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Question - When setting recurring tasks, should you also be allocating calendar time to process them?

eg. On the networking cast, Mark mentions that he uses a 'recurring task' as a reminder to "keep in touch with..." his network. As I understand it, this means that on a given day, opening Outlook (or in my poor case, Notes... ugh!) will cause a whole bunch of "KITW"s to flash.

Although that puts the task on your radar, it doesn't mean you have time planned to process it on the given day / week etc.

So...

One technique I currently use at work is to pre-book time in my calendar for important things which are not my primary "work", so tend otherwise to not get addressed - eg. updating CV, thinking about new initiatives, doing a monthly self-review, preparing in advance for mentor sessions.

I find that approach of blocking out time pretty useful, and it was a good advance for me when I first adopted it (before that, general chaos ruled). However if I recall rightly, calendar-blocking cuts against David Allen's advice (in Getting Things Done) which says your calendar should only reflect things which are absolutely set in stone, ie. it provides the landscape around which you then process tasks according to their priority, your location, and your energy levels.

Which leaves me a bit confused. Am I right to be making sure my calendar reflects time to process the tasks I'm creating, or should I just treat them like other work and get to them in accordance with their priority as vs. other tasks also on my list?

Nb. Appreciate any thoughts on this - especially if others are/have gone through the painful process of weaning themselves off using email as their primary record of to-do's. Necessary, but unexpectedly hard!!!

Cheers, Chris

bren811's picture

I do block in some time each week to work on my task list. I think that may have come from GTD.

I also like the bookTotal Workday Control with Outlook (Linenberger) which has some great techniques for task management.

I believe Cedric is the guru here :wink:

tlhausmann's picture

[quote="arc1"]Question - When setting recurring tasks, should you also be allocating calendar time to process them?[/quote]

Yes. This technique I believe is mentioned in Drucker's 'Effective Executive' and the GTD book too. If it takes more than a few minutes, I block out calendar time.

If THAT is not enough evidence for you, Mark Horstman challenged me on this very issue during a brief face-to-face meeting. :-) :-)

tlhausmann

Mark's picture

I don't. Tom, I'm not sure what I said, but I must not have been very clear.

They're tasks, and they take a couple of minutes. Do them as you can. When I have a half hour, I plow through a bunch of them.

Works fine.

Mark

tcomeau's picture

[quote="arc1"]Question - When setting recurring tasks, should you also be allocating calendar time to process them?[/quote]

I only put a block of time up for the little tasks if I find I'm not getting them done. Then I block an hour or so and go through them.

I have recurring things that I do put on my calendar that are not meetings, because I want to do them on particular days, and want to make sure I accomplish them. But things on the to-do list don't go on the calendar unless I get behind.

tc>

jhack's picture

I'll put in a half hour "misc admin" into my calendar when I know I have a number of small tasks to perform.

John

stephenbooth_uk's picture

I think that organisational culture has an impact on whether you put tasks in your calendar (even if it's just a "Misc Admin" for half an hour or so). For example where I work everyone's calendar (pretty much, there are exceptions) is viewable by everyone else and if you don't have a time period explicitly booked then you're assumed to be available and interruptible, if there is something booked then people do at least consider if they do actually need speak to you then or can wait till the next free slot you have. Sometimes the only way to get a spare half hour to crack through those little 'couple of minutes' tasks is to schedule it a few days ahead of time.

I tend not use task/to-do lists unless it's for something weeks or even months in the future. I tend to schedule things as calendar events. Sometimes you have to adapt the advice you get to the situation you find yourself in.

Stephen

agreen's picture

I have been finding that broad groupings of tasks can work really well. Allows a feeling of real progress in an area and avoids having to constantly change gears moving from topic to topic. For example I will push all HR issues to a thursday - schedule to tasks to appear in my list on that day (thanks to cedric's great guidelines for working with outlook) and have the day blocked in my calendar. Of course only works if you are ahead of the game and deadlines on all the tasks.

Our organisation is moving more the model that Stephen describes - if it is not booked you are interruptable or a meeting can be booked over the top.

If they are one off tasks and not easily grouped I fit them in around my daily schedule and don't enter into the calendar.

