Take control of your calendar to turbocharge your productivity and happiness.
Time, not money is the most valuable resource we have.
Though both time and money can be used to buy the other (we can spend our time to earn money, and we can use money to free up our time), the ultimate currency is our time.
And we have more than we think.
But busyness has become a badge of honour. Family gatherings turn into competitions of who’s been busiest. We all too often answer ‘How are you doing?’ with ‘BUSY!’ And while busyness and business may only differ by a single letter, there should be much more separating them in real life.
Our aim should not be to be busy. In fact, busyness should be a sign that we’re doing something wrong. That something needs to change. Sure, we can be productive, but our productivity should be systemised and calculated, not overwhelming and out of control. Don’t strive for busyness, strive for productivity.
It’s said that structure and process have four times more impact on a business’s success than level of talent.
What most people don’t realise, is that they have complete control over their time. Even when we do things we ‘don’t want to do’, we actually DO want to do them, because we value the result they’ll bring. Working a job you don’t like? You’ve made the decision to work this job because you value the income it brings. You have more choice than you think.
And the best way to control your time (and make it work for you) is to plan it.
The exciting part? You can design it any way you want. What you do with your time is completely up to you. With a little planning, you can create the perfect week – whatever that looks like for you. But not just for you, but for your business too.
And that’s a great place to start… with what a perfect week looks like for you and your business.
What makes you happy? What do you need to do to drive you towards business success (however you measure it).
I came to the realisation recently that I wasn’t taking the daily steps I needed to be happy. My wife and I had a beautiful new baby, and I was out of routine. And, by my own fault, I hadn’t taken the steps needed to create a new routine. I had no right to expect happiness to come if I wasn’t doing the things I knew I needed to help it along. You have no right to dwell on something within your control that you aren’t prepared to take action on.
So this is the first step, make two lists.
In the first list, the things that you need to do for your mental health. For me, this included playing with our little girl, exercise, walking outside in nature, getting exposure to sunlight, eating healthy food, drinking water, creating (content or value to put out into the world), consuming (reading a book or listening to podcasts or audio books), and doing deep, focussed, productive work (in a flow state). For you, you might want to add more social interaction to this list – but I have a lot of introvert tendencies, and I get a lot of social interaction without having to make an effort to get more.
Happiness is the pursuit of meaningful goals.
In the second list, the things that don’t make you happy. The things that damage your business. For me, too much time inside, mindless time on my phone, or mindless time in front of the TV.
Sometimes, it’s not how much time you spend doing what you love, it’s how little time you spend doing what you hate.
Don’t look for work/life balance. Look for love/loathe balance.
Once you have these lists, it’s time to design the week. Again, we can do anything we want. If we don’t like it, change it.
A word of caution. Don’t assume that having ‘all the time in the world’ to do whatever you want will make you happy. I’ve made that mistake in the past. I’d systemised the elements of my business to the point where I had so much free time that it wasn’t good for my mental health. I realised that using my mind was good for my mental health.
We all seem to have this notion that ‘retirement’ is the ultimate aim. That we need to give the best years of our life to things we don’t like doing, so we can then spend the worst years of our life (possibly with a deteriorating body and mind) doing things we love. But the truth is, according to a 2013 report from the Institute of Economic Affairs, retirement increases your risk of suffering from depression by 40%.
Retirement is an invention. An invention of 1889 Germany. Retirement isn’t something we’ve evolved to do to make us happier. It’s an artificially human construct.
In fact, on the islands of Okinawa (which have one of the longest disability-free life expectancies in the world), they don’t even have a word for retirement. It’s an unknown concept. They do however have a word ‘ikigai’ which basically means, “the reason you wake up in the morning”. People with a ‘reason to wake up in the morning’ live longer, happier lives.
The easiest way to drive yourself to depression would be to identify an aspect of reality you don’t enjoy and subsequently expend all of your energies to try ignore it, instead fo fix it.
So maybe it’s not that we want to retire, maybe it’s that we want to do what we love. We want freedom. Choice. News flash… you have those things now. You have freedom. You have choice. You just need to claim them, and take control over your calendar.
So once we have our list of what makes us happy (what we want to do more of), we literally need a calendar. Preferably a digital calendar that will allow you to schedule recurring events. My personal choice is Google Calendar.
My weekly calendar looks something like this:
Let’s dissect some of the key elements, and cover my advice on putting together your calendar.
1) Group calendar tasks by colour:
Tasks of similar types are grouped by colour. For me, anything in a shade of blue occurs at Range of Motion, the physical location of the business. Dark blue is Range of Motion Business Mentoring clients, light blue is exercise clients, purple is nutrition coaching and shaded blue is my own training.
Orange is time spent working ‘in’ the business on daily ‘admin’ type tasks or unplanned tasks that pop up on a day to day basis. I also call these orange tasks ‘shallow work’. There may be anywhere from 30-50 of these quick tasks each day, which may take anywhere from one to ten minutes.
Yellow tasks on the contrary are ‘deep work’, working ON the business. There may only be two to three of these tasks (or more accurately, ‘projects’) each week. These are the tasks that move the business forward. Working ‘in’ tasks are necessary for daily operations, to keep us ‘treading water’. Working ‘on’ tasks move the business forward, and ensure it’s a better business on Sunday night than it was on Monday morning.
If I’m working, make sure it’s well defined, focussed and productive. Unfocussed, poorly defined and unproductive work damages my mood.
Pink items are recurring appointments for our baby. My calendar ensures that I never miss a swimming lesson or a session of ‘Gymbaroo’ (guided ‘developmental play’ for babies and toddlers). Don’t worry, I spend more time than this with our little girl – I’ll discuss the ‘white space’ soon.
