Time management expert Susan Fennema shares an insightful talk on taking control of your calendar to master your days. She outlines actionable strategies for entrepreneurs to optimize their schedules around priorities, energy levels, and reducing distractions.
- Block calendar time for your personal priorities first to care for yourself before serving others.
- Designate blocks for professional priorities like focused work and meetings. Use office hours for team questions.
- Limit email, social media, chat tools, etc. to defined windows. Don’t let them drive your day.
- Set expectations on response times to reduce interruptions and “emergencies.”
- Use color-coding and movable time blocks. Review at day’s end and adjust as needed.
- Leave buffer room in your calendar to accept new priorities and shift tasks if needed.
- Balance focused time with breaks. Use the Pomodoro technique to work in bursts.
Please find the full video transcript below.
Stephanie Scheller: Fabulous. So we’re here. We’re going to give about 20 seconds. We’re not even going to give 20 seconds. People were advised on how to make sure they had all of their technology working beautifully, so we’re just going to go ahead and get this kicked off here as people are filtering in. I know Zoom is letting everyone in bit by bit by bit by bit.
So welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to Time, Space, and Biohacking for Peak Performance. This is a concept I have been obsessed with for way too long. And honestly, I mostly decided to try and rope Susan and Jennifer into doing this with me because I wanted to learn from them. So welcome to Time, Space, and Biohacking for Peak Performance. I’m Stephanie Scheller. I’m the person who’s been emailing you nonstop for three weeks straight. I am the founder of Grow Disrupt, the official host for this series, and I say official because it’s really been like a joint labor of love here.
Susan and Jennifer put a massive amount of work into the content to bring this group together. So I know this is like we’re leveraging my existing brand with Grow Disrupt as an event producer and my knowledge of psychology for how do we set up success in an event to get y’all to show up and then to implement because we all know knowledge is not power anymore, right y’all. It’s applied knowledge that is power. So my goal today was to set up something where you can take what you learn and apply it so you can reach levels of peak performance you’ve never seen for yourself before. A couple of really important keynotes here. I’ve been emailing about these, but I want to touch on them just in case.
If you have not already, make sure you’re setting yourself up for success by blocking out 10 minutes prior to each session so you can go potty if you need to because, look, it’s hard to focus if your body is like, “Hey,” right? So go potty, get a drink, get a snack, and then mentally prepare. Make sure you have space to take notes. Make sure you’re asking yourself, what is waiting for me if I get control of our topic for this day?
That’s such a great way to start this mentally because it starts to get your brain really thinking about what we’re about to cover, and not only that, but it starts to create a framework for you personally to start to integrate what you’re about to learn. In fact, that’s a great question. I want you to ask yourself right now, what is waiting if I get my time under control? And then, we’ll let the master of time management take us away here.
As Susan is training us, please use the Q&A feature in the Zoom webinar. Jennifer and I will be managing the chat and keeping things going for everyone, but if you have a question, we are going to try and make sure we log questions to ask at the end. But if they’re in the chat, they might get missed. So, if you do have a question, drop it in the Q&A, Jennifer and I will be in the chat to keep everything rolling. I’m super excited for the next three weeks. It’s going to be truly transformative. Oh, and I think Susan’s got a special for every single one of you guys who are attending live today, so I’ll let her talk about that at the end here. Jennifer, do you want to introduce Susan?
Jennifer Mallory: I would love to. Thank you, Stephanie. I am looking forward to talking to everybody in two weeks, and I’m even more excited to hear from Susan today. So Susan Fennema is the Chaos Eradicating Officer, that’s the CEO, of Beyond the Chaos, a consultancy that helps small business owners get out of the day-to-day of their business operations so they can focus on scaling and growing their company. She has been a full-time virtual worker since 2010, so she knows a little about setting up boundaries. Susan and her team have worked with over 150 small business owners, and they’re passionate about creating chaos-free environments so their clients can get their lives back and go on vacation like normal people do. Susan is a Vistage speaker, and she can organize anything, anywhere, anytime. I know I need that. She and her team practice what they preach to their clients, so they are living a process-driven business as examples themselves, and she swears by calendar blocking to use her time very intentionally. Today, she’s breaking that down for you, how to use your calendar to manage your priorities, your focus, and your interruptions. Please welcome Susan Fennema.
Susan: Hey, y’all. Glad to be here. Thanks for the great introduction, Jennifer. And Stephanie, thanks for letting everyone know all of the things to do. And so, with that, I get to jump right in. And let’s talk about how the world’s changed since 2020, right? Man, our boundaries have been pushed. Everyone is living and working in a very different situation; whether you’re working in a hybrid, a work from home, or even if you are in the office, a lot of what we learned during those three years has changed your work environment. Some are loving this hybrid and working from home. Some really don’t like it at all. So there are some ways to make you like it better if you’re one of the haters. And if you’re loving it but having those boundary problems, this is definitely going to help you out there.
Working From Home Requires Compassion (For Both Yourself and Others)
One thing I’ve learned is that everybody’s work environment is very different these days, and I know Stephanie’s going to hit you up with some knowledge bombs next week about your actual space, but we have to be compassionate with where people are sometimes forced to work. Are they at home taking care of an older parent or a child? Do they also have a work-from-home spouse? Are your kids not in school, or are they in school? Are they coming home in the middle of one of your meetings? You could be working in an office in your house; that’s my setup. Or you could be at your kitchen table on a bed in a studio apartment, on a couch, or as one of my clients was set up during the Covid years, he actually had to hole up in his bathroom with a table and a chair because it was the only place he could close the door and get privacy. People are working out of the backs of vans; they’re working all over the world, so it’s not even just work-from-home, right? It’s work from everywhere, and that causes a lot more boundary issues because how do you go on vacation? How do you take a break? And this is part of what we want to set up is that structure around that so that you can separate yourself and set some boundaries.
