What’s Your Calendar Made Of?

Is your calendar a friend or a foe?  Does it make your life more or less stressful? If you use it to optimize your time, to strategically prioritize your activities and to be your accountability partner, it’s your best friend.  It’s your worst enemy if its main use is reminding you how busy you are and manufacturing excuses for turning down opportunities!

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I behave as if my calendar is a large chunk of granite where I carve my upcoming activities. A rock calendar might seem friendly because its solid and stable.  On the other hand, the limitations of living life according to what is carved in stone is a life of confinement and missed opportunities.

The rock calendar philosophy is a limiting belief that can spread confinement to others. How? Suppose an opportunity comes along that conflicts with something you’ve already blocked out on your calendar. You know how much work it takes to change calendar entries carved in stone. At this point it’s simply too late to change the calendar.  Then factor in the human tendency to project one’s  own feelings onto others (i.e. I assume others will feel the same as me.) “If it’s too late for me, it’s too late for everyone else. I won’t bother them because I care about them.” You just made a decision for someone else and took away their right to choose without asking simple questions such as: “Are you interested? Is this important to you?” The truth is, you are probably justifying your decision based on your limiting belief, your assumption and your paradigm. How self-centered is that?

Why do human beings make assumptions about what others think, feel and need? God knows everything, but I don’t and you don’t. So why do we behave as if we are the all-knowing God?  I guess it’s easier to assume rather than ask.

Here’s my conclusion: A stone calendar is NOT your friend. Your true friend is that sense of loss that challenges your limiting beliefs and helps you discover and adopt a better paradigm, such as knowing why our decisions don’t have to be limited by a rigid calendar?

I’ll leave you with the following question and three principles:

What are the long-term consequences of living life
according to a stone calendar?

Three Principles That Make Your Calendar Work Better:

  • See your calendar as flexible, not rigid.
  • Learn the difference between urgent and important. Then assign high priority status to only those which are both urgent and important.
  • Schedule immediately that which seems most important.  If it turns out to be less important, reschedule as necessary to make room for something you know IS important.

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Life Made Simpler and Better

When thinking or having a conversation about an opportunity, people are good at asking and answering Who, Why, Where, and How, but not so hot on When.  You don’t believe me?  Look at the calendars of 10 people you know, then look at their to-do lists.  If people were really as good at When their calendars would be filled with the most important things on their to-do lists.  In her book, “Busy Being Busy” my friend Michelle Prince says, “You can learn a lot by paying attention to where you end up in the bookstore.”  So true!  I would add that you can also learn a lot by paying attention to what’s on your calendar.

Why is the calendar so important?  Here’s what I know.  What matters gets scheduled and what gets scheduled is more likely to be completed when it matters most.  To-do lists are wish lists.  Calendars are commitment lists with minute-by-minute calls to action.

Suppose you are a busy business owner and you are invited to a professional development event.  You believe there is value in participating, but you hesitate.  So, let’s start with a When question.  “When do you want to start being more productive, making more profit, better serving your customers, and having more free time for yourself?”  Typical answers to a question like this are: Immediately, Soon, Eventually, Some Day, and When I Have More Time.

Every one of these answers is vague and shows a lack of commitment.  Each would be easily made specific by assigning to it a date and time AND more real by putting it on the calendar.  So, here is your formula for success:

  • Always choose what matters most.
  • Always schedule what matters most.
  • What gets scheduled gets done.
  • What gets done, makes a difference.

Life is simpler than we realize when we prioritize and organize!

Killing Time is a Felony (or Should Be!)

On the heels of a full-day workshop about personal productivity led by Michelle Prince, I was inspired to ask this question.  “With time being the precious commodity that it is, why do we treat it with such reckless abandon? ”  Maybe there should be a severe penalty for killing time.  Then it dawned on me.  Wasteful use of time is it’s own penalty, like burning money!  How can we stop doing this?   (Enter Michelle Prince.)

