Susan Fennema talks with Let’s Work Network about Being Intentional With Your Time. Time management is all about being intentional, not a victim to responding to what comes at you. A primary way to be intentional is to use your calendar by structuring your day to prioritize what matters most.
Listen for these key tips:
- Block calendar time for personal priorities like self-care first, before work
- Next schedule professional priorities – focused work, meetings, obligations
- Limit interruptions by checking email, messages, and social media during set times
- Don’t use email as a project management tool
- Set expectations on response times to reduce constant “emergencies”
- Use movable time blocks to accommodate changing priorities
- Review and adjust your calendar daily to align with priorities and energy levels
- Balance focused time with breaks to stay energized and avoid burnout
Please find the full video transcription below:
Emily Bissen: Okay, welcome everybody. We’re so excited that you’re here. Susan is going to talk to us about time management today, and I’ll let her introduce herself, but I’m glad that you’re here because we could all use a little bit of support when it comes to time management. Am I right? Okay, great. So, Susan, I’ll let you take the reins and introduce yourself. We are very excited that you’re here.
Susan Fennema: Well, I am excited to be here, and thanks so much for inviting me and having me here. This is absolutely my favorite topic to talk about. I am happy to be interrupted if anybody has questions while we go, please put them in the chat. People are watching the chat. They’ll have to interrupt me, but that’s okay. We’ll address those questions as they arise. Also, I will ask all of you as I’m talking initially here, first try to pull up your calendar on your computer. We are going to do a little bit of exercise as we go through this, so hopefully you’ll leave with a little bit of structure in place. So we’re going to talk about time management, but the important part about this is being intentional about it. We can manage our time to high heaven, but if we aren’t doing the things that are the most important things, it doesn’t matter.
We all have limited time. The people who really excel in business and in the world are the ones who know how to make that time go the furthest, who use that time the most intentionally on the things that matter the most.
So jumping in here, and let me give you a little rundown of who I am. I’m Susan Fennema. I’m the Chaos Eradicating Officer, that CEO, with Beyond the Chaos helps overwhelm small business owners, simplify their operations, and manage their processes so that they can grow their businesses and get their lives back. So many of us are trapped by our business. We’re letting it drive us instead of us driving it. This is one of the victim mentalities that I will talk about as far as time as well. So we’ll speak about that victim mentality as we get into this.
I have 30 plus years, I have stopped saying the exact number, of experience in project management and operations. I also worked for 10 years as an ops director at a small pharma ad agency, and I fully believe if you can do advertising, you can do anything. It is one of the hardest environments to work in, with the most challenging people and so many moving parts and that gives you a skillset to be able to quickly switch and to be able to learn how to say no when you have to say no. I have 13 years of work from home. I was ahead of the curve. In 2010, I worked as a project manager and ops manager for a small software company, which actually pushed me to want to remain virtual, and that’s when I started my own business. I have been a business owner for seven years. I’m also a home chef, so managing time comes into play there too. If you’re trying to make a four or seven-course dinner for 12 people in a limited amount of time, a little bit of project management plays into that as well.
Be Intentional About Your Time Working Virtually
So, enough about me, let’s jump into how life has changed since 2020. I’ve been virtual since 2010, but most people have not. Most people went to a job. If you were a small business owner, you probably didn’t have as much expectation of being on all the time. What I’ve learned since 2020 is everyone is living and working in a different situation. Some love working from home, and some absolutely hate it. So as you’re working with your clients, it’s important to remember that. They are in a different world and it’s a struggle for some. If they’re working virtually, and as you ladies will know, you might have elderly childcare to deal with. You might have a spouse who also works from home. You’re having kids coming in and out throughout the day and interrupting you. You could be working in an office, mine, I have a great office here, but you could also be working at your kitchen table, a bed in your studio apartment, on your couch, the back of a van.
We can work anywhere now. I talked to one guy who was holed up in his bathroom with a folding table and chair because it was the only place that he could go to have privacy. So there are a lot of different work examples or work situations that we have to take into account and the results of all of these are a complete and total lack of boundaries and structure. Work from home, people, even us as owners and leaders of our own company as freelancers working for others, we don’t know how to draw those boundaries with our clients. We don’t know how to manage the child interaction, that refrigerators being delivered as is happening today. All of those things cross over because now we don’t have a work-life balance. We are managing a lifestyle that we’ve created. And that lifestyle, might not be balanced and that might be okay, quite honestly, I don’t want eight hours at work and eight hours on personal and eight hours to sleep.
