Audit Your Calendar by Asking These Six Questions

Tamp down on meeting overload and find the time to harness your creativity

Comms staff are typically among the most collaborative employees at any organization, which usually puts us in A LOT of meetings.

At the same time, we produce some of the most visible work of a nonprofit, including press statements, news stories, volunteer profiles, and social media posts. This must be done consistently, usually on a deadline, and takes individual hands-on creative effort.

These are two competing forces that can propel anyone toward burnout. 😵

To balance face time and focus time, not to mention the many logistics of parenting and running a household, I've learned to live and die by my calendar. It's equal parts to-do list, alarm clock, and personal assistant, but only if I'm regularly checking in with what is actually reasonable to accomplish.

Good Morning Help GIF by Satisfied Customer

This is the goal of a calendar audit: to reflect on how you're spending your timeor planning to spend itand whether it can be spent more wisely.

For me, it helps to do a rudimentary sweep of my work calendar on Friday afternoon and then adjust specific time blocks for the week around midday on Monday, when I feel like I have a better grip on others' expectations. But you could do this as rarely as once a month or each quarter.

Here are some helpful questions to ask in your own calendar audit:

📅 Do I have enough time blocked off for creative work that's due soon? Seems like a given, but if deadline-driven work isn't on the calendar FIRST, then meetings will certainly eat into necessary focus time. Especially if you have daily and weekly creative taskslike blogs or social postsget these blocks dialed in and defend them fiercely.

It's easy to underestimate how long a project will take, so I'm overly generous with creative blocks and relatively stingy with meeting time. Then, when I cruise through an editing or writing job, I spend the remainder of that block on guilt-free rest and recovery or happily jump into the next thing ahead of schedule.

📅 Do I have any time available to think about upcoming work? There's nothing worse than being so immersed in a near-term task list that a major event or campaign sneaks up on you. I used to feel particularly prone to this in late-fall, when the year-end priorities loomed so large that I'd forget January comes next, with its own slate of convenings and work-related travel.

Don't fall into this trap. Once a quarter, at least, take a look at long-term priorities and set aside time to plan, think, and execute.

📅 Are there any back-to-back meetings scheduled? Early on in my career, I used to look at any open space between calls as time that could be filled up... usually with other calls. This inevitably led to scrambling between meetings, doing little prep, procrastinating meals, typing while someone was talking, and being late for calls. And at the end of the day, I didn't have the time I needed for writing or editing projects.

If you've got end-to-end blocks of meetings with not even 15 minutes to breathe in between, this is not sustainable. Consider bumping something back, delegating meeting attendance, leaving a call early, or (gasp!) just canceling for now. Over time, you could even shift to making certain afternoons, mornings, or weekdays off-limits to any meetings at all.

📅 Can any hour-long meetings be cut to 45 minutes? This one comes from a fantastic resource by the Management Center on managing time and systems. It's often a tradition and not a requirement that we block out a full hour to meet about any given topic. And once that expectation is set, yeah, it's easy to use an hour on something that could take less time.

See what happens if you shrink appointments down, starting with recurring calls first, and use the last 15 minutes to either task out the work assigned on the call, prep for your next meeting, or get up from your desk for a bit.

📅 Is there any time dedicated to learning or growing in my craft? Taking three days to attend a workshop often feels tough to justify for busy nonprofit staff. I get it! But how about an hour to attend a webinar? I've got the August 31 recording of Nonprofit Tech for Good's presentation on blogging best practices sitting in my inbox, and it'll stay there unless I make space on the calendar to watch it.

Professional development is rarely a waste of time, particularly if it relates to a project you're working on right now or the type of skill you'd need to advance. So book it!

📅 Are my needs being met if I spend my time this way? As much as we're talking about maximizing your productivity, you're also not a robot with a single directive between the hours of 9am and 5pm. You have needs (the aforementioned mealtimes I was overlooking) and a personal life that sometimes won't wait.

There's certainly no way to force good work out of your brain without a little space for ideas to percolate either. Blocking off time to scan through the social feeds of your competitors and partners a couple times a week, or write in a stream of consciousness for 20 minutes before a heavy work period, or walk to the coffee shop with your coworker to pre-game a meeting actually benefits your employer in the end.

Book that time for yourself or it may get booked for you.

On a somewhat related note, I wanted to let you know that I'm reducing the frequency of this newsletter to every other week while I'm focused on growing my business. I hope to be able to publish more often as this community grows and as I find more support.

You can helpif you know someone in our space who might benefit from inbox inspiration that applies directly to conservation comms work, please share this week's newsletter or this link to previous editions.

See you next time,

P.S. How are you finding balance lately? If you’re taking any steps to cut back on meetings and prioritize creative time in the weeks to come, I’d love to hear how it’s going.

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