Time Blocking Means Scheduling What’s Important

Thinking back on what Michelle taught us about Time Blocking, I had another thought.  Imagine your favorite band is coming to town in two weeks and you’ve never heard them in-person.  You wonder, this can’t be the first announcement. How come I’m just now hearing about it?  While questioning your predicament you immediately go online desperately hoping that a few seats might still be available.  Hooray!  You discover two unclaimed adjoining seats near the back row.  Without hesitation, you break the all-time speed record for online purchases.

After a sigh of relief, you check your calendar to see if anything has to be rescheduled.  First things second, right?  But, maybe you aren’t the type to be caught up in the moment, meaning you had the good sense to check your calendar BEFORE buying the tickets.  Regardless, here’s the important question.  If something else was scheduled on the day of the concert, what would you do?  Remember, it’s your favorite band.  You would reschedule what’s important to make room for the concert.

My imagination continued to churn, this time in a different direction.  Suppose your favorite band had to cancel.  Would you clear your calendar until the rain check date was announced?  Of course not!  Yet, how many real opportunities do we miss because we keep our calendars open for unknown opportunities that might never happen?

Simple is as Simple Does

Productive people faced with an opportunity begin with one simple action.  They schedule what is important as soon as it appears on the radar screen and reschedule conflicting priorities as needed to keep them on the calendar.  Admittedly, this approach does fill the calendar quicker and occasionally requires cancelling a priority.  However, I would wager that this happens far less often than we fear.  The important thing to remember is this:

“What gets scheduled gets done.  What doesn’t get scheduled doesn’t get done.”
— Michael Hyatt

Scheduling forms the commitment.  What other behaviors do people exhibit when they are committed?  They tell people about their decision.  They invest money in it.   They visualize what it will be like.  They make plans.  They prepare.  Without these behaviors there is no importance and no commitment.  Sadly, they are left with one more option on the pile of discarded opportunities.  An unimportant opportunity rejected intentionally is sensible.  An important one missed by poor scheduling is tragic.

Self-Talk: The Enemy of Importance

Let’s look at an example of “importance.”  Is your family important to you?  What’s important to your family?  Certainly your time.  If you are the breadwinner in your family your income is important.  In turn, that would assign importance to your capacity to earn future income, which leads to your next question.  “What am I doing to protect and increase my capacity to earn a living for my family?”  You might discover that strategic investments in yourself are long overdue.  It’s time for action!

After this sort of reflection, expect your self-talk to jump in.  “I realize that I want and need this.  But, there’s plenty of time to make it happen so, I’ll revisit it when the time gets closer.  I’ll make a note to myself.  This way, if a better offer comes up, I won’t have to rearrange my schedule and apologize for canceling.  Besides, there will probably be other opportunities when I’m not so busy.  The benefits might have to wait.”

Truth #1: We Schedule What We Value.

When two conflicting opportunities collide, we schedule around them.  Scheduling is seldom an either/or proposition.  When we are creative, we can usually find a way to make both things happen.  Instead of sacrificing, we adjust.

Truth #2: It’s Easy to Confuse “Importance” with “Interesting.”

Success means giving preferential treatment to that which is important over that which is merely interesting.  The negative alternative is settling for interesting, low-value opportunities, including nothing at all.  Temptation is that seductive stimulus that preys on people’s inability to differentiate between importance and interesting.  As a result, people are drawn to what seems important in the moment,  but turn out to be less important, even harmful.  Successful people have the will and the skill to recognize what is truly important and make appropriate choices.  They do this by reprogramming their values to make the important interesting.

Truth #3: Most Important Things Can be Rescheduled.

Highly effective people routinely adjust their calendars.  Because they are committed to maintaining a full calendar based on their priorities, they will inevitably find competing priorities that conflict with one another.  They realize that productivity begins with a flexible calendar, filled with the most important opportunities.  If something is important enough to be on the calendar, it’s worth rescheduling to make room for other priorities.  This is a must-have attitude for enjoying a rich, highly effective life.