Be Intentional About Your Time and Prevent Burnout
I like working more. So this is really about how are you setting it up so that your work and life are balanced the way you want it, so you’re managing your lifestyle. What we want to prevent is the overwhelm and burnout that can come from constantly working. So these theories that I’m going to share, are going to apply whether you want to work 60 hours a week or 10, whether you’re a stay-at-home parent, a corporate employee, or a business owner, anybody can use these skills to help them manage that lifestyle better. Quickly jumping in, we want to talk about these things.
Be Intentional About Your Time, Not a Victim
The first thing is being intentional. A lot of people are feeling like they’re being dragged around by their schedule or being very reactive.
You are in charge all; don’t be a victim. You are in charge of your time. You are in charge of your business. So don’t be a victim to the outside forces, intentionally use your time. And so what does that mean? Stephen Covey, some of y’all might’ve heard of him, wrote a great book many, many years ago called The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. But one of the things he talks about is how to fit things into your day. So y’all might’ve heard this story before, I’m going to try to bring it to life as it applies to this. If you have a really large jar, and I always want to do this as an actual demonstration, but I don’t want a bunch of water and sand on my desk, so you’re going to have to visualize with me.
We have a large jar, it’s a glass jar, and we have a whole bunch of rocks. We fill the jar up with our rocks, it’s full, it’s full of rocks, so you think. Pebbles, sand, and water could still be added in there. So you can put pebbles next, you can put sand next, you can put water in. Now you have a full jar.
The point of this is to do the important things first because the rocks won’t fit if they go in last. The rocks are the most important thing. And the point is you want to eliminate distractions. So we don’t want to be a victim to outside forces like email, social media, phone, texts, chats, all those things that ping, ping, ping, pinging, ping all day. We want to eliminate those distractions so that we can do the important things first so that we can focus on those rocks.
Be Intentional About Your Time to Manage Expectations
The other part of this is it helps you set realistic expectations. So as we’re managing our calendar with these concepts, we’re able to look out and say, okay, my day is full, my week is full.
When is the next time I can realistically meet with somebody? I can’t meet with a new client for three weeks, is that good? Maybe that’s not good. Maybe I need to rearrange some priorities so that I can meet with a new client sooner than that. So that view that we’re going to create together lets you help set much more realistic expectations of what you can manage, what you can handle.
Prioritize Your Rocks
So, let’s start with our rocks. What do y’all think would be a rock that would go on a calendar? I’m going to now look at the chat quickly here as y’all are welcome to do that or just speak up, sleep, have meals, client work. Okay. What else have we got? Anybody else have something that you think is a rock?
All right, walking our dog, I agree with that. Exercise, so we’re getting on the right track a little bit. Megan, your answer of client work, I think you’re going to be surprised, is absolutely not on the rock list. The rocks are our personal priorities and these are what they are and these are in the priority they are. Because the number one thing that we have to do is take care of ourselves. We cannot give, we cannot serve unless we have something to give. If all is taken from us, then we are in a bad place.
Be Intentional About Your Time for Spirituality
So, first priority is your God or your spirit, however you look at that spiritual aspect of yourself. It could be daily prayer, it could be meditation, it could be attending church once a week, whatever brings peace to your soul and revives your spirit. That’s the main part of our selves is that spirit.
If that spirit’s not there, that’s when we’re going to get burnout, that’s when we’re going to get overwhelmed, that’s when we’re going to not act nice to people. We have to act nice to people and when we get overwhelmed and burned out, we don’t. So make sure that we’re looking at our spirit first.
Be Intentional About Your Time for Self-care
Next is health. So, are we exercising and moving? I think a lot of business owners will just say, “Oh, I don’t have time to go to the gym.” “Oh, I don’t have time to walk the dog.” “I’m just going to sit at my desk and work all day.” When you’re young, you might be able to overcome that. Let me tell you that at my age of 57 years old, I have learned the hard way that if I don’t make that a priority, I end up at the chiropractor, I end up at the doctor, I’m sick, I am miserable.
I make it a point that I have to move every day. And the other part of that is eating properly. When you get stressed, there are two reactions. One is I’ll just drive through McDonald’s. The other is I’ll just skip a meal. Neither one of those is a good solution. Neither one of those is going to feed your body the right fuel it needs to get that brain working. So make sure that you’re eating properly, that you’re standing up taking breaks. I’m at my standing desk right now. I love to present from my standing desk; I also have my watch that reminds me to stand up when I don’t. Those types of things are very important to make sure that you have longevity here.
