I once coached an executive who wanted to spend more time networking, but felt she had no time for it. As a leader in an industry where connections were critical, she felt disconnected.
When I asked her why she was struggling to spend as much time networking as she wanted, her answer was telling. “I don’t have time to squeeze it in, Darcy. I literally can’t put anything else on my calendar.”
And she was right – assuming the only way to add in more networking was to find an empty slot on her schedule. The only time she had available was the time she’d be sleeping!
Perhaps you can relate. You want to add something new and valuable into your schedule, but you just can’t find the time. Or, at least, not without squeezing it in, in a manner that leaves you feeling strained.
If this is you, consider reframing your perspective from one of “squeezing it in’” to one of consciously choosing the activities you want to prioritize.
Lessons from the Ironman
There’s an analogy here with the Ironman, which, as long-time readers will know, is a big interest of mine. When most people think about a triathlon, they imagine swimming, biking, and running. That’s accurate, of course, but elite athletes often consider nutrition to be the fourth leg, because you won’t successfully complete the race if you don’t have the fluid or calories you need to sustain you through 140.6 miles.
So for someone who’s training for an Ironman, “squeezing in” good nutrition isn’t a helpful perspective. Instead, nutrition needs to be seen as the priority that it is, because it gives you the energy you’ll need for that strenuous physical exertion. As a result, triathletes plan carefully for what they’re going to eat and drink during a race – they don’t leave it to chance as an afterthought.
Returning to the office environment, it’s easy to look at your calendar and wonder how all those meetings got on there. And to be subsequently frustrated that you don’t have time for what you really want.
But what if you added in what you know you need to be successful first? What if your calendar reflected your priorities, instead of everybody else’s. What if your needs weren’t an afterthought, or left to chance?
If this feels impossible, consider what you’d do if your car were low on gas, or if a loved one were in an accident. You wouldn’t say: “I can’t squeeze this in.” You’d make time for it. So you can make time for something important, and if you do it in an emergency situation, you can do it day-to-day as well. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, but it is possible!
Here are three actionable ideas to help you make time for the things that matter most to you.
1) Imagine a clear calendar
This might seem like wishful thinking, but bear with me for a moment. If your calendar were completely empty, what would you put in first?
After trying this mental exercise, the client I mentioned recognized that networking was one of her top priorities for her schedule. Yet everything but networking was actually on her calendar.
It’s a bit like reorganizing your closet to reflect your new wardrobe preferences. Some people prefer to take out the items they don’t like, but perhaps it’s easier to take everything out and then only put back in what you really love wearing. I did this in June (thanks to the added benefit of moving!) and the impact was huge. There were so many items that stayed in my closet from year to year during spring cleaning, that didn’t make the cut when I moved and consciously chose what to put back in!
2) Evaluate your standing meetings
I once had a client who had recurring weekly meetings on their calendar with no end date. Yes, this person had committed to a standing meeting once a week until the end of time… think about that for a moment!
While it’s okay to have standing meetings, take the time to reassess at regular intervals if they’re still needed. If the amount seems like overkill, consider cutting them down. Could you meet less often and still get the same results? Or does it make sense to turn the meeting into an email?
Don’t let regular meetings take up valuable real estate on your calendar without being intentional about it.
3) Reclaim your lunch hour
My guess is that you probably don’t spend all 60 minutes of your lunch break eating (unless maybe you’re out on a networking lunch!). Perhaps this is an opportunity to reclaim some time for the things that matter to you.
For example, a former boss of mine used to take an hour at lunch for what he called “think time.” It’s when he caught up on industry articles and pondered the big “what if” questions. When he switched from eating-on-the-run between meetings, to scheduling an hour for lunch, he was more productive the rest of the day.
If an hour feels too much for you, try starting with 30 minutes, and see how that feels.
The Elephant in the Room
As we wrap up this article, I want to address the elephant in the room. If you put your own priorities first, it might mean needing to say no (or, at least, not right now) to other things – some of which may be important. More likely than not, this will lead to some tough conversations. This is the price of saying yes to your own priorities, and it’s a price well worth paying. Trust me!
If you’d like some support with choosing your day, reach out to us. We have a popular Strength masterclass (Thoughtfully Fit Strength: Choose Your Day. Achieve Your Results) that’s devoted to this very subject that leads to excellent discussions for teams, while providing valuable insights for participants.
And if all else fails, remember: you don’t have to be the person who has meetings on their calendar every week for the rest of time! You’re welcome.