If you don’t, the results in your life are overwhelm and burnout. You’re probably not as nice of a great person to the people that you’re interacting with. And we talk about getting that work-life balance. I’ll tell you, I’m not a fan of that phrase. I don’t care if it’s perfectly balanced, but it needs to be a lifestyle management that works for you, and there do need to be boundaries. And you do need to be making sure that you are setting yourself up for success and using that limited time that you have, whether it be personal or professional, in a very intentional way. So the theories I’m about to share with you will apply whether you work 60 hours a week, whether you work 10 hours a week, if you’re a stay-at-home parent, if you’re a corporate employee or a business owner. I know many of us are business owners, so that will be a big focus here, but it’ll work no matter what.
Be Intentional With Your Time
So the big takeaways here as we work through this are, one, be intentional. We’re not going to let things happen to us, and don’t be a victim. That’s number two. And the big thing here, three, is you are in charge. You are in charge of how you spend your time. You’re in charge of how you plan your day. So, let’s jump into the intentional part. I thought about here: could I bring a jar and demonstrate this? But I didn’t want sand and water all over my desk, so I’m going to describe it to you and let you visualize this here. Let’s say you have a glass jar; it’s full of rocks and looks full, right? But you could add some pebbles in around those rocks and shake them up. Now it looks even fuller. Now add sand. Now add water. Now you have a full jar. The key here to remember is to do the important things first. Those are your rocks, and they won’t fit if they go in last. If you put the water, sand, and pebbles in, those rocks don’t fit. So you have to make those priorities the first things that you do. You want to eliminate distractions and not be a victim to forces outside of your control to a degree. Like emails, social media, phone, texts, chats, they’re everywhere, right, bombarding us. So you want to ensure that those remain your sand and water. All of this, I’m going to give major credit to Stephen Covey, the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. If you’ve not read the book, it’s worth a read, but that actually is his theory that he shares with the rocks in the jar. The other thing about being intentional about your time is that you’re going to be able to set realistic expectations. So you’re going to be able to look at your calendar and see what fits, what doesn’t fit. Can I agree to that?
Consider Your Personal Priorities
So let’s talk a little bit about what those personal priorities are. Those are your rocks. I know everybody’s thinking, “Oh, this is about work, though.” It’s not. This is about boundaries for your life, and your rocks are your personal priorities. Think about it this way. If you’re not taking care of yourself first, you don’t have anything to give. So you have to take care of yourself so you can be there for others so that you can serve others. If you are looking at your personal priorities in this priority order, it also helps. So start with God, your spirit, your soul, however you individually look at that aspect of your being. That’s the number one priority. If you’re not taking care of your soul, you are not going to be able to take care of your body, your mind, your work. So start there. It could be daily prayer, weekly church, daily meditation, or whatever it is that brings peace to your soul. The second priority in this area is going to be health. So how are you moving? That’s another thing that’s come up in the last three years, especially. We don’t move as much. We’re in front of our computers. We’re not walking down the hall to see a colleague. So making sure that you are taking time to walk around your home or wherever you are. Make sure you’re exercising. Are you actually eating? When I first started my business, I would just skip lunch. I’d just work right through it until it dawned on me, maybe I need to make time for that. Make sure you’re standing and not sitting all day. Make sure you are taking breaks. These things help with your overall health. The third personal priority, or rock, is social. We have had challenges over the past few years of not being as social. Sometimes it had to be limited, but now we’re back moving around, and so making sure that you are forcing into your schedule, especially if you work from home, some social time, whether that be with your family, your friends, your kids, lunches with friends and colleagues, whatever you’re doing to get out and about, and that needs to be part of your world because we are not supposed to be isolated individuals, so making sure that you have that social part is that third rock.
And then here’s one that’s going to surprise everyone probably. We’ve all heard the beauty of sleep and how you need your sleep, but most of us aren’t planning for it. My day today, Tuesday, started last night when I went to bed. So if you think about sleep as a priority of how do I get in bed at the right time so I get the amount of sleep I need to make the next day a success? That has to be involved here too.
Prioritize Time Using Your Calendar
So we’ve talked about personal priorities; let’s do it together. I’m going to pull up a calendar here. You feel free to work along here with me; let me share my screen, and let’s just build out what that might look like on a calendar. Now I have a blank one here. I’m using Google. It’s my favorite. If you are an Outlook person, this will work in there too. But essentially, pull up your calendar, and let’s set up some repeating events. Let’s start with when are we going to go to bed? My bedtime’s 10 o’clock; yours might be earlier or later, but let’s actually put that on the calendar. Go to sleep. Okay. This is a reminder that you want your day to end at a certain time, and that’s where we’re starting. So I’m going to actually repeat this every day. And now it’s on my calendar till the end of time that I’m going to go to bed at 10. If I want to take it off on the weekends, you can. Whatever works best for you. The next is we want to put our spirit in. I usually get up at six, but I’m going to tell you I need a little bit of time in the morning to get my act together. So I actually am going to put that in too. So I’m just going to put get-up time, and I’ll make this one a weekday repeat. Y’all can be doing this with me, too, so I’m hoping that some good… Oops, let me do the custom without the… there we go, without the weekends. So going to be getting up every day around six, and I’m going to ease into my day, but then I’m going to do my spirit work, so in my case, I do spiritual reading. This could be at a different time for you. And actually, as I was putting this together, I was thinking, “I might need to add some meditation to the middle of my day,” because I think that that might help me focus a little bit more. So I will take that time, and I’m going to put that every weekday as well, and I’m going to add church on; actually, I’m Catholic. We get to go to church on Saturday nights at 4:30, so I’m going to put that on here too. That way I have it on here, and I will not forget, weekly on Saturday. There we go. So see how I’m setting up these repeating blocks of these things? Now they’re in here.