Be Intentional About Your Time for Social Interaction
The other rock is social, family, friends, your kids, lunches with colleagues. How are you socially interacting? Especially now that we’re working from home.
Many of us are alone. I have a team of 14, at least I interact with them every day on Slack, but still, you need personal interaction to help you be a lot more even-keeled. So that has to be a priority. And then, as Riley mentioned, sleep.
Be Intentional About Your Time for Sleep
Sleep is hugely important. If you are not getting enough sleep, your brain is not powered to serve others. Your day starts the night before. So it’s one of the very first things that we’re going to put on our calendar, so let’s do it together.
Calendaring to be Intentional About Your Time
Everybody, pull up your calendar. I’m going to stop this screen share here and share mine, I created a blank one so that I can walk you through this, but everybody, pull up a calendar here and let’s work on this together. Let’s see. I’m not sure if I shared my whole screen, I think I did.
I don’t want to do that. Here we go. Just the calendar, that’s what we want. You’ll notice mine is blank. I’m going to show you mine at the end, my working calendar at the end. But let’s start now. I know y’all already have things on your calendar so you’re not starting from scratch, so sometimes it’s hard to get started on this and that’s okay.
What I recommend is let’s put the intention in first, and if for the next two or three weeks as you have to manage what was already there, that’s okay. We can rearrange or do the best we can as we ease into it. But let’s start with those personal rocks. So what’s the first thing we want to put in?
When are we going to bed? I like to get up around 6:30, so I need a time… I do a evening wind down starting about 10:00. Okay, and easy way to set this up, repeat it so you’re not entering this every day. Okay?
It’s a great idea if you can maintain the same thing through the weekend because that keeps you a little bit more even in your sleep. But if you’re out having a good time, that’s okay. We can rearrange that and once they’re repeating, if you know, for example, on Friday, I have to get up at 5:30, so on Thursday night, I want to make sure that I’m actually winding down earlier at night, so I’m just going to move it for that day. So, sleep first.
The next thing is to make sure that we have our spirit. If you go to church every Sunday, put that on the calendar. I’m just going to turn on my little St. Michael’s thing here because it pulls in most of my church activities. What it doesn’t pull in is my morning routine, which starts shortly after I wake up, where I do daily readings every morning.
So I will start daily readings, and I do them only Monday through Friday, so I’m just going to set that up that way, too. So whatever you are doing, if it’s meditation, whatever you’re putting on your schedule, go ahead and set that up. Again, on Friday I won’t be here, so on Friday I’m not doing it. I’m just going to have to skip it. I can’t drive all the way to Dallas and do this. I can maybe do some in the car, but it’ll be a little bit different. So, set it up the way that you want it to work. I’m actually working on my church festival, so I have that event slated for me to work on every weekend. So that will pull those in. And now, let’s talk about health. When are we working out? When are we walking the dog, whatever our thing might be? I walk my dog on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, so I’m going to put that in as a custom Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and there we go.
The other thing that we don’t think about a lot that I actually go to the gym on Tuesday and Thursday, so gym on Tuesday and Thursday, and done.
Another thing we don’t think about is eating. When are we eating? In the morning, I do breakfast after I walk the dog before I go to the gym. So I’m going to have this on my calendar Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for ease I’m going just to do it for quickness here, I’m just going to do it here, but I would do it on Tuesday and Thursday before, so that’s set up for the week. I’m not doing it on Friday. Again, I have a meeting downtown, so I can’t do it. But see how I’m making choices as I’m already going? I know I can’t, that’s okay, we can give it up, but what’s our intention tension?
The other is, what are we doing socially? Here’s one I love. I don’t want to miss my Aggie games. So I actually have a calendar that shows me when they are, and it pops up, and I’m going to watch that. So you might have kids’ soccer games. Get that scheduled on your calendar so you can go to them. And then also holidays. Are we recognizing holidays? I think this is an important thing. I don’t think we have many this week, but turn on, you can subscribe to those calendars, pull them so that Thanksgiving shows up so that if we go back here to Labor Day, it actually shows up on our calendar, and we remember not to work that day, right? Okay, so that’s our main thing. That’s a little bit of an example of what our main setup might look like. Any questions on that before we go to the next thing?
I’m checking chat here, too. I love the cookies. Okay, so let’s jump into our next priority here. Let me reshare the screens. I’ll get to look at my fishies while I pull this up.
