Elaine heard me talk about what I do at a breakfast meeting. She pointed at me across the room and said, “I need that!” We made an appointment for the following week and I could hear the relief in her voice.
Her schedule was full, but that wasn’t the problem. Elaine is a high energy person and likes to stay busy. She has a finger in lots of pies and her calendar was getting kind of messy, with all that cherry juice spilled on it.
What she needed was a brain dump.
She wrote out all that she does on a giant sheet of paper, the kind you use for meeting presentations. There were little notes and arrows added here and there. Some of her projects weren’t getting enough attention. In other areas, she felt she was spending too much time and not getting what she wanted.
Elaine described her days to me, what she did, what she needed to do, what she really wanted to do and how she liked working with various clients.
I helped her step back from the forest of her schedule so she could see the individual trees and how they fit together (or didn’t).
I asked her questions that helped her get even more objective about her schedule. Was her lunch break too short? She agreed it was short, but her priority was to be done with work by 3:30 every day to be with her kids. Was it worthwhile to work for a client she had to commute over an hour to? Yes, because she got a steady stream of new clients there.
She was frustrated that one client wanted more from her than she could do in the four hours a week they contracted. We came up with a couple of ideas to get around that, such as writing a proposal for a new program they could offer that would not only help their clients, but would prevent them from being sued (which had happened more than once) and therefore save them money. She has a lot of passion about this topic and is dying to teach it!
These ideas came out of my asking Elaine questions that she hadn’t asked because she was too close to the situation. Why did the client want her to do the extra work? If it was so important, why wasn’t the regular staff doing it? What would happen if it didn’t get done? What would change for the better if it got done?
What’s all this got to do with managing time?
The brain dump helped Elaine see where she was putting in effort that got great results. She could shift time from one area to another to get more bang for her buck. She realized that she was making a conscious decision to use some time in a way that wasn’t wildly productive, but she was happy with it.
Elaine knows now where her time is going and why. The point isn’t, in her case, to squeeze the utility out of every single minute, but to be intentional about how she spends her time.
Her decisions about time are connected to how she wants to live her life and accomplish her best work.
That leads to her trusting herself more and feeling confident. Investigating her schedule showed her what really matters to her and how to get more of that. Connecting to what’s meaningful to her gives her a sense of ease and assurance so she can get out there and make things happen.