Now, of course, your calendar doesn’t look like that, right? It has things on it, but we’re going to talk about how to move things around here in a minute. You would also then want to add your health. When are you working out? I’m going to work out Monday, Wednesday, Friday. I might put that block in there. I want to put in when I’m eating lunch because that’s something we forget, maybe breakfast. And here’s the other one, who sometimes working from home is frantic because when am I going to get my shower in today? Or maybe you’re trying to wedge it in between other things or picking up kids and all that kind of thing. Put it on the calendar. That way, if you need to shift it around, you can, but you know you have to allocate time for that. If you don’t work out every day and you sit in the air conditioning, maybe you don’t need a shower every day, but you plan it for you. The other is that what are we doing socially? I have some sporting event calendars. I love the Chicago Blackhawks when they’re not horrible, and I love Texas Aggie football. So I have subscribed to those calendars, and I can see, here come my Aggie football games here in September, so I know what is going on. And maybe on this day I want to go to church on Sunday so I can move it. So there are some things that you can subscribe to if it’s that kind of activity. You can subscribe to holidays as well, whichever matters most to you, so that they pop up on your calendar. You can see here we are in September, so Labor Day shows up there for me. All of these can be pulled in so that you don’t forget to plan for a holiday, which is important. For my team, we have a calendar called holidays for us. We include people’s birthdays, but the other cool thing is we block our Friday afternoons for summer hours, so that pops up on here too.
So the other things that you want to think about here, too, are when are your kids’ soccer games and stop missing those. Put them on the calendar. And here’s a big one too. How long does it take you to get to and from where you’re going? So if you actually have a kid’s soccer game, if you’re just getting binged when it starts, that’s not good enough. You need to put the travel time in ahead of it. All right, so those are the rocks. I’m going to stop sharing my screen for this because I think you get the gist of how that works.
Blocking Time for Professional Priorities
All right, let’s jump in to four, what’s next? Okay, what are the pebbles. We’ve put our rocks in. That’s our personal life, and let’s face it, y’all, that’s why we do all the professional stuff is so that we can do the personal things we want to do. So make those the priority. The next thing are your professional priorities, right? You have a job and obligations, and the first thing you want to put on your calendar in that capacity is intentional work. This is performing your main job function. If you’re a business owner, that will be what you’re doing to work on the business. I call mine focus time, and I have at least two blocks a week that are on there. As I become more and more mature in my business, I want it to be more and more of that and less and less of the other things. Sales could be something as a business owner or as a sales representative that is the most important thing for your business. If that’s the case, you can block time where it’s free, so it still works with your Calendly or whatever your calendar link might be to set up those calls, but you know you’re intentionally working on sales during those times. If you are a software developer or a creative person, you also want time to code or create. That is your main job function. So block those times too. We don’t want everything filled up with meetings. We don’t want everything filled up with obligations. We need time to actually do our work, too. And if those are on your calendar and you’re working in an organization where they are actually trying to look at calendars for free time, yours is already taken. So you have that appointment with yourself, and that is going to prevent them from taking that time from you.
Set Intentional Work Hours
The other thing to think of while you’re looking at this intentional work is you want to make sure that that is being done during your most energetic times and in times when you can focus. You’re going to have to know yourself to do this. For example, mine is rarely in the morning. I have to do my workouts in the morning because if I don’t do them then I won’t do them at all. And if I don’t knock out a whole bunch of little things, check things off my list essentially, I can’t focus on big-picture things. So my focus time is in the afternoons. Some people find it exhausting to check off those little things, so they want to do their focus time the very first thing they do when they get up. That’s also okay. So whatever works for you, you really have to know yourself. That’s the important thing. Obviously, we have to fit a little bit into the structure of what might be required for our jobs or what might be required for time zone management, but start with the ideal, and then we can adjust it. Appointments with others also falls into this professional priorities group. So those are your meetings. Those are going out to lunch. All of that would also then fall on here, including your obligations to others. So if you need to make time to do something for someone else, that also goes into those pebbles.
One thing that you can do in those intentional work hours, my focus time, for example, is practice the Pomodoro Technique. I’m going to type this into chat so you know how it’s spelled, Pomodoro, and if you look that up online, you will be able to find all sorts of different timers that will work for you there. And essentially, the theory is you focus for 50 minutes and then take a 10-minute break, or you focus for 25 minutes, take a 5-minute break. It helps you set deadlines so that you can achieve things better. In a deadline-oriented world, we actually make more things happen than if we just flounder about. So if you say, I have, for example, 25 minutes to write an email that is going to go out to my whole list, great, go for it. You have a deadline, and it’s amazing how great that works to make you focus and to make it better. And then, that last five minutes, guess what you do? You get up, you walk around, you move, you stand up, and you get refocused for your next block of time. So check that out. I think that that might help when you’re doing your intentional work time.