All right, so our pebbles are our professional priorities. These are the things we want to put into our calendar next. So, our first professional priority is performing our main job function.
- I mean, what is it?
- Is it working on the business?
- Is it making sales?
- Is it coding or creating?
- If you’re a software developer or a social media manager, is it doing that client work?
- What is the main function of your job?
And that’s going to be different for all of us. For me, it’s working on my business. So, I have things slated on my calendar called focus time that I’m focused on. What are the big things I need to do to move my business ahead? It used to be sales, but now I have help with sales. As you grow, those priorities might change. I needed to make sure that sales were always accommodated.
If you are doing all the things in your business, you’re going to have to decide what’s most important, and that can be very hard. What is your main function? But what we can set up is a way that you can see that it is balanced. So, are you doing the client work the majority of the time, but are you allowing enough time to continue to sell and to continue to create those things that help you grow your business?
Be Intentional About Your Time to Know Yourself
Another thing we want to look at for the intentional work is knowing yourself. We want to do this intentional work during our most energetic times. If you wake up full of energy and ready to go, maybe that’s when you want to do your work. Maybe you don’t walk the dog first thing, maybe you do your work and then walk your dog, that’s okay, whatever works for you.
I am definitely one who, if I have little things hanging over my head, little to-do things that I should have checked off, can’t focus on the big things. So most of my focus time is in the afternoon, but other people find that stuff draining, and so if they’re working on their to-do list, they’re exhausted, and they can’t think about the big things.
So think about those things when scheduling that on your calendar, too. And then we’re going to talk a little bit about when we’re working on the business when we’re doing big picture things, how do we make that time work? So if I’ve slated two hours to work on something, I sure better know what I’m doing in those two hours first, what are the priorities that I’m working on during those two hours, and am I giving myself a deadline?
Be Intentional About Your Time with the Pomodoro Technique
There’s something called the Pomodoro Technique. You can go to pomofocus.io, as an example of a little timer that you can use. Pomodoro is essentially a: I work for 50 minutes, I break for 10, or I work for 25 minutes and I break for five. So, you set yourself up that you have deadlines. If you just have a general intention, it’ll make progress, great. If you have a deadline, you’re like, I got to get it done. By this time, you’ll actually accomplish something. So, setting up those little mini-deadlines for yourself is great.
If you cannot accomplish the goal or the intention during that timeframe, you need to break them down more. That means maybe there’s a smaller piece of it that you can accomplish during that time. This is a project management type feature where you project manage yourself to accomplish big things by breaking it down into very small steps.
Pomodoro helps with that because that deadline thing, you’re like, I got to get it done by then. The other thing to remember on these professional priorities is that you will have appointments, you will have meetings, you will have all of that stuff.
Be Intentional About Your Time by Including Travel Time
If you are driving to something, don’t forget to include your travel time. If you’re going to need someone, that’s often something that gets overlooked, “Oh yeah, I can squeeze that in and then,” “Oh yeah, I didn’t have time to get there.” Or you’re frantically driving too fast, which is also probably not that safe. So make sure you’re putting the travel time in.
Be Intentional About Your Time with Office Hours
Other parts of the professional priorities are your obligations to others. So, if you have a team member, if you have a virtual assistant, if you have someone supporting you, you have to spend time with them to make sure that they are bonded with your team, that they understand what they’re doing for you.
It could be networking meetings, it could be mastermind meetings, which I know Let’s Work does. So those also are obligations to others. Those need to go on your calendars. One of the things I hear a lot is for those who are running teams, if they have a lot of team members, they’re like, “Oh, I’m just interrupted all day because they have to ask me questions.” I run into this tool a lot with software developers, in particular where the software developers started the business because they were fantastic software developers, and now they have these team members, and they’re directing them, and they’re delegating to them, but they’re still the most knowledgeable coder. So everybody’s interrupting them all day, saying, “How do you do this? Where do I find this? How do I manage this?” Okay, stop. That’s madness. Set some office hours. One, encourage team members to solve the problems for themselves first, but if they can’t, maybe you say, I am available every day between one and two on my calendar for you just to pop in and ask me any question you want.
If nobody joins you, great. Do your admin work during that time period, right? If they join you, you can help them, and now you’re not interrupted all day long, and they know when they can come to you.
