man at desk checking time on wristwatch

You may work 9 to 5 but just how many of those hours go towards high-priority tasks and meetings? Whether your role is remote, in-office or a hybrid impacts this, as well as how organized your calendar is, and your ability to prioritize.

Working from home (or your local cafe, a train, a beach in the Bahamas 🙌) means you’re only a video call away from your team. Convenient? Absolutely. But it can also wrangle you into meetings more often, eroding the time you’ve budgeted for bigger items.

Too many people dive into their new messages right after their first bite of breakfast, effectively starting their work day without a moment to calibrate. Pair that with fewer breaks or a later lunch because your kitchen is just a few steps away, and your schedule turns upside down. …You did get lunch, right?

Then comes the ah-ha: WFH should give you more time to focus on important tasks. But actually, you’re dealing with more distractions and taking on more meetings. So let’s talk about how to protect your time at work so the need-to-do’s get done.

What is protecting your time?

Protecting your time means taking control of your schedule; ensuring you’re not over- or under-utilized during your working hours. It relies on efficient prioritization to drive your most important tasks forward, so hours aren’t unexpectedly taken up by ad-hoc items that don’t move the needle.

Simply put, a champion at protecting their time ringfences hours for the commitments that matter. Other tasks and meetings are pushed back or delegated accordingly.

31 hours

This is the average monthly time a team member spends in unproductive meetings. Ensure your working hours go towards the meetings that matter, by ringfencing focus time and prioritizing tasks using your online calendar.

(Source: Atlassian 📣)

Why is it important?

Guarding your time at work enables you to…

Get the big things done: Busy people can’t drop everything at any given time. Defending your time at work ensures that the high-priority tasks get done. You block the necessary hours and any spare moments can be used for sporadic meetings, breaks and so on.

Decrease distractions: By organizing your calendar to account for high-priority tasks, you know exactly how much time you have for everything else. Push back a lower-priority task or meeting request that isn’t needed that day.

Set expectations: Agreeing to meetings when you have a free minute, without knowing the full agenda or expected duration, eats into your time and creates the habit of attending unnecessary meetings. Beforehand, be clear about the time you have and understand the context of a meeting. This helps you to prioritize it among everything else you’re doing. Plus, people are more likely to consider whether a meeting is 100% needed before reaching out 🎉

Stick to your working hours: By clearing time for tasks and limiting when you’re available for meetings, you can start and end your work day on time. Sharing your booking link also enables your team and/or customers to check your meeting availability independently.

man holding coffee mug and mobile

What makes it easier to protect your time?

Being realistic when it comes to time keeping is crucial. You may want to get everything done – very commendable 👏 – but is that really possible? Think about the time allowance for every task and meeting so you’re not overextended or overpromising. Factor in breaks and travel time, too.

1. Switch to an online calendar.

Paper diaries aren’t equipped for the day to day of a busy professional, especially if you’re part of a large team. A digital calendar typically stores each meeting’s start time, duration, video link or location, participant details like names and emails, and notes. One click in your calendar and all relevant information is available.

Break your day into small increments and plot focus time for essential tasks and meetings. Next, plan your meals, breaks, errands – whatever you need. Then look at the time you have left, within your working hours, for off-the-cuff catch-ups and tasks. At a glance, you’re able to see how much time you *really* have each day.

2. Measure where your time goes.

By personalizing your calendar with labels and color-coding, you can tell how many hours are going towards different types of tasks. Is the bulk of your time spent on high-priority projects? Perhaps you’re taking on more ad-hoc meetings than pre-scheduled ones?

A birdseye view makes it easier to gauge whether you should reprioritize your time. For example:

  • Merge multiple 1:1s regarding the same project into a group meeting
  • Split a large task across multiple days so you can dedicate a set number of hours before a deadline
  • Keep aside one afternoon per week to complete smaller recurring tasks

To ensure your calendar stays organized, don’t start the day with a meeting as this could lead you to begin a new task, update a doc or type an email right away. Give yourself 10 minutes every morning to plan ahead and move things around in your schedule if needed. Plan your breaks so you’re more likely to take them around your other commitments. Making time to switch off often leads to increased productivity.

