There are days when we all feel like we are being shot into a pinball machine. Where we feel like we are bouncing around from point to point, with barely a minute to catch our breath, gather our thoughts, or be fully present to all of our obligations and commitments.
There was in fact a time in my life where I took great pride in the pinball machine, where I wore my' busy-ness' like a badge of honor, and wallowed in the sheer frenetic momentum of my full and overbooked days. I would look at my Outlook calendar and its color-coded glory, and compare notes with colleagues about where to find a bathroom break or a coffee run.
Of course, that crazy schedule didn't look so hot once my health had deteriorated, and my marriage was in shambles. Nothing like a good, old fashioned crisis or two to re-orient oneself to what actually, truly constitutes a full and productive day.
After radically adjusting myself and my life, I've found a number of ways to ensure that I do not go back into pinball machine overload. One specific strategy stemmed from the realization that I had to own the protection of my own time. I have always been a driven and ambitious person. I have always stepped up to new tasks and challenges wherever they presented themselves, and never fully considered whether or not I was taking on too much. It never occurred to me to say 'no', or to quietly decline meetings and commitments that somehow made their way onto my calendar.
I have resolved myself to the fact that my work life may always revolve around Outlook appointments (to a certain degree), but have also decided and implemented my own 'time protection' plan.
This is my little secret, and one that I gladly share with you. This is not something for your spouse, your admin, your colleagues or friends. You, and only you owe yourself the accountability of protecting your time. And it goes something like this:
I look at my calendar and block out my own 'me' time. I know that I, and I alone have the authority and responsibility to protect my time. Work is always happy to fill in my day, meetings, appointments, calls, projects. Being a mom means that much of my "free time" is committed to playing chauffeur, counselor, secret shopper and referee.
Taking action for myself and my own sanity means protecting time on my calendar, and doing it regularly. I have various ways that I name this time on my calendar (whether at work or at home), so use whatever code language or 'in your face' profession of personal time you need to use, but mark it on your calendar.
For example, I make it my mission to protect my Fridays to the greatest degree possible. I carve out time for myself. I protect my day to ensure that I can wrap up work, reach out to a friend, do a doctor's appointment, sit and meditate a moment, or whatever I might happen to need.
I may still end up with a meeting or two, or something that can't be avoided. However, in the past 3 years of actively protecting my time, I have yet to run into any negative ramifications for this defiant practice. Quite the contrary. I find that when someone tries to schedule a meeting on Friday and I tell them my day is booked, we somehow find time on another day. When I know I have a deliverable or a commitment due on Friday, I somehow pull it off by Thursday instead. I look forward to Fridays now because I know something good is coming.
Every week I give myself the gift of time, and it is irreplaceable. If you can't pull off a whole day, try an hour or two during your week. The amount of time is not as important as the sheer act of protecting yourself, and ensuring you give yourself space during your week. We all need to catch our breath. We all need a moment to gather our thoughts, and not be worried about being pounced on by people or projects.
The gift of time should not just be the accidental discovery of free time, the unexpected cancellation of a commitment, or a moment of 'stolen' space. We all need to own our role in protecting our time, and ensuring that we can recover from our "busy", and in doing so we expand ourselves and our ability to be more present in every aspect of our lives.
I'm a more productive boss/employee, spouse, friend and thought-partner when I have been able to buffer myself from the chaos of all of my roles and obligations. I am a better leader, and more fully live with integrity when I give myself the chance to be thoughtful and collected each week.
So I challenge you to protect your time. Whether it's 20 minutes, or a full day, just do it. Own your role in protecting your time, and then take action to do so. You won't be sorry.
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