Be Intentional About Your Time by Using Calendly
The other is that if you don’t have a big team like that to support but you do need to support team members, Calendly is a fantastic tool. Build yourself a 15-minute Calendly link and have your team find a time on your calendar so that it is actually scheduled in your day and is not an interruption. Interruptions are what kill productivity, and they also are what make you a victim of time. So anything we can do to let that down or to let that go is good.
Let’s try this part. Let’s get the pebbles on our calendar next. So I’m going to pull up the calendar here, and we will do that part.
So, for ease, I’m going to pull my calendar blocking calendar up just to show a little bit about what that might look like, and I’ll talk you through it. So, for this week, for example, I do work with a client. I have one client that I work with four hours a week, so I need to make sure they get four hours from me every week so they have a time block that is consistent and repeating. I also check in every day., I didn’t work on Monday, that’s what’s empty. I’m checking in every day with some tasks to perform that are recurring. I am checking my email, checking my finances, I’m checking LinkedIn to see if I need to respond to anyone, all of which are regularly recurring every day.
You’ll see right before this meeting, I blocked time to make sure that I wasn’t scrambling at the last minute to get in front of y’all, that I had my presentation ready, that I had my drink ready, luckily, so I stopped coughing at you guys. And you’ll see, too, that I had focus time yesterday afternoon. I do have a Vistage meeting tomorrow, which is a giant mastermind. So that’s my focus time on Friday, but you’ll see throughout that it’s regularly on my schedule. And there are other things: I’m working on a conference, I’m working on writing a book. You’ll see I’ve slotted those things in, so they’re on my calendar consistently. I have time to work on them.
So now you’re starting to see that structure, that focus time, or that client work time should fit in your schedule at the time that works best for you. All right, any questions on that so far? All right, now let’s jump back in. All right, we’re going to skip that. All right. Oops, I think I skipped too many.
All right, so I would suggest picking two blocks of time that are your focus, whether it’s on your business or whether it’s on client work. That’s up to you. Pick two. Pick your office hours if you have a team, and make sure that those get on your schedule.
The Sand and Water
Now, let’s talk about the sand and the water. The sand and the water are really email, social media, chat tools, phone, text, it’s all that. Everything pinging you all day long, right? Here’s the absolute number one thing you can do to prevent that. Turn it off. If your email is open all day, that’s crazy. That means your email is telling you what to do all day, and email is addictive, right?
You’re like, oh, I’m answering people, I’m getting stuff done. And then you’re like, yeah, and none of it was important. It feels good. It’s not good, so don’t leave it open. Same with social media, the pings, the likes. It can be exciting when you get them, but choose when you’re going to do it.
Be Intentional About Your Time by Managing Email
I have a virtual assistant who does my email. One of the best things ever. If you can get a virtual assistant to manage that email for you, it’s going to save you so much time. They can tell you what’s important for you to look at, and you don’t get sucked in. Having an inbox zero is really important for this. You want to make sure that when you are going into your email, it is not completely overwhelming that it doesn’t bombard you with 200 messages, half of which are read, some of which you skipped. If you are at inbox zero, you don’t have noise. This is data clutter. So, the more you can clear out, the better you’re off.
If you have a whole bunch of emails that are really old in your inbox, you might just need to declare bankruptcy, and that’s okay because guess what? If they’re older than a week and a half, they’re probably not important anyway. So, if somebody needs you, they’ll respond.
If you’re using email to manage your projects, we need to talk because there is a better way, and that is not the way. So, email is not a project management tool. We don’t want to be working with email as our project management tool. So, if you are, let’s fix that, but being able to clear that noise and start at zero is important.
And when you come in to check your email, we want to go through quick decision-making. When you look at them, there are very few choices:
- This is informational,
- I have read it,
- I am archiving it,
- I don’t need it anymore
It’s in my brain, done. Other, it’s a piece of project information. Put it where it goes. Does it go in your project tool? Does it go in your CRM if it’s a sales thing? If you have tools that capture that automatically, all the better.
Second or third, respond quickly. It’s a quick question. I know the answer. Respond, get it out of your box, and move on.
Spam, junk, unsubscribe. How many of y’all have been asked a thousand times about your website or all these people who are going to help you do all these things? Some of which you all probably do yourselves. Unsubscribe if you can, but I also highly recommend that if you do not know where it’s coming from, do not hit that button. It could make it worse.
Pro Tip! Spam and Junk Mail – I actually have a client who has written a rule that anything that says unsubscribe goes to a specific folder, so they can go through that folder quickly when they have time and pull out the things that they want and ignore the rest.
