Managing our schedules so that they don't manage us is one of the most critical challenges every leader faces. Not only are leaders action oriented (we do stuff) but we face significant pressures from others for our time to say nothing of the many outside opportunities that come along. We find ourselves pulled and pressed and sometimes, don't have time for the most important things, or time at all!
If we are not careful, our schedules will manage us and it won't be pretty. If we can learn to manage our schedules life is a lot more productive. Leadership 101 is learning to schedule by priority in order to achieve the results we desire rather than to live accidentally. If you are a leader and struggle with your schedule you are in good company. We all do and learning to manage it better is key to maximizing our influence.
Managing our schedules starts with personal clarity about what we are called to do. There are people around us who have many ideas for what we could or should be doing (all good) but choices must be made and they need to be made on the basis of what we know is important for us. This presupposes that we have done the work of understanding who God made us to be, what He wants us to do and what is most important in our leadership role.
I know, for instance that I have four main responsibilities in my role. Having defined those, I am able to ensure that these key areas are not pushed aside by other activities and that they get scheduled first.
Here are some practical pointers for managing one's schedule.
1. Identify what is important for you to do and what things others can and should do. As a rule, don't do what others can do.
2. Schedule ahead and ensure that the priorities for your work get scheduled first. Put in what is critical for you and then back-fill with other less important things.
3. Leave some margin so that the unexpected does not completely blow up your plans.
4. Talk to a trusted colleague about your schedule and allow them to weigh in on what is truly important and what is nice but ancillary. My wife can be irritatingly correct about some things I say yes to which she knows are not the highest priorities and which will steal my margin.
5. Evaluate your schedule monthly to ensure that the big rocks are being accomplished and not being pushed out by the sand and pebbles.
6. Get comfortable about saying no to nice opportunities that should not have your name on them.
7. Think grey about opportunities until you need to commit to them. Doing so gives you the opportunity to think and pray them through without committing prematurely.
8. Always schedule in think time so that you are doing the leadership work of thinking for your team or organization. No one else will do your thinking for you. It is part of what leaders do.
9. If you are consistently behind or missing obligations it is a sign that one needs to rethink the schedule and commitments. If it is important it should get done - on time (speaking to myself here).
10. Develop rhythms. Doing key work consistently develops habits that allow you to work efficiently.