Increase your productivity and control through smart scheduling

Last week, one of my clients, Roger Tuttle of  Tuttle Financial Advisors, sent me an article to edit. Roger coaches professionals in the insurance and financial services industries, helping them to increase their sales and build their practices. His article was about the importance of gaining control over your calendar – instead of letting your calendar be your boss.

As I was editing Roger’s article, I realized the method he was recommending could be applied by any solopreneur or small business owner who has to juggle client appointments, new business development, time to actually get work done and personal time. Here’s what Roger suggests to his clients, along with some thoughts of my own on the topic.

Roger recommends scheduling four to six weeks in advance. Before you say that’s not possible, let me explain that what we’re really talking about is looking ahead four to six weeks and dividing your calendar up into the three types of activities:

• Off days (time used exclusively for personal and family time). Maintaining balance in your life is a challenge for every solopreneur and small business person. As we all know, it is very easy to let work impinge on personal time. This leads to burnout and can damage your personal relationships. Having off days (or half days) marked on your calendar will serve as an important reminder of the importance of downtime. While it may not always be possible to keep these times inviolate, having them scheduled should improve your ability to achieve your goal of work/life balance.

• Performance days. This is time when you are producing the services or products that generate your income. For me, this is primarily time spent on writing. What parts of the day are you most productive? Consider setting aside large blocks of time during these periods for doing your actual work.

If you work requires you to meet with clients, set aside blocks of time specifically for that activity as well. For example, you might set aside Tuesday and Friday mornings for client meetings. By designating specific times and then scheduling client meetings into these times, you gain more control over your calendar instead of letting your clients control your calendar. When a client wants to meet, you say, “I’m available Tuesday or Friday morning. What works for you?”

Of course, emergencies will come up when you have to drop everything and rush to a client. But at least by scheduling blocks of time for client meetings, you’ll have more control over your calendar than before.

• New business development/marketing. Even when things are going well, we all still need to keep an eye on new business development and marketing. Set aside blocks of time for such things as attending networking events, having coffee with colleagues who might provide referrals, researching prospects and writing proposals. For example, blogging is a marketing activity for me, so I set aside periods for this on Mondays and Wednesdays, the days before I post my articles. This gives me time to do the writing and then sleep on it and review it again on the day of the post.

Obviously, if you’re in an extremely busy period, the amount of time devoted to this category will be less than when things are slow and you’re trying to generate new business. But no matter what your situation, never totally ignore the need for activities that keep your name in front of people.

In mid-month, [six weeks in advance] print out the calendar for the month following the coming month; for example, it’s now the middle of August, so print out the October calendar. On it, divide your time into the categories listed above.

As Roger points, no schedule is perfect. Things do come up at the last minute. The key is to make sure that the vast majority of the time period you’ve set aside for off days, performance, or new business development is filled with the types of activities associated with those things. With experience, you can develop the discipline it takes to follow this method and thereby gain the power that comes with knowing well in advance what you’re going to be doing each day. A rhythm will develop that will increase your productivity, decrease your stress and lead to more success.

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