Now, the last thing that comes into your email might be something that’s thought-provoking, something, “Oh, I got to really think about this or make a decision, or how am I going to respond or have to get information to respond?” That becomes an action item, and so if that’s the case, we either want to put it in our project management tool where we will manage it as part of the project, and/or I’m going to slate 15 minutes tomorrow to think about this, and then I’m going to respond or research it and then I’m going to respond in both those cases, reply to the person and let them know so you can reply back and say, hey, I’m going to respond, received your message. Thanks for the inquiry.
I need to do a little research on this. I’ll get back to you tomorrow at two o’clock. And because you know what time you have on your calendar, you can tell them a time. By doing that, you’ve set a deadline for yourself to get it done, and more importantly, that person’s not going to email you again, text you, and call you to get the answer. They know you have the email, and you’re working on it. So, that helps eliminate additional interruptions and additional email.
Emily: Hey Susan, we have a question in the chat. Jasz asks, “Do you give your clients access to your project management tool, and do they communicate with you there or via email?”
Susan: We encourage our clients to do that because of the way we work. We’re working in our client’s tool, so we don’t have our clients come into ours just because it doesn’t make logical sense. But we do encourage our clients to work with their clients in their tool. Some clients are going to love it, and they’re like, oh, I can find out everything. And other clients are like, why do I have to use this? It’s your job to manage my work, right? Either one is fine. The important part about inviting them is that now you can communicate with them through the comments, and even if they’re just responding through their own email, you’re capturing it in the place you want it to go to.
So if you can get them on board that far, hey, listen, all you have to do is accept the invitation. You don’t have to do anything else. Now, your email from me will look a little different; just reply to it, and we’re all good. A little bit of that education goes a long way to help you solve that. I’m not a fan of copying and pasting a whole bunch of client stuff into your project management tool, so if you can capture it that way, that’s better. I hope that answered that. I’m listening.
Emily: Jasz, you good? Did that answer it? Okay, cool.
Be Intentional About Your Time Using Chat Tools
Susan: Okay, great. Great. Let’s jump into the rest of the sand and water. So we talked about email and social media, but what about chat tools, phone, and text? I love Slack. I could not run my business without Slack, and we use Slack as part of Let’s Work Network. It’s open all day, but it doesn’t ping me. I can see that there’s a notification. I can see what workgroup it’s in. I can decide that it is a work group that’s important enough to interrupt me. I want to pay attention to my team, that’s part of my main job is supporting them. So, if it’s from my team, I’m probably not going to let it sit there. If it’s from my client, I know what I’m working on their work. I’m going to look at it. Then, you can always mark yourself as focused or busy. If you’re working in a place where people really interrupt you all day, there’s a way to do that with those types of tools.
And remember to be patient if you’re communicating with somebody. Give them an opportunity to respond in their own time. A lot of times, what I do is when I ask a question of someone. I flag it as something to come back to later to make sure it got answered because my job is not to ask the questions to get the answer, right? So, just in case that person overlooks it, if I flag it to come back to tomorrow morning or in two hours, I can ping them again if I need to, but at least that ensures I get the answer I need and it’s not just gone out of my head forever.
If you can avoid texting on your personal devices, please do. Please push it to a chat tool whenever possible. And I would even say with clients, try to avoid texting together unless you have a business number. So I use Zoom phone, and I can get texts to my Zoom phone that keep it out of my personal world.
If you’re getting a text or an email that’s work-related right before you go to bed, guess what’s on your mind? Even if nobody has any intention of answering it until the next day, now you’re going to sleep thinking about it, or you feel like you have to answer it.
I had a team member who was working with a client, and she had given her personal number to that client. Well, the client was texting her in the middle of the night while she was on her trip to London on vacation. That’s the day we said, as an organization, our team is not even allowed to give out their personal text because that can’t happen. That’s not okay. It is one of the most invasive forms of communication and highly interruptive. So, anytime you can push text to something else, that’s better. Also, texts can be overlooked. I read them out of my head; it’s no longer showing as active, and I have ignored it.
Be Intentional About Your Time by Managing Interruptions
So, let’s talk about interruptions for a little while.
There are ways to solve them. When you’re working from home, the baby’s going to cry, the dog’s going to bark. UPS is going to come. The refrigerator’s going to get delivered. All of those things that happen are going to be at the worst possible times. We know this, and we are now operating in a world where we’re very used to that. So those are things that you can laugh off. Everyone’s experiencing the same thing everyone is. So laugh it off, explain it, move on.
