I received an email a few weeks back, from someone I hadn’t met yet, asking to get together and ask a few questions. This happens often and as long as I can fit it in my schedule and you’re paying for coffee/lunch/beer, I’m happy to get together. But this email jumped at me because he wrote this sentence:
“I imagine you’re very protective of your schedule, but I’d like to find 30 minutes on your calendar soon."
I love the assumption he made. Yes; I do protect my time. I schedule my days ruthlessly while trying hard to leave room for spontaneity and still "get it all done". I stack meetings, batch tasks, and try my best to fit in all that needs fitting in, from being inspired to running a company, from parenting my daughter to being a good friend and fiancé.
But do I protect my time enough? Do you?
I think that the best way to determine what someone believes in or values is to take a look at their credit card statement and their day planner. How any of us spend our time and our money is a clear indicator of what we prioritize. Since these are limited resources for all of us, the choices we make (directly or indirectly) ultimately say what it is that matters most to us.
Sure; some things we (feel like) we have very little control over. We need to pay the rent/mortgage because shelter is a basic human need. But we also can choose the size of those monthly payments based upon the kind of abode we’d like to occupy. Same goes for food. Filet mignon and black beans both have protein, but the taste and cost are quite a bit different.
Each of us have tasks we must accomplish each day at work or even at home. We all need sleep. Presumably, we also want to spend time with people we love, be they partners, friends, family, or colleagues.
But once your needs are met, what time choices are you making? What exactly are you protecting time for?
The difference between protection and planning
And herein lies the difference between just planning something and actually protecting it.
I can fill a Google Calendar up like a pro. Gimme a few minutes in my email each day and I’ll drape that sucker in multi-colored fashion with meetings, drive times, phone calls, and any number of tasks and obligations. But, the moment a conflict arises, I’ve got to choose. What on this calendar am I willing to protect? What will I not move for something else?
The ultimate indicator of what you value is what choice you make when conflict arises.
A few things I know I protect; things you can’t touch on my calendar. Very rarely will I miss out on picking up my daughter or spending time with her in the evenings on weeks she’s with me. Exceptions occur, but because my time with her is limited and I’m unwilling to be in her life any less than I already am, I protect that time with her. This choice eventually doesn’t feel like a choice because it’s not a point of decision for me. I’ve made the decision before I actually need to make the decision.
My Monday mornings are protected. This is when the Batch team gathers as a staff to cover key ideas and strategic work objectives. I won’t take a sales meeting then or answer my phone or email. I won’t be traveling then. This is sacred time. I believe in the power and possibility of that space and hour.
Dinners and phone calls with my fiancé are protected. When we've made plans or when I have a marinating tenderloin waiting for the grill and she's picked up a bottle of red, then if you want my attention during the dinner hour, good luck.
How protective are you of your time? What could never get moved? You - and you alone - get to call the shots here.
How to protect your time
The fear of missing out - exacerbated by social media these days - is an ever present lament, of course. But the more we devote time to those things we protect - and the more we clearly define what it is we want and need to protect - the less we’ll feel like we’re missing out because we’re exactly where we should be.
But, in order to determine and then protect what matters most, you’ll need a few tools and skills at your disposal.
1) Get a system
The system itself is irrelevant. Grab a giant paper calendar, use the app on your phone - whatever works will work. But, write it down or type it out. Put it in bold or circle it with a red marker. That which matters most must be protected and top of mind. Otherwise, you’ll let it slide when something pops up (that ultimately isn’t as important) or your favorite episode of Friends comes on. Determine what matters, write it down, and then fight for it.
2) Say no
When those moments arise, whether it’s the temptation for a nap or the allure of the friend who just wants to get one more drink, you need to say no. You’ve got something to protect. The person who emailed me gave me that out - I could have said no if meetings with strangers weren’t something I protected, time-wise.
For some of us, saying no is hard. But, if you know what you protect and are willing to fight to protect it, you’ve now got a very beautiful out. You can say, “I have to decline this opportunity to meet/drink/skydive. My heart says yes, but my calendar says no.”
Boom. You didn’t offend the person (you really want to go!), but you’re booked, saving room for more important stuff. The stuff that really matters. Soul stuff.
This is the point of protection, after all. You’re not protecting something out of fear. You’re protecting it out of love.