Never underestimate the value of calendar white space.
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Time and productivity are ubiquitous words in the realm of entrepreneurship, business-growth, people management and career-building. So much so that a clogged, overscheduled calendar is automatically chalked up to “a person of consequence.”
Yet some of the busiest and most productive people have an uncanny control over their time, reveals Laura Vanderkam in her latest book, “Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done.” Their calendars are mostly open, unclogged, with vast chunks of white space.
After studying the time logs of more than 900 people, Vanderkam draws a few revelatory conclusions about people who get a lot done.
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Vanderkam notes that people who feel “off the clock” have one noteworthy habit — they are fiercely mindful of their time. They know exactly where their time went and prioritized aligning their energies with their tasks. They are available to meet with people on short — sometimes very short — notice. Their calendar shows time blocked for thinking and reflecting. They have everything factored in — including people.
The word “busy” has steadily gained a positive reputation, making it easy to ignore how much we actually lose. After having tracked her own time for a year, Vanderkam was surprised to observe that her actual weekly work hours were far lower than she had liked to believe earlier. Most people’s time logs revealed a similar tendency, revealing a lot of blind spots about where time went.
Getting off the bandwagon of the “constantly time-pressed” requires seeing the paradox of time. “Time is finite, yet abundant,” forms the primary premise of the book. “It is limited, yet there is enough time for anything that matters.”
Things that matter can be broadly classified into three categories — work, relationships and self. While tasks relating to work readily make it to our planner, the relationships and self categories generally suffer the malaise of the “someday syndrome.”
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“Someday is a synonym for never,” says Vanderkam. The only effective way to make everything work seamlessly is by putting one to two weekly goals in each area of the weekly planner. The book reveals the schedules of some insanely productive people who spend undisturbed mornings and evenings with their families while having thriving careers, simply because they have factored in tasks for each area of their lives.
Vanderkam walks the talk herself by putting in goals. Here is her outline:
- Self goals — she runs several miles every week.
- Work goals — she is the author of several books and has steadily built a speaking career over the years.
- Relationship goals — she and her husband take all the uncertainty and chaos that comes with raising four kids in stride.
Being constantly busy gathers up a certain haziness in its wake, leaving us too breathless to notice new opportunities that pass us by. Often, people find new opportunities opening up precisely when they don’t look overscheduled.
“When you feel relaxed about your schedule, people notice that you seem calm and in control, and they want to work with you. In this sense, the busyness isn’t productive. It’s counterproductive,” says Vanderkam.
She expresses a rather strong disapproval for what the word “busy” has come to mean, which conjures up images of people constantly ranging out from our shoulders to look up someone more important, cocktail in hand. Instead, she notes, a more appropriate definition of the word would be “building authentic relationships with people whom you want to see succeed and feel the same way about you.”
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As with every worthy goal, great relationships both at work and beyond need time too, but they can only be built with an intentional investment of time. People are a good use of time, she argues, while making the case for building a sustainable process with weekly goals for networking, instead of relegating it to that one-off, after-office event. This strategy jumped out at me, especially as studies have found that women experience hostile workplaces due to their limitations to network in the traditional sense.
The book dovetails philosophical musings with scientific research, personal anecdotes and hard data. But for the fact that some themes seem to repeat themselves, some of her interviews in the book present deceptively simple strategies to balance out our lives for that elusive, but much-needed white space on our calendars.