3. Confirm your schedule daily.

Take time every morning to review your schedule, noting changes for the day like new, rescheduled or cancelled appointments. This is crucial if you accept appointments online, as you may have received a new booking during the night.

Shift other commitments around accordingly. You might have more time to dedicate to a report, or you might have to push smaller tasks back to account for a new team call. Dedicating a few minutes at the beginning or end of your day clarifies your upcoming priorities and keeps you on track to complete what’s needed.

This helps you to defend your time more than reorganizing on the fly. You know what your schedule looks like for the day and can respond to other meeting or task requests faster.

Time-saving tips 💡

Protecting your time is only partly about organization. Being able to prioritize your workload is the bigger difference-maker.

  • Think about eeeeverything that you need to do
  • Attach deadlines, if applicable
  • Attach realistic time allowances
  • List items in order of importance

Next, really consider what makes it into your calendar. Start with the high-priority items with close deadlines that cannot be delegated. After this, work your way through the remaining items. Could you delegate some tasks or consolidate some meetings?

Place the remaining items where space is available in your calendar, by deadline and within your working hours. Remember to leave a buffer time for travel and account for down time.

Limit sporadic meetings

How many times a day are you asked “Can we jump on a quick call?” These sporadic meetings are often necessary when a deadline is looming, or if a team member needs to demonstrate a concept over video. But, multiple ad-hoc meetings take a bite out of your daily working hours, which impacts the time it takes to get your own high-priority tasks done.

To ensure that you’re not sidetracked too often, offer online booking for catch-ups. Team members can view when you’re available that day and book without needing to contact you. Not only does this reduce the back-and-forth, but they can book for the next day if your schedule can’t accommodate. This way, you’re more likely to receive only urgent meeting requests via chat or email.

Most calendar systems also offer analytics that measure how much time goes to each type of service. Keep tabs on hours spent on quick calls and think about ringfencing one hour per day, rather than taking new calls as you go.

Get the details first

Meetings sometimes appear in your calendar without any context. This can be frustrating when they’re longer meetings, as you can’t immediately validate if you need to attend. To guard your time at work, ensure you ask for essential information before attending new meetings.

This way, the agenda is clear and you know what’s expected of you and other attendees. It also reduces the need to reschedule or cancel last-minute if any items are not ready.

Evaluate the meeting details and goals, and confirm whether the meeting is urgent. If so, are you the most relevant person to attend or could you delegate? You could also suggest alternative ways to reach the same goals, e.g.

  • Two shorter calls with specific teams
  • An email or chat thread to share and discuss items
  • Consolidating multiple 1:1s into one group discussion
  • Asking for questions from all attendees via an online form and recording a video response

Make notes in your calendar to remember salient details about a meeting or task.

Goals for the day

There’s such a thing as overscheduling. Ensure that you take a breather around key items that need completing. When planning your week, plot two goals (e.g. tasks to complete) for each day. Schedule your time to accomplish those goals. If you manage to get even more done, it’s a bonus 🏆

Leave them on read (for now)

Working online doesn’t require you to read emails and chats as soon as they arrive. Nor do you need to answer messages right away, unless they’re urgent. According to Atlassian, a team member typically spends 2 hours a day refocusing after distractions.

Instead of jumping in and out of threads, splitting your attention between tasks and different conversations, try to limit how often you check your messages. This depends on your role; once an hour could work, or once in the morning and once in the afternoon.

Recurring blocks

Block a recurring amount of time to update your calendar, get lunch, read emails and so on. Most calendar systems enable you to specify a start and end time for an event, and how often it’ll repeat, e.g. daily, weekly or a custom recurrence. Recurring events ensure that you’re not double booked at certain times of the day.

Your time is what you make of it.

Doing everything isn’t always possible. Guard your time to focus on high-priority tasks and meetings, ensuring they’re given the adequate hours.

When possible, step out of a meeting when the time allotted is over. Update your calendar daily and share your meeting availability online, rather than answering individual requests.

By limiting ad-hoc meetings to certain time lengths, delegating meetings and suggesting alternatives to longer meetings, you can reach your individual goals more efficiently.

Read more about how to find the right online calendar and bring some balance to your work day. Happy scheduling!

lady scheduling meeting on laptop

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