I work with a lot of busy people; people who have a ton of things on their plates (by choice). When I look at their calendars, I instantly feel stressed! For some, there is literally zero white space. Every available time slot is filled in with a color indicating that it has already been given away to a task, meeting, or project.
Many of these people are really productive and do get a lot done. However, most of these people also share two other traits that are not so helpful to themselves or to others. First, they are late to every scheduled event after the first or second one of the day. And two, by Wednesday of each week, their brains are already fried.
But how much more productive and less stressed might they be if they were able to build just a few minutes of 'white space' into their daily schedules?
If you think about it, the only reason we tend to schedule things on the hour is because that's how our calendars are made. It's the same reason why we schedule things for an entire hour, instead of scheduling something for the actual time it would take to get that thing done. It's because that rectangle of a time-slot is a really nice, clean space on the calendar in which to put an appointment or meeting.
It is because of these aesthetically pleasant little rectangles that we experience super-human expectations of how we are using our time. It's so easy to just stack commitments one right after the other, but this can get you into trouble quickly.
It might feel like you can get a lot done if you have appointments at 9:00, 10:00, 11:00, 1:00, 2:00 and 3:00. But in reality, you well know that's not what your day is going to end up looking like! When you stack your commitments so closely, it only takes one meeting to go five minutes over (and it will) to immediately send you down a slippery slope. It can quickly feel like someone just pushed the first domino and now the rest of your day is spent toppling. It also is disrespectful to everyone you interact with after that first domino push, because you will show up to every subsequent call or meeting late and rushed.
When we stack appointment times back to back, what also tends to happen is that we're never fully present, at least for the beginning of the next meeting. We are always 'finishing up' the last meeting either by taking notes, adding tasks to our project managing software, or just being in our heads thinking about the things we just talked about or what we need to do based on that last conversation.
Begin taking back some control of both your schedule and your stress levels by using this trick. When you are the one scheduling a commitment, do not schedule it immediately after another commitment; schedule it for 10 minutes later.
For example, if I have a meeting at 1:00 and another one at 2:00, and someone asks me if I can meet at 3:00, assuming my 2:00 commitment will go until 3:00, I'm not going to schedule the next meeting at 3:00. If I choose to do that, it's going to set me up for stress, anxiety, and a possible domino toppling effect.
But if I say, "Let's meet at 3:10," I've built in that little window in case that 2:00 meeting goes over by a few minutes. Even if it ends right at 3:00, I want the ability to refill my water or coffee, go to the bathroom, sit back for a few minutes and decompress from the last meeting so that I can bring my full self to the next meeting. This allows me to be fully present, have a clearer headspace, and be respectful to the person on the other end of the conversation.
Now granted you are at the whim of other people's meeting times sometimes, however don't focus on when you can't use this trick, instead think about opportunities when you can use it. Even if you are able to employ this one or two times a day, think about the results you can get simply from being a little bit more calm and a little bit more present.
Imagine if you could set up your schedule so that you could actually be present, calm, and attentive at the start of each of your meetings, every day. Give yourself the space of just a few minutes and watch your stress level go down while your attention span and level of calm rise.