What are the main distractions that cannibalize your day, and how much of every day is spent/wasted on them?

Nobody else will protect our schedules for us, so we have to do it ourselves. Here are some tools that can help:

Rocks, Pebbles, and Sand Almost everyone has heard this classic metaphor of time management. If you need a refresher, read Stephen Covey’s version, or check out this video for a great visual demonstration. The point is that our time is limited—this is represented by a vase into which we put:

1. Rocks=Most Important Priorities

2. Pebbles=Secondary Priorities

3. Sand=Minutia and Distractions

I don’t know about you, but the list of distractions and urgent trivialities (the sand) that can consume my hours is seemingly endless. My rocks need protecting.

Pam and RGT Years ago I knew a woman named Pam who was probably the single most effective executive I’ve ever worked with. And she was almost ruthless about protecting her schedule.

I based a lot of the RGT method on the process Pam used. For one thing, she wouldn’t take on anything that wasn’t hers to do. If someone asked for something, she’d make clear she could provide X-minutes-worth of help or advice, but she would not take responsibility for completing the project.

The other thing Pam did very effectively was to defend her schedule. Instead of saying, “Sure, I’ll help. Come on in,” she would offer to help during a certain part of the day that she’d allocated for that kind of thing. Some people might not have liked it, but she simply wasn’t willing to allow her calendar to be demolished by someone who hadn’t done a good job managing their own.

Office Hours This is another thing I learned from Pam. Just like college professors, she had a policy where you could come and see her during certain hours of the day that she’d blocked out for this purpose. This prevented her getting distracted midway through a task and having to start over after each interruption.

This is especially important in work environments. If you get a reputation for being really, really helpful, there will be a lot of people lining up to take advantage of your help. Office hours (and rigorously using the RGT method) will prevent that. Nine times out of ten, people will solve their own problem (which is in their best interest anyway) before your office hours begin.

Time Audit Where does the time go? Try this: Keep a scrupulous calendar for one week’s time. Note whenever you’re interrupted and for how long. Using markers, assign a color to rocks, pebbles, and sand (or however you want to break down what’s important). For example, rocks=green, pebbles=yellow, and sand=red. Keep a record of your day and color-code each 15 or 30 minute slot to see how much of the day is green and yellow. Just as importantly, how much time did you squander into red?

Most folks find their days are almost entirely yellow and red, with tiny slivers of green. For maximum effectiveness, that needs to change.

Top Objective Write down your big goal (for the week, month, or year). Then write down the 5 to 10 activities that will contribute to the achievement of that goal. Every day, schedule an hourly goal that is devoted to completing these 5 to 10 activities. Combine this with your color-coded time audit to see how much of your time is actually spent on your main goals.

Try some or all of these methods and see what kind of difference it makes. If nothing else, do a time audit—I think you’ll be shocked by how much time you’re leaving on the table.

photo credit: Paul Ealing 2011 DSCN6814c Stonehenge in the mist. 16th January 2017 via photopin (license)