level activities to help influence sales where ever you can. This is true of anyone and everyone in all companies.