Set Office Hours For Your Team
Another thing as owners or managers that a lot of people run into is I have to support my team; that’s one of my pebbles as one of my main job functions, and man, they’re interrupting me. They’re coming to my door, or they’re calling me, or they’re chatting to me all day, and I’m constantly interrupted of getting pulled into those things. Well, here’s a great tip: set up office hours on your calendar. Let’s say you are a software developer who is running a company, and you have a bunch of other developers working for you. You are likely the most knowledgeable developer in most cases, so they will need your help. And so you can’t just say, “Go figure it out,” right? Then they’re going to flounder. It’s going to take them longer. Clients are going to get upset. Now you have a whole bunch of other problems. But if you say, “Hey, listen, between 12 and 1 every day I’m going to eat my lunch at my desk, and I’m going to have Zoom open, you can just jump in if you need me during that time; that is my available time, so hold your questions till then.” They know you’re eating, no big deal, but it’s just think of it as we did in college with professor office hours. And you can put that out there, and then the team knows when to get you.
The other thing is that if maybe you don’t have as much need from your team, but every now and then, they need some help, use Calendly, and if you are not using Calendly, go look at that quickly. I’ll type that in here too, so you know how to spell it. There is a free version. You can absolutely set that up, or you can use a paid version to even pull in more calendars. I do that because I have a bunch of calendars, but you can then schedule that time, make a 30-minute block, and your team, your clients, your networking partners, or whoever can use that link to get straight on your calendar. So let’s do this together, right? Let’s put the pebbles on. I’m going to pull the calendar back up, and I’m also telling you if you want to color code these, you can also color code these, and I’m going to do a little bit of that while we are doing it. So let me share my screen again here. And I notably said I wanted to do my focus time in the afternoon. So I’m going to say every Monday from one to four is going to be my focus time. Oops. And I’m putting it on the wrong calendar. So let me turn that one off. Sorry. It’s what you get when you get a live demo on a webinar.
All right, so we are going to say one to four on Mondays: Focus Time. And it went straight to my Beyond the Chaos calendar, but I am going to put it back on the other one. You guys probably won’t have these many calendars. And I’m going to color code it as light blue so I can see the difference. I’m going to recur it every Monday. Okay, same kind of thing. Now you’re starting to see how the structure is coming together, and yes, at the end I will give you a preview of what my calendar actually looks like. So this could be Monday and Thursday afternoons. Block that in. Pick your office hours. Maybe you want those at 10:00 AM every week. Okay, great. Set up that. Invite your team and go. I would start by picking two of these focus blocks to start to work in, and then the more you can add, the better. The goal here is to start to build that structure into your calendar so that when we get to the sand and the water, which is coming next, you know where it all fits and you know when you can work on it. So that is this. You guys feel free to keep working on that while we go. And I am positive that you’re freaking out a little bit right now because you’re saying, “How am I ever going to fit this in?” Don’t worry; we’re going to get to that part.
Set Time for Social Media
So sand and water. That’s what’s next; what is our sand and water? It’s our email, it’s our social media, it’s our chat tools, of phone calls and texts. All these things feel like they’re emergencies, right? They are not emergencies. They are things that are taking you away from the focus that you need to have in order to actually do your job. The other thing about all of them is that they send this great dopamine when you have responded or when you get a light or when you reply to an email. I actually spoke to one business owner who was addicted to email. He felt so productive when he was going through his email that he didn’t realize what all he was not getting done, and he felt productive because, look, my inbox is clear; I did all of these things, but none of those things were the important things; he was not spending his time intentionally. He was letting email drive what he did every day. So the number one way to avoid this is turn it off. It does not need to be open all day. You decide when to check your email. You decide when to check your social media. And guess what? You can put it on your calendar.
Take Care of Emails Without Feeling Overwhelmed or Distracted
So, here are some tips on email because it is actually one of our number one interrupters and biggest distractors. You want to get to inbox zero, and I know this might scare some people right off the bat if your inbox is not clear, but it’s noise. And when you open your email, and you see 50 emails, whether they’re read or not, whether they’re new or not, it’s noise, and that clutters your brain, and it can become more overwhelming than if you jump in and you’re like, “Okay, it’s been three hours. I have 25 emails. I can knock these out. I know what they are.” If you are not there, if you are completely overwhelmed, you have 2,000 emails or something or more, you might need to declare bankruptcy, and you can simply do that by archiving them all. You don’t have to delete them; archive them. If they are over a week old, they’re probably not that important. So you could start with that and work your way through it, but getting down to inbox zero so that when you open that inbox, you can clear it and move on is great. When you open it, make quick decisions. Is it something that’s informational so that you can read it and archive it and know it’s in your brain? That’s all you need. Great. Take care of that. Is it an action item? Is it something that goes to another tool? Is it something that should be in your project management tool or in your CRM so that you are handling it as part of your work? Move it. Let’s get it into the right place and not leave it there. If it’s something you can respond quickly to, respond immediately and get that out of your way. If it’s spam or junk, you can unsubscribe if you know who it’s from. If you are not really clear, I would avoid that. And here’s a really cool tip I got. You can build a folder for all emails that say “unsubscribe” in them. So write a rule, and then you can go through those at a time when you have time to say, “Oh, I want to read that.” “Oh, that’s interesting.” “Why am I still subscribed to this one?” And you can work your way through that at a time when you have more time than in the middle of your day. If something’s thought-provoking and you need to come back to it, guess what? Put it on your calendar of when you’re going to do it, and that way, you’ll be able to put the right amount of thought. Say you need 15 minutes; put it on the calendar when you have a 15-minute hole, and then you can go back and think through it. If it’s that, I would say go ahead and respond to the person and let them know, “Hey, listen, thanks for this. I’m thinking about it. Let me respond to you on Tuesday at 2:30.” That way, they don’t keep sending you emails and filling back up your box. So those are a few tips on how to get that email squashed down.
