Digital calendars are a boon to working parents
With long workdays being the norm, personal priorities often don't see the light of day.
While professionals may feel in control of many aspects of their lives, their calendar isn't often one of them. Work-life balance is the holy grail of maintaining a professional career. In 2014, Gallup found the average American workweek was 47 hours, with nearly four in 10 Americans working more than 50 hours per week. Bloomberg spotlighted automobile factories where 12-hour shifts were the norm, and Silicon Valley is notorious for its long hours.
With long workdays being the norm, personal priorities often don't see the light of day. But research - particularly on deathbed conversations - shows that people don't remember board meetings; they remember their kids' baseball games. How can leaders, especially working parents - who have multiple calendars to juggle - make their calendars an ally in giving their personal lives a chance?
Consider the myriad responsibilities demanding working parents' attention: often two careers, the kids' activities, the kids' appointments, the parents' own appointments, second jobs, or side hustles. Cram all of that into working hours (and beyond), and it becomes apparent that this juggling act doesn't leave working parents with much semblance of a personal life.
The best way to get a handle on this is to transform your calendar into your timekeeper. A calendar tool can be helpful, because it doesn't just help you remember meetings or deadlines; it spotlights how you spend your time. When you visualise the times your priorities don't match up, it's time to take action:
Outline your priorities first. The biggest culprit behind misspent time? Letting others set your priorities. Without guidelines, it's easy to agree to head a project or take on any opportunity that falls into your lap. Those opportunities may boost your career - but they also may not.
It's best to ask yourself some questions before others supply the answers. What would you regret not focusing on? It may be earning an executive title, running a marathon, attending most of your child's games, or starting a side business. Work backwards: What will get you there? Taking on low-visibility projects or cramming your schedule so full that you can't maximise creative outlets may be hurting you, not helping.
Do you really want the things you feel you should want? This is worth asking as well. If your interest in daily yoga, the next promotion, or driving the school pick-up shuttle is waning, that's a sign you could be using your time better.
Set limits. Time blocking (or timeboxing) is a godsend for working parents. By allocating blocks of time for specific activities, you limit how much energy those activities eat up and how much spillover they cause.
A good way to determine how big a block should be is by doing a week or two of time tracking. Time-tracking apps like Toggl or Timely can help analyse how you're spending your time. Does email really deserve two hours of your day? Would it be smarter to delegate that time-consuming report to an early-stage employee who could use a stretch assignment?
I handle time blocking by marking "meeting days" so people who access my calendar can only request appointments on those days. That frees me up for lengthier tasks on the other days. I also use the "speedy meetings" option for Google Calendar that will limit 30-minute meetings to 25. This has allowed me to get miscellaneous items done in between meetings, which has allowed me to leave at 5pm everyday instead of almost missing dinner because I'm working late.
Frontload your calendar. This sounds intimidating - nobody wants a packed calendar at the beginning of the month - but this technique ensures that you prioritise the things you deem most important. A couple days prior to a new month, place time blocks on your calendar for your non-negotiables: soccer practices, one-on-one meetings, conferences, a date night with your spouse, etc.
The adage "If you need something done, give it to a busy person" is true, especially when it comes to working parents. But it's incredibly hard to reclaim your life when you aren't happy with how you're spending it. Calendars can become your ally, ensuring that the most important things come first.
John Hall is the co-founder and president of Calendar