A Lesson in Flexibility

Here’s a question I’ve been asking myself and others more often.  Is life an endless series of either/or propositions?  For example, do we really have to choose between a customer appointment and an investment in ourselves?  Maybe, but probably not.  What if a customer wants to meet you on Friday morning?  If the requested day and time are open, you schedule it.  If not, you suggest a different time or adjust your calendar.  You have the power to choose.  So often we make things more complicated than necessary by imagining what the customer might think, say or do if we suggest a different time or have to call back to reschedule.  That’s fear speaking.  Instead of listening to the speculation of our imaginations, why not reach out to the customer and ask a question like this?  “Mr. Customer, I have a conflict.  Would it be inconvenient for you if we choose another time that works for you?  I have both an early and a late opening on Wednesday.  Would either of these be convenient?”

Here’s a real-life example.  It was Friday afternoon, several years ago when I called Chuck for an appointment to discuss a home-remodeling project.  I was the prospective customer.  Chuck was pleased to take my call and suggested Tuesday afternoon.  I explained, that was too late, because I already had a quote and a signed contract that would take effect on Tuesday.  I needed his quote before then.  After a brief pause, Chuck said, “I can be meet with you at 6:30 this evening.”  His professionalism and flexibility were key factors in earning my business.

Here’s the point.  I didn’t know what was on Chuck’s calendar — I did know what was on mine.  Here’s what I do know.  When we understood each others’ time parameters and priorities we were able to schedule an appointment with the help of importance-based time-blocking.

A Challenge for Change

How many opportunities do we miss because we don’t schedule what’s important?  How often are we afraid to reschedule an appointment assuming people will be upset by a rescheduling request?  Just maybe, the original appointment has become inconvenient for them, too and they would welcome your request to reschedule.  Does fear of the unknown drive our actions or have we learned that reasonable people will make reasonable adjustments?

Here are four challenge questions for you.

  1. Do you understand what is truly important to you and those in your circle of influence?
  2. Do you schedule first what is most important?  (see: Big Rocks)
  3. Are you willing to reschedule as needed to maximize your time according to your priorities?
  4. What will you do differently as a result of reading this and thinking about it?

CLICK HERE for opportunities that might belong on your calendar.

The Importance of “Important”

The late Stephen Covey was well-know for his classic book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”  Habit #3 is entitled, “Put First Things First.”  It’s all about knowing what is important and honoring it by our actions.  Looking at the culture, it would seem that defining importance is more difficult than one would think.  People seem to be confused by this.  What happens?  Confusion becomes a barricade to any action, much less the right action.

Newton’s first law of motion says that a body at rest will remain at rest unless an outside force acts on it.  This is a great metaphor for human behavior.  A person will move from inaction to action only when motivated by something sufficiently important.  Most barricade-busting motivation fits into the following categories: Wants, Needs, and Responsibilities.

  • Emptiness Chooses Wants. — People fill voids with something they want.
  • Pain Chooses Needs. — People relieve pain with something they believe they need.
  • Conscience Chooses Responsibilities. — People choose right actions in obedience to their consciences.

Importance is established when one or more of these motivators takes center stage in the person’s mind and heart.  Sometimes people coincidentally choose Right Actions when Responsibility does not play a significant role.  That is, we sometimes do the right thing for the wrong reason.

Admittedly, the formula is not quite so straightforward.  The strength of the motivators is constantly rising and falling because of emotional fluctuations, changes in personal perspectives and changes in external circumstances.  It’s a dynamic environment.

Here’s what I am certain about.  When an opportunity intersects with importance, we give it the red carpet treatment.  Which means, we mark the calendar.  We rearrange appointments.  We set aside funds.  We post reminders. We tell people.  We tweet.  We follow through.

It doesn’t matter whether the opportunity is one you created or a gift from someone else.  Importance is still the motivation necessary to cause action.  Until then, the opportunity is just another competing option in our busy lives.  Only what we perceive to be truly important finds its way onto our calendars, into our budgets and into our conversations.

What’s on your calendar?  What’s in your budget?  What are you talking about?