Add Social Media to Your Daily Check-In
Social media is the same. Make yourself a time. I actually look at LinkedIn as part of something I call my daily check-in. And I respond to the messages. I read the posts. I might comment on a post. LinkedIn is my main way to communicate and to connect. I do my own, but when I’m writing posts, I have another block so that I have more time to think through those things. The other things that we’re pinged about all day long every day are our chat tools, our phone, and our texts. Again, turn them off. The other is to remember to be patient with those you’re also trying to communicate with. So if you don’t get an immediate response, that’s okay. They also need time to do it when they want to do it. So one beauty of a chat tool, something like Slack, which is my favorite, is that you can flag things to come back to later, so you don’t have to do them at the moment. You can flag and say, “Yeah, I’m going to do that during this client work time or during my focus time,” and it’ll pop up at that point. You can’t do that on texts, and that’s a huge reason I’m not a fan of using personal devices for work. If you are using a personal phone or text, these are very interruptive and invasive.
Don’t Forget To Set Boundaries
I have a story about this, my first employee; she actually worked for a client, and when working with that client, she worked with that client’s clients. When we were starting out, we didn’t have a phone system; we didn’t have anything like that. Well, she went on vacation to Europe. Our client was on the West Coast. She’s getting pinged by her client’s clients on her personal device in Europe in the middle of the night. And that’s when I said, “That is absolutely not acceptable.” And we changed it, and we set up on Zoom phone and got her a phone number, and she can chat, text or call on that. They can text and call on that. So we were able to put that one to bed. But you hear many stories like that of people feeling obligated to respond to something at night when they’re with their family or before they’re going to bed, and that’s not okay.
If you are an owner or a manager, this is a great way to help put those boundaries for your team so that they are healthier. If you are an owner, I highly encourage, beyond the boundary setting with your team, that this is also a way to centralize your communication so that if that team member leaves you, your client doesn’t have their direct contact information and doesn’t know how to get back to the company. That’s another challenge that using personal phones and texting devices limits the business for. So try to push those to chat tools if you can. I am a big believer in the phone when it rings, it can be a big, big thing like, “Oh, I got to pick that up.” So we’re going to talk a little bit about making some rules with your team of how we expect communications.
How Interruptions Affect Us (And How To Limit Them)
But before we get there, let’s talk about how interruptions affect us, right? If you are interrupted from your focus time, for example, or anything you’re doing, it can take a full 20 minutes for you to get back to what you were doing. Now we’re working in these weird environments where the baby’s going to cry, the dog’s going to bark, UPS is going to ring the bell to drop off your order of wine that you have to sign for. That might actually be an emergency. The cable guy is going to come during his 12-hour window, obviously at the worst possible time. Those are the things that are going to happen. So let’s accept that. Let’s laugh it off. We’re all experiencing the same thing. Be honest about what’s going on and handle it. Mute things if it’s possible so that you’re not disturbing the rest of the people on a Zoom call, for example. And if it’s too invasive, you might have to excuse yourself and go fix it.
But for example, today, I’m here in my home office with a dog who loves to bark at every noise that comes to the front door or the pool guy in the backyard. He is locked in the bedroom, so he’s not going to start that during this thing. You can do that with your kids, too. Put them in front of their favorite TV show or put a baby in a playpen. It matters in some cases that you not be interrupted and others maybe it doesn’t. So you can be a little looser, or you could be a little more natural. It also depends, of course, on the culture of the company that you’re working with. I’ve even done things if I’m recording a podcast, for example, where I put a sticky note on the front door to tell UPS or whoever might be coming by, solicitors, “Don’t knock, I’m recording. It must be quiet.” So there are some creative things that you can do that way. If you have kids or family coming in and out, close your doors; make a symbol or a sign to the rest of the family how not to interrupt you, whether it’s a podcast recording or your focus time. It’s important. Now, I’m sure y’all are all going to ask me, but what about emergencies? I mean, there are real emergencies in my business all the time. I’m pulled away from things. I have to take care of it. Okay, so if you’re firefighting all the time, if you are having to respond to emergencies, if everything is an emergency, I’m going to challenge you that maybe your business needs to be restructured. Emergencies really should not happen in a well-structured, process-driven business. And that’s a business that can run without interruptions much better than one that does not have that structure. You might need to improve your operational processes and structure to make that happen. The other, as an owner, that you really have to look at in this situation is: are you delegating well? Are you looking at who can solve this problem for me, not how do I solve it? Those things are really important. Now, could there also be a true emergency? Absolutely. But if we’ve just intentionally built our schedule, we now know how to accommodate when the emergency comes up. We might have to move our blocks around or accommodate other people or maybe even cancel something. But you are now being intentional with the fact that I’m going to handle this emergency instead of doing the thing that was in front of me, and that thing that was in front of me was important enough to go on my calendar, so I need to figure out when I can reschedule it. So that’s how emergencies work. Response times can also help you prevent those emergencies from coming up. So this is a process or a policy that I would recommend that you adapt for your company.