If there are things going on and you’re in a group call, mute it. If your dog’s barking at the door, mute it. Those things are easy to handle. But if it’s something important, say it’s a sales call with a brand new person, you want to make a great impression on, say you’re recording something for a podcast that’s going to last forever or something like this, where you really want to be focused on what you’re doing. There are things you can do to prevent the interruptions.
- Put a baby in a playpen or down for a nap.
- Put your kids in front of their favorite TV show and get them focused on that.
- Put the dog in the crate or outside.
- I have even gone as far as to put a note on the front door asking UPS not to ring the bell because I’m recording something because I knew that would start the dog and everything else.
So you can put some other things in place. If you’re working in a household with a whole bunch of other people, close your door. There are some things that you can do to prevent that. But if it is invasive, excuse yourself and fix it. So don’t just keep saying, oh, the dog, oh, the baby, while it’s crying and all that’s going on in the background. Get up and go fix it so that it’s not disrupting the rest of it. People understand this if you’re just open with them. So we’ve done a whole bunch of stuff about intentional planning.
How to Handle Emergencies
We’ve done a whole bunch of stuff about how to set priorities, but what about real emergencies when they come up? How do we handle those? So, first, firefighting and emergencies really should not happen in a well-structured process-driven business. They shouldn’t. Everything should be running consistently. If you’re not finding that, if you are finding that you’re constantly reactive, you’re constantly putting out fires, you might want to look at improving the operational processes and structure of how you’re handling your business. That could make a huge difference to how you respond, that you respond thoughtfully, and also that you are building something that can start to grow and work without you because vacation and time away is important.
Be Intentional About Your Time Through Delegation
Delegation is another part of it. So, if an issue happens, who can handle this issue? Not how do I handle this issue? If we think about it that way, can the VA help? Will the client solve it themselves? How many times have you had a client call you all freaked out, but if you can’t get to the call, all of a sudden, “Oh, it’s fixed?” Maybe just wait 15 minutes and see if they solve it themselves.
Handling Real Emergencies or Unavoidable Interruptions
So be thinking about that who and not how. The other is what we’ve done by structuring our calendar and structuring our priorities is we’ve given ourselves space to accommodate the emergency when it comes up. I told you guys, I had strep throat last week, being able to say, I can’t do this, I can’t do this, I can’t do this, push that off, reschedule this. I want to do this. Making those decisions quickly is so much easier if you know how you’re spending your day. If you don’t, now you have extra stress on top of you to handle during the emergency as well.
So those are things to think about as to how we structure. I know we’re coming up here, and I am almost to the end of these, and then we’ll take some slides or take some questions, and I’ll show you my calendar.
But response times here are another way to prevent emergencies. So, if you’re interrupted, it could take 20 minutes to get focused back on what you were doing. So, not allowing the interruption is the first priority. The phone doesn’t have to be answered, y’all. They’re going to leave a message, we have that technology. Nobody is expecting an immediate response, even though in our heads, we think they are. In your teams, you can set up normal expected response times, and it’s even something you could share with your clients. Here’s a perfect example. If you email me, you can expect a response within one day.
My accountant says two working days unless it’s an emergency. Okay, great. Set the expectation: I won’t bug you. You leave me a phone message: I’ll get back to you in four to six hours. You hit me up on Slack: I’ll get back to you within two hours. If you are calling or texting my personal device: I know it is an immediate emergency, and I will do my very best to respond to you right away. So that’s another reason why we want to limit that. So you can set those up however works best in your business with your team, and you can communicate that to your client as well. So we’ve set up our calendar, and it’s working, but then things start happening, and we need to make changes first. When we’ve set up recurring events, those can get dragged to different blocks. They don’t have to stay where they are.
I call this calendar Tetris. I think it’s fun. It’s like a little block management where you’re moving time blocks to where they can go, but by having them in the first place, the time expectation that you have, so you are able to make a decision. Should I do this? Can I move this? What can I accommodate? It helps with setting realistic expectations, so you’re judging what you can say yes to and what deadlines you can make. There are also notes that you can put in the description area of your events to identify what your focus items are so you can work straight from your calendar, and if you have to move those to a different thing, you can be like, oh, I only got an hour, so I’m going to take this one thing and move it to an hour the next day.