PierG's picture

If it's longer than few minutes, I too schedule some time in my calendar.
PierG

WillDuke's picture

My general approach is to create items as tasks. Each morning review your task list and see if something deserves time in your calendar. If I want to make sure something is done, I move it into my calendar. Otherwise, when I hit open time I can just plow through the task list. (I definitely like the GTD model, if it's less than 2 minutes, just do it.)

arc1's picture

Will, that's what I'm moving to, it makes sense for me.

Like others, I also work in a company where free time = bookable time, so calendar "defence" is also an unfortunate necessity at times.

Can anyone point me to the Cedric info - it's been mentioned numerous times. Sadly I'm stuck with Lotus Notes which drives me batty, but I'll never give up hope of returning to Outlook one day!

Nb. Here's an example of Notes being poor - yesterday I set up a recurring KITW task. Rather than create a task only when the next repeat rolls around, Lotus just creates a single task with every single repeat listed. It looks a bit like this, only four lines worth:

KITW John(1-12-07; 1-3-08, 1-6-08, 1-9-08, 1-12-08 etc)

So your tasks list then has a huge unsightly block of text in it. Can you imagine if you had several hundred?!

Worse still, if you want to open that task, you get a pop-up asking which instance. And worse again, if you mark the task "complete", it pulls out that instance into a separate line, but keeps it grouped with the rest of the task instances, rather than dumping it into the "completed" group at bottom of screen. eg.

KITW John(1-12-07) TICK
KITW John(1-3-08, 1-6-08, 1-9-08, 1-12-08 etc)

So I am now looking for another way to trigger my KITWs - might have to fall back on calendar.

garyslinger's picture

[quote="arc1"]Like others, I also work in a company where free time = bookable time, so calendar "defence" is also an unfortunate necessity at times.
[/quote]
May I suggest that some expectation management may be in order here? The ability of someone else to [i]invite[/i] me to a meeting puts no obligation on me to [i]accept[/i].

My calendar is completely open to everyone at my company, and anyone is welcome to request a timeslot with me anytime - but, just as I may choose to have my door closed occasionally to discourage drop-ins while I focus on something, I may also hit "Decline" or "Propose another time" in response to a meeting request.

Just a thought.

G.

arc1's picture

Gary,

Good point, and something high on my list of things I need to get better at. For example one problem I have is that I *do* feel a sense of obligation when invited.

Would you mind expanding a little bit? -

When you [b]decline[/b], do you include comment as to why? If not, do you then get questions from people like "why didn't you accept"?

If you propose a [b]different time[/b], what do you do if the person then asks why you couldn't make the first timeslot - given it was open in your calendar? (In my role, most meetings are at the request of an internal customer, and they are frequently presented as being extremely urgent, although obviously I don't always agree with that assessment).

Thanks, Chris

tcomeau's picture

I'm like Gary - my public calendar is visible (to the world, actually) and people are free to ask for time. If I start something and decide I want to be undisturbed for a while, I drop an hour or two on my calendar to show I'm busy. Usually I'll give a hint as to what it is, though you need to know our institutional language to know that "WSS" is about focusing an 18 segment mirror from a million miles away.

When I decline, I give a reason, though my reasons can be terse. ("Not today.") It's very common for me to decline with "Please review this with Laura first" or "This is really Rusty's issue - do I need to be involved?" when it's something I don't think I need to be involved in. The people who work directly with me (my staff and people on my project teams) can drop items on my calendar, and I try to avoid declining those, because those people are acclimated to only asking for me when they need me.

In another thread Mark's comment was "decline, decline, decline" which I think is a good knee-jerk reaction. Explain if it's helpful, particularly for setting future expectations, but keep control over your own time.

tc>

PS - Apropos of this week's cast - I declined a request today with "must leave by 4:00 on the 11th - Teela's Winter Concert." Any questions about priority? :-)

garyslinger's picture

Chris - Tom has some good points. I'll try and expand my original answer a little.

First, you mentioned internal customers; I'm in the same boat - I "own" Presales at my company, so my internal customers are our sales staff, and I can be considered one of their resources, to an extent. I also get involved with external customers. A fly in that ointment however is that I'm also a member of our executive management team - so I have the large, flashing neon sign over my head as Mark would put it.

So - internal customers. Frankly, I told them directly. Somewhat humorously, but bluntly - when I said expectation management, I meant my (your) management of their expectations. One comment I made was that if I had to work through the night to resolve an issue - well, maybe that's why my office has a couch in it! But if you tried booking me for that? Not so much...