What are the normal expected response times for certain things? Let’s take email for example. My opinion is that email is not urgent. If you are emailing me, it is something that I can get to when I get to it, but I should respond to you within a working day. So if you agree with that, great. Now your company might be different. Maybe you’re handling more client things that are more urgent than that; that’s fine. Maybe your shifts so that your chat tool, which to me probably requires about a two-hour response time, maybe in your case that’s swapped. So as long as you’re setting those expected response times for your team, you can have an expectation yourself. One of the things this prevents, like we were talking about before, of letting the person whose email you’re thinking about know you’re thinking about it, it prevents an additional interruption because somebody hasn’t heard from you. I mean, think about it. How many times has someone emailed somebody, didn’t get an answer, so you called and left a message. Didn’t hear back, so now you’re on chat or text, and before you know it, you’ve got five places to answer this person. And if they had just waited because they knew when to expect an answer from you, it would’ve come from the first method, and they would’ve known which way to go to communicate with you if their need was more urgent. I’m a firm believer that if you’re texting on a personal device or calling on a personal phone, it better be a pure-out emergency. And I’m not talking about the building being on fire, because you should be calling 911 for that, not your team. It better be a, “My goodness, we haven’t heard from you in 24 hours. Are you okay?” Things like that. The other tools can take care of the less emergency things.
How To Start Calendar Blocking
So we’ve talked about many things to put on our calendar, and we’ve talked about setting up many recurring events. How do we start is part of the question? And then, secondly, how do we accommodate? So for this, I’m going actually to pull up my actual calendars here. Let me do a little resetting over here to get the right ones pulled up, and I’m going to show you what mine looks like, and I’m going to do a little bit of this is how you manage things time. All right, so I have most of mine pulled up. Do not be afraid. I do believe that blank space is not necessarily good in a calendar. We’ll talk a little bit about why of that too. So I am about to share my screen. All right, this is me. You’re getting a peek behind the, what is it, The Wizard of Oz, the curtain. So this is what mine looks like. As I have discussed, I’m not a fan of whitespace except that I leave whitespace open on my calendars for people to schedule sales calls and networking calls through my Calendly with me. However, they have to do that 24 hours in advance. So I will fill these holes in my schedule at the end of the day, tonight, when I am reviewing what tomorrow’s tasks look like to accomplish, and I’ll fill those in. When I’m looking at those tasks, I’m looking at my project management tool. I’m not looking at my made-up in my head list, it’s in my project management tool, where my task list goes. You’ll see tomorrow is a pretty big personal day for me. I’ve got a physical therapy appointment. I’ve got another doctor appointment. So that day is mostly blocked to personal. Pink is personal on my calendar. I color code client work in a lighter blue, and I color code my focus time here, let’s go to the next day, in this darker blue, you’ll see that I normally do that on Monday afternoons and Friday late mornings. You’ll also see that this Friday I have a Vistage meeting, which is literally four hours of working on my business. So I take that focus block off my calendar for that day. You’ll also see I have to get up earlier to get there. So I changed some things around, even though that’s not what my normal Friday looks like. So you can move these blocks. I’m working on a book right now, so I need to have that time allocated. And if somebody needs to talk to me during this time, I can shift these types of blocks, but I also have calls scheduled and meetings scheduled that are obligatory, so I know what I need to schedule around. Summer hours, shoot, I’m going to go hang out in my pool. So that’s on my calendar, so I go do it. I want to intentionally use that time for recreation, and if I don’t do it, I’ll just work through it and then go to the grocery store. I’m not going to lie. I’ll let other things pull me in different directions. So you can see as you go through the days, the further out you get, the more white space you get. But having all of that in place and color-coded, I like to have at a glance, am I spending too much personal time, am I not? And my calendar goes from 6:30 in the evening until bedtime at 10. And you’ll see here too, I block my day, I frame it. So I get up at 6:30, I am signing off of work, and I have a little dinner routine. I love to cook, and that’s my transition time. That’s my commute. So I’m using that to separate myself a little bit.
All right, so let’s turn this back off. One of the things that is beautiful when you’re looking at your calendar that’s all structured like that, you will be able to judge what you can say yes to and whether deadlines are realistic. You might be able to say, I mean, when Stephanie and Jen and I started talking about doing this, it was very easy to say, “Oh, we can’t do this before August.” We started talking about this in March. We could look at our calendars, figure out when is the right time to schedule it, and how do we schedule it around it so you’re able to make better commitments that you can hold with integrity. And then, after we made this, I went back and added blocks of time to work on what we were marketing and what we were presenting. So that’s really important to help you be realistic. And don’t be afraid. I call it calendar Tetris. You have these little blocks on your calendar. Don’t be afraid to shift them. If you get to something that’s on your calendar and you’re like, “I absolutely do not feel like doing that right now.” Awesome. Look at your calendar and see where you can move that block to and see what you can maybe swap out. Oh, I’d rather do this than that. If you look at your calendar and it’s full, you saw mine; it’s pretty full. You might have to say, “Well, I’m just going to bite the bullet and get it done.” So it gives you a much better way to use that time intentionally.
