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Crafting Your Calendar

August 6, 2007
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I work with lots of contractors. Usually they are so busy they have a hard time fitting in lunch or making it home before 7 pm. When I ask to see a busy small-shop owner’s calendar, I often receive a blank look.

“Calendar?”

“Sure…where you jot down all the things you intend to do during the day.”

Most of the time, the “calendar” is a mess of Post It reminders or inked notes in the palm of his hand.

I’m a fan of regularly scheduled meetings to keep in touch with the rest of the team. Even if the rest of the team is your wife, it helps to have a standing appointment to discuss the business. Otherwise, business seeps into the cracks between 10:15 and 10:30 pm…not a good time to discuss accounts receivables.

You also need time to work on projects, turn wrenches, attend your kid’s T-ball games, think about your place in this amazing universe…and fit in a round of golf. Without a calendar, you are going to neglect some aspect of your life. Start committing your activities to a calendar and you will find:

You have more time than you thought you did. It is just that your time gets taken by others, bit by bit, throughout the day who command your attention. You don’t have to be available to everyone 24/7. You have the right to create some boundaries. However, unless you have something planned, it is easy to be at the mercy of someone else’s plan.

You will be less stressed. Let’s say you know that your flat rate book needs updating. And you keep thinking about it all day long. If you schedule a two-hour block of time to work on that project – put it on the calendar – you can forget about it until that time arrives. Fewer thoughts running wild in your head means less worry and stress.

You’ll be on time…at least more of the time. If needed, build in some travel time.

You can say, “No,” more often. Admit it. You waste a lot of time doing things you don’t want to do. If your calendar is wide open, it isn’t an option to day, “Sorry, I have something else planned.”  If you do have your time scheduled, you can fend off time-wasting activities and energy-sucking people more easily. If you love doing something, you will make time for it. If you hate doing something, it’s time to stop doing it.

A few tips for planning your time…

Hold sacred a once-a-week planning meeting with yourself. Look over your master “To Do” list. (I use a simple, one-subject, spiral-bound notebook for my list. It’s an easy way to write everything I need to write down in one place.)  Consider the family activities. Look over your business plan and current financials. Then, update your calendar for the week before the week starts. I suggest holding this meeting Sunday night or early Monday morning.

Schedule formal meetings. Even in a small shop, schedule time to meet with the other members of the team. That way, when someone starts to interrupt what you are currently doing, you can say, “Let’s discuss that at our meeting.” 

Don’t schedule more than 2 hours at a time for projects. You will waste time if you block out a whole day. Really, in an 8-hour day, how many hours of real production will you create? Two? So block out 2-hour time periods and start and stop on time.

Your calendar won’t be much help unless you consult it. Do so, several times a day. If you are in the office much of your time, consider using Microsoft Outlook. Are you a Mac user?  Check into iCalendar. Use the recurring appointment feature and set up regular meetings once…and see them on your calendar every week. (The sample shown here is from Outlook. You can sync your calendar to your Treo or Smart Phone or PDA when you hit the road. Nice!)

If you are a low-tech person, use a “Week At A Glance” spiral-bound calendar. Take your calendar and your master “To Do” list with you wherever you go. It takes some practice to get into the habit. Commit!

As you develop good time management habits, share this life-enhancing tactic with one of your team members. Mock up a typical week together and help him or her be more productive.



The Tightly Crafted Calendar

Take a look at the sample calendar week. I put it together imagining a small-shop owner with three techs and one part-time office employee . I assumed the owner was handling some office and financial duties, as well as taking the occasional service call. Your situation may differ. Take a swing at putting together a calendar for yourself. In the example, there are scheduled appointments to meet with your team (formal meetings with someone else are orange.)  There’s plenty of project time (purple) planned. And regular duties are scheduled in compact time periods (blue.)  The green appointments are for personal and family commitments.

And there are still 15 hours left on Monday through Friday to fill in with general “fire-fighting” and service calls, if you are still working in the truck part-time.

You can always move appointments around as the week develops. However, if you move your project appointments around a few times, it may start to bother you. Commit to the time and work on that project; it feels good to get things done. When the appointment time is over, set the appointment on your calendar and pick up with that project where you left off. You can leave clues for yourself in the appointment notes so you know where to start next time.

Of course, if an upset customer calls, the customer takes priority. Of if there is a family emergency. Just go back to the calendar and rearrange as needed. If you fall off the wagon and neglect your calendar for a few days, don’t panic. Gently remind yourself that you are so much more productive (and relaxed!) when you operate with a tightly crafted calendar. Then jump back on the wagon. If you liked this article, circle 143 on the Reader Inquiry Card.

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