I’m pretty sure that minivans are magic. How else can the contents of a fully packed minivan manage to also fully pack a dorm room? I swear, minivans are bigger on the inside than they are on the outside. They have to be, or why was I wondering what I needed to bring back home the day I moved my kid into college?
And that’s the thing, stuff expands to fill the space provided to fit it, expenses expand to take the money to pay them, and meetings expand to take all of the time in the work day. Ever notice that the real work of the day seems to be done in the deep dark of the night, because that’s the only time “free” where no one is breaking one’s concentration and there aren’t any meetings?
I said minivans are magic. But I didn’t say they were good magic. Nor are the expenses good magic, or those meetings, even as they magically seem to expand to take all the space, all the money, and most certainly all one’s time.
So it’s time to conduct a few magic feats of one’s own, and claim back some of that time. And you might be thinking I’m going to say “use a calendar”, and well, in part, of course I’m going to say that. But merely using a calendar isn’t going to beat back the black magic of a million meetings. Those meetings are the enemy of controlling our time, and it’s a warzone. It’s time for a bit of oh-so-polite rebellion.
My time is mine first, yours second. That’s the mantra: the magic spell. Always remember that your time, your day, your life, is always yours first.
So claim it. And that means actually blocking out your time for what matters to you on your calendar, and when someone tries to double-book you, say that other “magic” word. “No.”
“No.” Just “No.” It’s a complete sentence. And it’s magic. A solid “no,” without any sort of justification or explanation that can then be talked around, makes it clear that the time you’ve set out for yourself is not to be double booked. Feel free to set aside a couple of hours, each day, that you can use to do something that gives you a sense of accomplishment, or success, or happiness. It can certainly be during work, and work related. But it can also be after work, and very personal. What matters is that you’ve claimed the time for you. Then don’t let someone double book over those times: your life, your time, you get to say “no”. Those meetings, if they really are important and if they really need you there? The organizer will find another time. People respect the simple, clear, solid “no”. It’s magic.
There’s another art of war to apply here: be the first to the battlefield. Before someone can get to your calendar, block out the times when you want to be doing what you want to get done at the times that’s best for you. No more midnight reviews of accounts receivable: I’m doing those at 10am on a Tuesday from now on, and anyone who wants to double book can just use that 10:30am on Tuesday slot that is wide open.
I’m not saying to block out all of your day so that the meeting organizers can’t set up meetings. I’m saying block out the times you need in your day so that what matters to you can get done, every day. Wednesday at 2pm you want to call your daughter at college to catch up for 15 minutes? Block it out, and if someone double books you, tell them to move the start time to 2:15pm, thank you very much. You want to meet for three hours with a financial advisor to rework your investments and expenses on Friday at 2pm? Someone tries to double book, you say “No. I’ve the morning available.” Why you are busy isn’t their business, not really: what is their business is knowing when you are available, so tell them that.
Some magic is really that simple: schedule on your calendar times every day to do what makes you feel accomplished and happy, don’t let anyone have first dibs on your time other than you, and remember that the polite “no” is the other magic word.