Another tip I can say too is that if you are blocking time for focus, if you pre-plan, you saw my task of reviewing tomorrow’s tasks, if you pre-plan what you’re doing in that block of time, you can put it in the description or notes, or in my case, I go pick the top three things on my priority list and I flag them with a high, medium, and low priority and work on them in that order. Whatever works for you to get that done, but be intentional about what you’re spending your intentional time on too. Not just I’m going to intentionally block time to work on my business, but what three things or what two things are you going to accomplish during that time? That’s really important if you’re working on client work, because that’s your main job function. You can do the same thing. So you could say, I’m going to work on client A and client B during this window, and then tomorrow client C and all the software bugs get handled. So that can help you figure out those intentional times how and what you’re going to focus on. So that brings me really to the end of my theories that I’m sharing with you.
So I’m interested to hear your questions, but before we get there real quick, I want to share something that you might all be interested in. Let me share this other window. One thing you all might be interested in is a free e-book. So one of the things we’ve done, we’ve talked about ways to manage your time and interruptions. That’s what we focused on today, but that’s just one of the top three ways to control chaos in your small business. We have an e-book that talks about the other two and talks slightly different about some of the ways to manage interruptions too. So if you’d like to download that, you can do that at beyondthechaos.biz/ebook. If you’re one of those people that’s like, “Susan, get me out of the chaos now,” you can just email me. You’re like, “I don’t have time for a book. Just get me out.” [email protected]. And I’ll leave this up, but I also want to share thank you for coming in person, and you get a reward for this. The three of us, Jen, Steph, and I, are going to have a special session on August 22nd at noon central. So after you’ve had time to start implementing some of the things that the three of us have talked about over these next two weeks now, we will be available for office hours to answer your questions on implementation and how you get there or struggles that you’re having as you go. Stephanie is going to send out the calendar invites to those who attended in person. So that’s how you get the invitation. And with that said, I am now open to taking some questions.
Stephanie: We have a really good question from Jim in the Q&A. Susan, if you want to hop in there real quick.
Susan: Okay, I see this.
Stephanie: I’m making my log of everyone who attended live.
Putting To-Dos and Deadlines on Calendar
Susan: All right, so Jim’s question is some folks put to-dos or deadlines on their calendar, and what do I think of that practice? It depends on what you do. It absolutely will work if the deadlines and to-dos are not very project-focused. If you are working on projects with clients, absolutely you need a project management tool, and those to-dos should lie in that tool with the other things that you’re focusing on and looking at. My favorite tool is Teamwork.com. If anyone is looking for a tool, it is a little more complex and offers a whole bunch of features. So if you’re looking for something more simple, Asana would be a good option. I’ll type both of those into the chat so that you have the names there. Teamwork.com and Asana.
So if you’re somebody who literally is just working off a to-do list, you’re not project-based, you’re not having to interact with others to do it, you could absolutely keep the to-dos and deadlines on your calendar. Part of what I do at the end of every day is to look at my list and my project management tool to make sure that those times are accommodated on my calendar blocking so that they work in tandem. But either way will work, depending on your job function. We work with so many clients on so many projects that I need to use that. In fact, I have my own to-do list for my household tasks in my software tool too, so that all the to-dos are in the same place. Jim, I hope that answered your question. Jim is saying he likes to save the calendar to the ways he spends his time, and I like that too. That good. What else have I missed? What other questions can we take? I am seeing things coming in on the chat.
Stephanie: You might want to check in the chat real quick. Just as a heads-up for everyone… I’ll come on just real quickly here. I am trying to make sure we log it. It’s looking like there might be an issue with pulling the live attendee list from Zoom. So I’m trying to grab everyone’s names from the chat quickly to ensure you get the invite to the office hours. If you don’t get them and you’re like, “Wait, where’s my invite?” You have my email. Just hit me back and be like, “Stephanie, I attended live and I don’t have an invite, and I’m feeling left out,” and I will fix that.
How Do I Get Myself Out of The Mindset of Not Having Enough Time Blocked?
Susan: Thank you, Stephanie, I do have a question here from Abby. 15 to 45-minute blocks doesn’t feel like enough time to get anything done or focus. How do I get myself out of that mindset? Part of it is, and that’s a great question. 15-minute blocks might not be enough unless it’s literally, I have to think about how to answer an email. That 15 minutes might be fine. My block at the end of the day where I’m reviewing tomorrow’s tasks versus my calendar and making sure it lines up, that’s a easy 15 minutes, no big deal, but 45 minutes should be enough to accomplish something. Part of it is being very intentional about what you are doing during that time block. What are you focusing on and working that plan to accommodate the right amount of time. So if I have a three-hour window, for example, for my time blocks, I’m likely going to be working in the 50 minutes, 50, and it’s five zero. That might be part of the confusion, Abby, it’s 50 minutes with 10 off, not 15. But if you’re working in that, that probably means three main things I’m going to focus on, and they need to be things that I can either make progress on or complete within that time. If your big picture thing that you’re working on cannot be accomplished in a window like that, then you probably need to break it down into smaller steps because it’s probably going to be much too overwhelming to even figure out how to start if you haven’t project managed yourself a little bit into smaller bites. Make sense?
