I said in Part 3 that I would discuss how I keep and set commitments in this post. To do so, I have to be upfront; I am in no way suggesting the way that I live my life is going to work for other people. I am very driven professionally, and I do not expect the way I do things will work for everyone or even many others. Still, I share these details in the hope they may help others with a starting point on how to go about this type of organization.
A week in the life.
As you can see from the image above, I schedule a lot of my life. There are “open” blocks of time. Those open blocks are how I set and keep commitments. This system works hand in hand with Todoist. I am very militant about my time because it is so easy to waste.
During the week, those open blocks are for my career, and this is where meetings and work get done. Blog entries are either writing or reading. I set aside a few hours a week to just read; because I believe it is critical. “Those who do not read have no advantage over the ones who are unable to read.” I do not know who said that initially, but I like it. This level of scheduling is not possible for many people, but I like structure.
I recently changed companies to work at Trellis as their Director of Engineering, and this system has allowed me a sense of normalcy when my career is in the chaos of learning a new company. Life is in itself chaos. It is up to us to bring order unto it.
So how do I manage commitments? I will give a professional example.
I like closing loops. When I am having a conversation where I have a deliverable, someone else has a deliverable, or there is an open end to a conversation where we need to touch base. I immediately add a Todoist with a reminder to close that loop. I even have a label “close_loop” for these todo’s; this allows me to keep things from slipping by me.
I am in the middle of moving Formula Chemicals over to Jetrails (see this blog post) this month. Which means there are a lot of conversations, overviews, and meetings required. If I have a module review to do, I will enter that into Todoist, but I will also add another entry to close the loop with the CEO to discuss my findings. I use Slack’s “remind me” feature all the time when I am in meetings.
Have you ever been in a meeting and seen a message on Slack you needed to reply to, but did not want to break your attention? Just click the “three dots” and select “Remind Me” and pick a time.
These tricks are some of the ways I manage my commitments professionally. Since I control my time so rigidly, it is easy for me to say, “I can give you two hours on that and then follow up with you.” Run through four Pomodoro’s and my Todoist to close the loop will remind me to let them know what I found out.
So why is it important to schedule out commitments and understand how much time you have? Because something will slip. A meeting will get moved, you will have something dropped in your lap last minute, Cloudflare will have an outage, a client will get an ADA lawsuit, some of those are a little specific, but the point remains. What do I do when things do not go according to plan (basically every day)?
One of two things will happen:
- The incoming commitment will get put in a window where there is time if it is appropriate. I cannot tell a client their site being down can wait till tomorrow, but I can tell someone who wants to have lunch that my day is full today.
- I move something else out. This is tricky, and there is no system or formula, you just have to see where you can move something. What I will not do is sacrifice one of those purple blocks above. Those are immovable by anyone short of my family.
If something at work conflicts with my lunch, I will eat during, or I will eat after. I let lunch slide around a bit because skipping a meal will not kill me (I checked). I try not to let the walks slip if possible, but lately, it has been so incredibly hot here that I am happy if they do move until the evening.
I started this post out, saying my system will not work for many other people. I got some questions about getting up early, and I recently had a professional development client that I was coaching ask me about this.
How to make this system work for you
You do not need to get up at 4:30 AM; you just need to get up early. My recent client was a bartender and bouncer who wants to open their night club in San Fransisco. They needed some coaching on time management, goal drivers, and how to sort out their life.
They had to be at work by six at night and would leave work around one in the morning but could not sleep until three or four. Getting up at my time would not work for them. Previously they were getting up around four in the evening and getting ready for work then heading out.
The first thing we did was to discuss sleep needs. Everyone is different. Some people need eight hours, many teens need twelve hours, my girlfriend needs ten hours minimum, or she will strike the person who woke her with a bolt of lightning (kind of kidding), I doubted my client required twelve hours of sleep.
I have found we all wake up differently, depending on how long we have been asleep. For me, if I sleep until 5:30 AM I am dead tired but get up fine at 6:00 AM, so I am guessing (not a doctor) that I am in some other state of sleep between 5:00 AM and 6:00 AM. So the first thing I had my client do after gathering everything in his world for commitments, was start dialing the clock back by thirty-minute increments.
We found he did best on seven hours of sleep and got up at 11:00 AM. He was almost immediately in love with the new five hours a day open to him. Okay, that is a complete lie; he hated me and everything I stood for until about a month passed, and then he fell in love with getting up earlier. After that, I got him organized, my phase three time management would be overkill for him, so we used an inbox approach where everything had a “home” and everything both physical and digital went into an “inbox” to be sorted the next morning.
He was already an avid fitness person working out on his days off for a few hours each day, also playing several sports, so he did not need help getting sorted physically. So the next thing I did was help him with procrastination (more on this in another post).
My client could not handle the rigidity of scheduling out his day before work, so instead, we gave him time buckets. Time buckets are like little budgets of hours/minutes every day. You must spend all of them, but there is no requirement on how you spend them. For example, he got sixty minutes of reading in his bucket a day, and he chose to do it in fifteen-minute bursts on breaks at work and when he got up. This worked perfectly for him.
As you can see from this example, my scheduling system does not work for everyone. You have to find what works for you and then use that. You will not know until you start iterating, do not wait. Do it today, best case scenario it works, worst case it fails, and you learned valuable data for the next iteration.
If you’re curious, he is well on his way to buying the night club he was working at just a few months ago.
Life is just a series of tests, it is what you do with the results that matter.