Shift gear stick

“Today I have a full schedule of events. Staff meeting to start the day, followed by back to back customer meetings, a program update that usually runs long, and some time to catch up on email mid-afternoon, which I expect will be interrupted by the day’s crisis.”

“The most challenging part of the schedule is shifting gears and being fully engaged in the next event. It takes a lot of energy and it usually takes a little time for me to get wound up and fully focused on the next event.”

If one of the above sounds familiar, what would you like it to sound like? Maybe something like; “Today I was not rushed between each event and was able to be fully engaged.”

What would be the impact on your work day if could make that happen? Many folks I work with talk about the desire to reduce their stress and increase productivity. But, how to do it?  Here are some thoughts and one small behavior change leaders I am working with have attempted.

Your solution may take a different form however, the theme is to increase your focus by taking control of your calendar rather than the calendar controlling you. The leaders have discovered when they wind down and close out one event prior to engaging in another, makes a positive difference.

What small behavior change could give you the needed mental space? We have found small changes in scheduling practices to create white space between events works well. Having time to process, reflect, and generate some notes is part one. Essentially, close the book on that event.

Part two, provide the space to prepare and get oriented on the next event. Open the next event with focus. For those who know how to drive a stick shift it is similar to shifting. You let up on the accelerator, engage the clutch, shift while the gears are disengaged, smoothly engage the clutch, and press on the accelerator, and off you go.

Smoothly shifting a car with a manual transmission is an art learned through, instruction, and repetitive practice. I remember learning how to shift and teaching my children. The memories of a lurching and bucking car jump to mind. With a person in the right seat trying to remain calm saying something like “Easy, easy, take your time” as their head is being whiplashed back and forth. Many leaders create emotional whiplash for themselves every day when they jump from one event to the next.

Why do that to yourself?  Open to a small change in your behavior? How much time do you need to wind down prior to winding back up? It may be 10, 15, or 20 minutes. Regardless of the time required, how do you implement it. Structural changes to your calendar work best and take “will power” out of the equation. Create a structure to prevent scheduling events closer than 10-30 minutes. Create “executive time” that is sacrosanct on your calendar. These areas of white space create the buffer to deal with inevitable crises.

Sounds simple doesn’t it? Then, how come so many of us don’t do it. I believe this takes the focus from accomplishing x number of events to accomplishing x number of quality events.

Start small, make a change, evaluate, and change again if needed. The investment in time between events may create the focus you need to make each event more productive.

Transition well and you will smooth out the ride for yourself and everyone you are working with.