Making a schedule that aligns to your priorities

At Reclaim, we're creating a product that aims to give you back hours in the week for your priorities.

At the heart of this experience is a simple belief: that by grounding yourself in your priorities and ensuring that the events on your calendar are mapped to those things, we can better illustrate the meetings that truly matter and those that don't. This is a difficult problem, and comes with a variety of Google Calendar hacks and hard math problems as well as ensuring good etiquette for the people receiving reschedule or meeting decline requests.

While we haven't launched our beta yet, we have spent a lot of time over the years coaching our teams and leveraging this practice for better managing our time and calendars. As part of that, we've developed a tool for looking at your week through the lens of your priorities using Google Sheets, and we're sharing it with you so that you have a means for managing the madness. Let's spend a few moments talking about the methodology here.

More than a calendar audit

Some might call this a "calendar audit", but here the goal is so much deeper than just figuring out where you're spending time. By thinking about which of your events map to your actual priorities and defining what else you need to put on the calendar to make meaningful progress on those things, you start to look at your calendar less as a hodgepodge of social contracts and more as a declarative record of how much time you're spending on the things that matter most.

There are a few major components to this approach:

  • Mapping calendar events to your priorities: This is simple. List out your top 3-5 priorities (this alone is helpful if you haven't thought much lately about just what the hell you're doing at your job) for the next several weeks or months. Then, using the tool below, map the events on your calendar to those priorities. For anything that isn't aligned, just mark it as "No Priority".
  • Deciding if that's enough time (and adding more): If you're like most people, you're going to find that you're spending very little actual calendar time on your priorities. That's ok. That's why we're here. Add the events that you think you need for the next week -- by yourself or with others -- to make progress on your top priorities. Don't think about scheduling them. Just list them out.
  • Gracefully moving events around to make room for your priorities: Once you've done the first two steps, you're going to likely find that there just isn't enough time in the week. Luckily, you now know how many hours you're spending going to meetings that don't align to your goals. Look at those meetings and ask yourself:

    • Does this meeting have low value signals (examples of low value signals: more attendees than can easily fit in a conference room, <50% RSVPs, no agenda, and lack of context about why you've been invited) or not?
    • Am I needed for this meeting (literally, could this meeting happen without me)?
    • Does this event meaningfully advance any of my or the company's strategic goals?
    • Will I alienate my direct teammates by not attending this meeting?
    • Could I understand what happened in this meeting via a readout or minutes?

Moving meetings without being a jerk

Chances are: you have meetings on your calendar that not only don't align to your priorities, but that also could be easily declined, moved, or canceled altogether if you take the time to give context. Context looks something like this:

"I can't attend this meeting because I need to make room for [Priority X], which I'm trying to budget more time for this week. I'm happy to sync up later at the following times [A,B,C].

[If the meeting is one you're not leading or presenting in] I would also appreciate a readout of the meeting or some notes if you have them.*

If this poses a major problem or you feel my [attendance/this meeting] is urgent, let me know. Thanks!"

In our experience, 90%+ of the time, the reaction here is one of positivity and encouragement more than anything: no one likes to feel like they've been ditched or canceled on without a good explanation. But most people in your org are feeling the same things as you: overwhelmed by their schedules and looking for time back. They'll likely understand and even empathize.

You might even find a few responses that look like this:

  • "Nice work staying focused! Good luck."
  • "Thanks for the heads up. Would love to learn more about [Priority X] and how it applies to my [Priority Y]."
  • "No problem. I'll send some notes to you after the meeting."

So: that's the process. As promised, we're providing a handy way to do this via Google Sheets. Obviously, there are still some manual steps -- primarily the rescheduling and automation of emails, which Reclaim is being designed to handle in the future -- but this should give you a template for planning your week in a more purposeful and focused way.

The Priority-Aligned Calendar Template Machine

To get started, you'll want to make a copy of this spreadsheet. There is a script attached that will export your calendar data to the sheet automatically. Check out the README in the Google Sheet for instructions on how to export your calendar data, align it to your priorities, and get a handy summary about where you're spending your time.

But also: you should just sign up for Reclaim, since we're about to make this whole process a whole lot easier.

Did you find this useful? What other methods do you use for rebalancing your calendar? We want to know! Send us a note at info@reclaimai.com, or drop us a line on Twitter.

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* This is also a handy culture hack -- the person on the other end might not have thought to send any minutes or wasn't planning on doing a readout. Hopefully this impels them to do so :)