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Managing interruptions is a big deal for small business owners who wear a lot of hats. We’re constantly pulled from one thing to another. Multitasking is a nice idea, but isn’t real. Instead of getting multiple tasks done consecutively, you’re task-switching – and usually long before the previous task is complete. If only there were a way to manage interruptions.

That’s where calendaring or calendar blocking comes in. We’re huge advocates of calendar blocking here at Beyond the Chaos (we even have a course). And it works… unless the system breaks.

What can break the system? And how do you get back on track?

Managing Interruptions: When Your Calendaring System Breaks

Here’s a great real-life story from Susan on how interruptions can break a system.

My calendaring broke this morning. Here’s why. I’m getting ready to leave for vacation and doing all the last-minute things to give me work-free time away. In preparation, I’m managing interruptions in advance. That includes getting all of next week’s must-do’s done.

The first interruption was about a last-minute dog boarding change, which resulted in me having to change plans, reverse payments, pay new people, and whatnot.

Then, I got a response to a for-sale item I had listed online. Wanting that extra $150 spending money for my vacation, I set up a time for the person to stop by, and I made the sale.

Compound that with a business issue, I was troubleshooting through a support ticket. It was all put back on me to address with another provider, which meant I had to restart the support ticket process with them.

So, how did I get off track this morning? Life happens.

Many other things can break your calendaring as well. Sometimes, it’s procrastination. Or a legitimate emergency.

The other day, a client got called away for a family emergency. Not only did that break her calendar blocking, but it also broke the team member she was scheduled to meet.

What about when something takes longer than was expected? Or, what if you don’t feel focused enough to work on the task you designated at that time?

It can be very overwhelming getting things done with deadlines looming, or there’s a plane to catch on time. Managing interruptions and respecting your calendar blocks isn’t foolproof. But that doesn’t mean all is lost!

Obviously, a lot of things can take you off track. How do you get back on track?

Managing Interruptions: Getting Your Schedule Back on Track

The first step is to recognize that you’ve blown it. You’ve probably completely missed some calendar blocks. Hopefully, you didn’t miss any meetings, but it’s possible. It’s ok, it happens. Keep going.

Once you are aware you’re off track, the next step is to avoid scrambling around like a crazy person. You have to stop and assess. Go back and figure out what you missed. If you missed a meeting with another person, it is imperative that you prioritize that communication. Get in touch with them, apologize, and figure out when you can reschedule.

The beauty of calendaring is that you did the active planning. You know what you were supposed to do, which now allows you to accommodate what you have to do.

“Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.”

This is attributed to Dwight D. Eisenhower, but also as a US Army maxim. The gist is that you learn so much during planning from the exploration of options and contingencies that it’s much easier to adapt when those contingencies are needed.

Calendaring Tetris

Let’s get to moving calendar blocks to accommodate the changes. It can be like working on a puzzle. Even though it’s a bit like cleaning up a mess, our team of Chaos Killers finds it kind of fun. If we could plan and schedule all day, that would make us happy. Good thing it’s our job! But, it’s also fairly unproductive, which makes us unhappy. So, the goal of rearranging is to do it as efficiently as possible.

If you missed a calendar block for working, there are four options:

  • Cushion it
  • Reschedule it
  • Skip it
  • Change something else

Cushion It

You can’t work back to back to back blocks. It’s not realistic. Allow a cushion around calendar blocks to check Slack, pet the dog, get a drink, etc. Plus, you need breaks! If you work from home and receive a delivery, the cushion time is when to pick it up off your porch or check the mail.

Reschedule It

Assess whether your calendar block is necessary to do today. Look ahead a week or two and see where it might fit. If you are calendaring regularly, you should see where you have availability. Perhaps you have to move other things to accommodate the timeline of moving the current block, but if all your blocks are in place, you should be able to find a spot.

There are times when you might be backed up and have to find a Saturday or an evening to fit the block. Don’t allow this practice to become a habit. You need time with your family and for recreation to clear your business brain to be more creative during your business time. But, occasionally, you might have to bite the bullet and give up some “free” time.

Skip It

What happens if you choose not to do the “thing” at all? Was it time-sensitive, and you missed the window? Or, in retrospect, with crunched time, is it not an important task after all? It could be something that you add back to a someday/maybe list that you will address in the future. In this instance, that calendar block disappears.

Change Something Else

Perhaps there is something later in your schedule that could be rearranged to accommodate your missed block of time. Go through the future items the same way that you went through the past ones. Can you compress, reschedule, or skip those? If it’s raining, can you cancel the dog walk (sorry, pup)? Or can you combine dog walking with your exercise time block? It may not be your usual routine, but it gets you back on track.

Managing Interruptions (In The First Place)

If you are living in a world where you are constantly managing interruptions, you need to look at your overall process.

What are those things that are regularly interrupting you?

These are immediate areas you can automate and/or systematize to prevent interruptions. Or to delegate tasks to others if you prefer.

Some interruptions are true, important, and urgent. But, if they’re not urgent, block them into your calendar to handle in the future, and don’t let them take you off track right now.

Do you need help systematizing? Contact us! Setting up process-driven and systematized businesses is part of what Beyond the Chaos does!

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