Dark green is reading time. While I do listen to audiobooks (which I’ll discuss soon), I think there’s a different level of comprehension that comes from reading the written word. I found that if this wasn’t on my calendar, it didn’t happen.
Light green is time spent walking outside (preferably bare foot in the sun) in nature, listening to either audio books or audio summaries of non fiction books. I’m grateful to live in an environment where the Swan River provides water and green spaces that I find to be really important for my mental health. On the Monday it’s just a short walk, where I listen to a book summary in ‘Blinkist’ – which summarises non fiction books into about 10 minutes. Thursday and Sunday are longer walks where I listen to audiobooks in their entirety – about two and a half hours total per week. I listen to these in 2.5x speed (don’t be impressed, honestly, it’s nothing special, you’d be amazed how quickly the brain latches on to this new speed – we think a lot faster than we talk). Incidentally, I also listen to podcasts while driving – which adds up to maybe two hours per week (these at 2x speed as the audio quality is often not as high as audiobooks).
Items in black are miscellaneous – things like social events, unpaid appointments and meetings, and planning. You’ll notice on Sunday there’s 30 minute allocated to ‘plan next week’. This is where I commit to certain projects for the following week that will be competed during my ‘working on the business’ deep work.
2) Block your time:
Grouping similar tasks together is an example of time blocking. There is a ‘switching cost’ associated with moving from one task (or type of tasks) to another. The research tells us we can damage our productivity by 40% with inefficient time blocking.
For me, the ‘work on’ tasks on a Friday morning are all about creating content (it’s Friday morning at the time of writing this). I group all content creation here, where I won’t be interrupted by admin tasks and ‘spot fires’ that contribute to the ‘switching cost’.
Don’t take breaks from distraction, instead, take breaks from focus.
3) Calendar items correspond to a task manager:
I use the digital task manager ‘todoist’ to ‘run my life’. Everything I need to do goes on this list. It means I don’t fill my head up with dates and tasks – I outsource that information.
Each day will have 20-30 tasks in this ‘to do list’, many of which are recurring tasks that I haven’t been able to completely automate in the running of the business.
One of the functionalities of this software is the ability to assign ‘tags’ or ‘labels’ to filter tasks of similar types. You’ll notice my tags ‘Work_On’ appear in yellow, and ‘Work_In’ appear in orange – both corresponding to the calendar colours. This makes it easy for me to identify and prioritise tasks that I should be completing in each block of time.
4) Tasks should be recurring:
Waking up every Monday morning and deciding what you’ll do that week is exhausting, and causes decision fatigue. I’d rather use my mental bandwidth to be creative, solve problems and learn. Almost every item in this calendar is recurring. Sure the tasks I’m doing may change, but I’m consistent in when they’re done.
Williams James said “There is no more miserable human being than the one for whom the beginning of every bit of work must be decided anew every day.”
5) Environment is important:
Certain environments are more conducive to certain types of work. Being at our facility (Range of Motion) is imperative for ‘client facing’ work, but isn’t the best for ‘deep work’. Similarly, being at home (with the wonderful distraction of a cute kid) isn’t great for deep work, and results in the time I do spend with my daughter being of a lower quality. I’d rather 20 hours a week of fully present time with her, than 40 hours of being ‘absently present’.
Much of the deep work I do is in cafes, where I can put headphones in, in attempt to get into a deep work flow state.
Often I’ll do this deep work in a cafe that requires a walk from home. On Thursdays for example, the yellow ‘work on’ deep work is at a cafe that’s about a 30 minute work from home, along the river. This work is therefore bracketed by green ‘walk and audio book’.
6) Include white space:
‘White space’ is SO important. White space is the freedom that the ‘coloured spaces’ allows me. In the white space I have choice. Choice to do whatever I want. I work hard in the ‘coloured space’ to earn me the freedom and choice that the white space gives me.
Mark Twain told us “Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do. Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.” So, earn the right to choose what you do, if you have the freedom of choice, then everything becomes play.
7) Protect your time:
I am the only one in control of my calendar. I’m definitely not a fan of booking systems that allow other people to have control over my time. Remember, it’s my most valuable resource, and I would no more give them control over it than I would my bank account. Be aggressively protective with with you time. Control your own time. Don’t let other people control it for you. Your time is yours to give, not theirs to take.
8) The calendar is sacred:
For me, this calendar isn’t a suggestion, it’s a commitment. Backing down on this commitment is a slippery slope. It would send my mind the message that I am the sort of person who doesn’t stand by the commitments I make myself. And that’s dangerous. Failing to stick with a plan not only makes that plan worthless, but it makes any future plans you may make worthless too.
You won’t always be motivated. On those days be disciplined. Commitment means staying loyal to what you said you were going to do LONG after the mood you said it in has left.
We’ve got 168 hours each week to play with. And at the moment, you probably don’t really know what you’re doing with them. Let’s say you’re sleeping for 56 hours, eating for eight hours, working for 35 hours, exercising for three hours, shopping for an hour, running errands for four hours and driving for three hours. That still leaves you with 58 hours every week!
Now, a criticism of what could be interpreted as a regimented and overly structured approach to living is that it leaves no room for spontaneity, for freedom. Firstly, we’ve included ‘white space’, but secondly, you’ll be amazed at how a disciplined approach doesn’t limit your freedom, but increases it (try it, you’ll see).
As Jocko Willink tells us, ‘Discipline equals freedom’.
Dan Williams is the Director of Range of Motion and leads a team of Exercise Physiologists, Sports Scientists, Physiotherapists and Coaches. He has a Bachelor of Science (Exercise and Health Science) and a Postgraduate Bachelor of Exercise Rehabilitation Science from The University of Western Australia, with minors in Biomechanics and Sport Psychology.