Stephanie: One thing someone shared with me a long time ago too, is 15 minutes may be what you need to get started on a project that feels too big. So tell yourself, “I only have to work on this for 15 minutes, and then I can stop if I want to.” But usually, by the time once we get going, then we want to keep going, I find 15 minutes are great because if I want to do a sprint of furious activity for a super short period of time, but I have a hard time doing just 15-minute blocks.
Susan: You could do a 15-minute block to check your email, though. That might be a great use of a 15-minute window.
Stephanie: Or social.
Stephanie: Yep. I know a couple people are saying they have to go, so if you have to take off, absolutely. We have just a couple minutes carved out on the back end in case we run over to make sure we answer all questions. So Susan and I at least will hang out for a couple more minutes. I think Jennifer is too. Thank you all so much. We’ll see you back here next week, where we’ll be talking about how do you set up your space for peak performance based on a whole bunch of really cool neuroscience that I just absolutely nerd out about, and I can’t wait to share with you. We’ll talk to y’all soon.
Susan: Thanks y’all.
Stephanie: Any other questions, Susan, or anything else you want to share or keep digging into as while we have people wrapping up?
Susan: No, I want to read all the chat emails though, but I think you’ll have to export that, and if anybody had a question, I’ll try to take that or comment on that offline.
Jennifer: Hey, Susan, I got a question.
What’s the Best Way To Ease Into Calendar Blocking?
Jennifer: I can’t put in the Q&A. So my calendar is blocked, but I have not seen anything the way that your calendar is done, and frankly, it feels a little overwhelming to me to have all of my time accounted for like that, and I totally see the beauty in doing it that way because it gives you so much freedom on the backend. What’s a good way to ease into the level of calendaring that you do?
Susan: Yeah, this did not happen overnight. And it works so well for me. Some people need white space on their calendar so that they don’t feel overwhelmed, and that’s okay, that they know they have a break. They know they need to walk away. That’s okay. But to ease into it, put your rocks in first. So start with how am I taking care of me first? That’s going to start to frame your day. If you have to wait two or three weeks to get it really in rhythm so that you’re consistent with what you want to do, that’s okay, but get it on the calendar. And then if you say, “Okay, I said it was going to work out Monday, Wednesday, Friday at nine, but it turns out I have a meeting the next three weeks on those days.” After that, you don’t. Now it’s reserved for after, and you can move that block of time around in your day to get that part done. But it’s those rocks, those priorities of taking care of yourself first, that would be the way I would say to start.
Stephanie: Yeah. And you can add the other ones in over time, one week and the next week, or the week after, the week after. I know in my world, working with a lot of ADHD people, we always feel like we have to go like a hundred percent. So we’re like, “Susan just showed me 80 different things, and I am going to go do all 80 right now.” And it’s like, “Oh, wait, that’s super overwhelming.” So I always tell everyone momentum builds and small changes are sustainable.
Stephanie: Do one thing and then another, and then another. It helps.
Susan: It helps. Hey, I’ve had days where I’ve looked at my calendar, and I’m like, “I am completely overwhelmed. It is too much.” Start canceling things.
Susan: You are in control. You have the power.
Stephanie: Oh, I love that. Yeah. I got an email from someone the other day who said, “Stephanie, I have been looking forward to meeting with you so very much, and today has just completely gotten away with me. Can we please reschedule so that when we meet, I can actually pay attention to what we’re talking about?” And I was like, “That is the best of email I’ve ever gotten. Absolutely. Here’s my calendar.”
Stephanie: That’s real.
Susan: Yeah, you can reschedule, and I will admit that a networking conversation is probably the first one because that is not urgent in any way; it could be pushed off. You do want to nurture those relationships, but it doesn’t have to be in the midst of overwhelm. You need to spend your time on the things that make you money, that serve your clients, that serve your team before the more proactive stuff, so being able to accommodate that if it gets too much, that’s one place that you can let go. I like this, Daphne; you have Friday as a no-meeting day, and it feels good. I don’t like meetings on Friday. I will do them only if it is a sale to a potential new client that cannot find another time. That’s the only time I’ll do meetings on Fridays too, but we do our team meetings on Fridays, though, because they’re fun. So you can mix it in the way that it works best for you. But I like that idea too. Or even if it’s just never on a Friday afternoon or a Monday morning, those are two great times to not have meetings.
Stephanie: Right. Yeah. I hate doing meetings on either of those timeframes. Very cool. All right. Well, Susan, this was amazing. I’m so excited. I love you. A couple times, I was like, “Oh, that was a really gentle spanking right there as we got in trouble for not doing the things I know I’m supposed to be doing.” All right. Got to get back to that.
Susan: A nice reminder. And no one’s perfect. I’m not perfect. Sometimes I don’t follow what’s on here because I don’t want to. Yesterday morning’s a great example. I woke up. I didn’t feel great. I canceled everything. I have blank spots on my calendar, and it was okay.
Stephanie: Yep. Weird. For those of us who are entrepreneurs, that’s part of why we’re entrepreneurs, right?
Stephanie: Oh, man. All right. Well, fantastic. Thank you all so much. Hopefully we’ll see every single one of y’all back here next week when we’ll be talking about, I’m setting up your space for peak performance, and then we’ll be wrapping up with biohacking with Jennifer in two weeks, and then, of course, for those of you who are here, the office hours on the 22nd. Thank y’all so much. Have a wonderful day. We’ll see you soon.
Susan: Bye y’all. Thanks for coming.