You can also use, there’s a tool called Taskable that’s really cute and works with your calendar if you want to look that up or your PM tool to identify those things. So I use my project management tool, and I have them flagged as a high, medium, and low priority on the days that I have focus items. Calendar Tetris is really fun because it also helps you on those days when you get to your focus time and you’re like, yo, I’m so worn out. I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to do it. Okay, great. Now you can look and say, do I have to do it because I don’t have time to accommodate this and I’m on a deadline, or can I move it to tomorrow afternoon? And it’ll be fine because you know what to expect.
First, I’m going to give you this little book, and then I’m going to show you behind the scenes and take questions. But if you are interested in three ways to control chaos in your small business, we have an ebook.
If you’re like, “Susan, I totally need your help because we’re totally managing all of our projects in email and you just told me we shouldn’t, but I have no time to read a book,” just email me or you can hit me up in Slack because I’m in your Slack.
Behind the Scenes Look at Calendar Blocking
So y’all ready to see behind the scenes and see what my calendar looks like here? All right, pulling it up. Let me turn on all the different things that I normally manage, and then I’ll do the big reveal here.
I think I have them all on. All right, here we go. So the pink, let’s go to today. The pink is my personal stuff, and you can color code to help you. The pink is my personal stuff. One of the things I like about color coding is it lets you know how balanced you are being. Now, my calendar runs from 6:30 until a little bit later in the day, 10:00. I don’t always have things after dinner. A lot of that’s free time, which is fine. But these gaps, I leave it open for sales calls, but I want to fill them the day before. So, as I get through the day, I might drag something and fill the gap, but I leave it open because I allow an eight-hour window before they sign up. But I know right now, tomorrow afternoon, I have this hour, but I am probably not going to fill it.
I’m probably just going to be done with work early. So that’s also an option. But I also know if something comes up, I have that hour next week. I have some time for potential client meetings, networking meetings, and whatever comes up. Those are also sometimes that you can do things like this, I think it’s my husband’s. He keeps putting things on my calendar. Those are also things where you can catch up on admin or that kind of thing. If you want to put that structure into your day, you can. You’ll see here I come Wednesday. I want to make a pot roast Wednesday night. Well, you got to start those in the morning. So it’s on my calendar, right?
Nobody’s going to take that time. I’m not going to end up after this big, long two-hour meeting going, okay, I guess we’re not having pot roast. So those are the types of things I like to be this structured. Some people find this stressful. If you find it stressful, one of the things you can also do is take the empty times and block that as you want it empty so no one can take it from a Calendly and that you’re using it intentionally.
All right, I am now very willing, ready, and able to take any questions that you might have.
Emily: This was so awesome. I am curious about how many other people have time blocks like this in their calendars that they are currently using. Kind of/sort of, okay. I know for me, I have networking and discovery call blocks in my calendar, and I have client blocks in my calendar and I have my regularly recurring networking things in my calendar so that I know when these things are going to happen. Before, when my calendar was wide open, I would be switching tasks all the time, and nothing was efficient, and I wasn’t my best, and so I had to create blocks of client time blocks of networking time so that I wasn’t trying to do all the things intermixed. And that made a huge difference.
Susan: Doing the client things too, I know many of you work on retainer with your clients, so if you’re working on retainer, you’ve probably promised them a certain number of deliverables or a certain number of hours. If you don’t have those on your calendar, how are you ensuring that you’re meeting your obligation to them? That’s one of the way, and also it helps you focus so that I’m only focused on this client during this time.
Emily: Yeah. And it also gives you, when I have my client blocks in there, it gives me an idea of how many more clients I can get and onboard. And the law of the vacuum just fills them up. So it’s a good way to play with my manifesting brain too, to create that space for those people.
Susan: And any time that you’re not spending intentionally, you will fill it.
Emily: Oh, yeah.
Susan: So usually not with the most important thing. When we are doing what we do as business owners, there are a lot of things that feel productive but are really easy, like getting stuck in my email or surfing through LinkedIn, and you can trick yourself into believing that you’re working and you are, but it is not the best use of your time. Almost a hundred percent of the time. It’s not the best use of your time. Now if you’re like, man, I just need an hour to chill, okay, great, go through your email, go through that, but do it intentionally. Don’t just let it take your time. Riley, I noticed the cutoff for workdays. Yep. I love to cook, love to cook. So I make dinner every night and that’s my cutoff. That’s my transition. That’s my commute.
Riley Limbach: Yeah, I really like that.
Emily: All right. Does anybody else have any other questions before we hop off today?
Riley: Not really a question, but I just feel so inspired now to not be a victim of time. I’m very excited.
Susan: Don’t be a victim.