Schedule for the Unexpected



Shane Atchison

CEO at POSSIBLE

In this series, professionals share their secrets to being more productive. Read the posts here, then write your own (use #ProductivityHacks in the body).

My first mentor worked at a large bank, where he ranked just below the CEO. He was an extremely busy person with a very important job. Back then, I didn’t realize that he also had a singularly remarkable trait: he never missed a meeting, no matter how unimportant. I had to be at the bottom of his priority list, but when I had a call scheduled with him, he always answered the phone.

At the time, I didn’t appreciate this. I was just starting out in business and didn’t have that much responsibility. Twenty years later, I’ve learned just how hard it is to never miss an appointment. That’s because we fill our schedules to the brim with work and meetings — and then suddenly something unexpected comes up — those little emergencies that you have to focus on, even though you have other things to do. It’s your boss who needs a last-minute fix, your client who suddenly demands your attention, or your kid who gets sick at school.

In those cases, you have to drop everything and deal with it. You put the other tasks off into the future, reschedule meetings, and juggle tasks. Obviously, this can have a huge impact on your productivity. Nothing gets the time it deserves, or you find yourself working deep into the night, which your family, of course, loves.

The problem is that most of us don’t have time for all that. But here’s the secret: you can make time. Schedule for it. Typically, I block out an hour a day, preferably late in the afternoon. No meetings, no phone calls. That way, when something comes up, I have an hour of flexibility to address it. Even if the task takes more time than that, my schedule doesn’t get so jammed up that I miss many meetings and leave people hanging with an empty phone in their hands.

Of course, you might need more or less than an hour. It all depends on what you have on your plate. The important thing is to take the time you need to ensure that you’re not always stressing everything out. You may not make it to every meeting (full disclosure: I don’t), but you won’t constantly find yourself on your back foot trying to catch up.

The best part of all? By doing this, I’ve learned that while the unexpected always seems to come up, sometimes it doesn’t. In those cases, you get an extra hour to work on whatever needs working — or head home early. It’s an added bonus. Try it and you’ll see.
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