I haven't been here long, but I've met with most of the folks that might have demands on my time, and I've had that chat with them - they're certainly welcome to ask for my time, anytime, but there being a white spot on my calendar doesn't mean that I'm sat at my desk waiting for someone to book me - I'm not one of the projectors we keep sat in the cupboard! Everyone "got" that, and we're broadly fine.

Key underlying concept - I own my calendar. (If I had a PA, it might be different). I publish it, so you can see if I'm around, but I don't put every little thing on there that I'm working on, any more than any other member of staff does; one key example that I don't put on there, for instance, in deadline dates for proposals I'm working on. I don't need to - they're on my desk in chronological order. So someone looking at my calendar today, for instance, is going to see complete white space - but I'm going to deny any and all meetings from anyone other than my boss today, while I work on something specific (and in fairness, I will reflect that to my diary shortly, I just haven't logged on to the corporate network yet - it's still breakfast time! :) ).

Who makes a meeting request, and how they make it, is important too - our number one sales guy? He's got a much better chance with "Gary, I need you!" than one of the junior guys. Someone sending me a well constructed request, with a meaningful subject line, a time slot other than 30 or 60 minutes, or heaven forbid, an AGENDA?! They've got good odds of me accepting. Someone that has spoken to me about the meeting in advance, and the request is just to get it on our calendars formally? That's a given.

When I reject with an alternate proposal - well, based on all the preceding, I usually don't feel obligated to explain - I might, but usually, it's just something along the lines of "2:30 won't work; can you do 3?" -- and I've checked their calendar at this point, and can use all the whitespace arguments in reverse if I need to make a point. One of the main reasons I'll reject, if I'm going to have the meeting anyway, is to reject back-to-back meetings -- or I may simply have reached "meeting maximum" for a particular day. Oh, and I may have a verbal commitment to a meeting that just hasn't made it in to the electronic system yet - depends what order I'm reading email vs. updating things.

Finally - I went on a bit here, didn't I?! - if you're in a position to only check email three times a day? Well, that completely changes the picture on how requests are going to get in to your diary, doesn't it?

Good luck with it - hope this helped.

G.

James Gutherson's picture

[quote="tcomeau"]

When I decline, I give a reason, though my reasons can be terse. ("Not today.") It's very common for me to decline with "Please review this with Laura first" or "This is really Rusty's issue - do I need to be involved?" when it's something I don't think I need to be involved in. The people who work directly with me (my staff and people on my project teams) can drop items on my calendar, and I try to avoid declining those, because those people are acclimated to only asking for me when they need me.

PS - Apropos of this week's cast - I declined a request today with "must leave by 4:00 on the 11th - Teela's Winter Concert." Any questions about priority? :-)[/quote]

Some intersting stuff around this theme was in the latest podcast from Cornelius Fichtner (at The PM Podcast) about 'Monkey Management'

http://www.thepmpodcast.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=16...

tcomeau's picture

[quote="JimGutherson"]
Some intersting stuff around this theme was in the latest podcast from Cornelius Fichtner (at The PM Podcast) about 'Monkey Management'
[/quote]

Yes! One of my peers loves the Monkey Management theme, and will grab any chance to say things like "Hey, that's not my monkey!"

It's an excellent way to think about getting people to own their problems, and encourages delegation.

tc>

ashdenver's picture

I sheepishly admit to padding my calendar.

This coming Tuesday, I've booked myself from 6am to 4pm straight (no lunch, no nothin'!) in one hour increments to work on projects for clients, one hour per client.

I may complete Item A in 15 mins and Item B in 45 mins, thus finding myself with a "free hour" -- trust me, there's no such thing as free time! (Okay, so coming here could be 'free' but I'm learning from all ya'll so it's productive at least!)

During the "down time" or "free time" - trust me, there are voice mails to be answered, fires to be put out, case notes to be written up, issues to be handled for members of my team, etc.

Meanwhile, I have weekly and monthly recurring obligations that are just this side of mandatory. (I don't [i]have[/i] to get them done but if I don't, I just look bad & get a dose of public humiliation when the reports are published for the whole region to see.)

Every Wednesday has three items:
- 0.5 hour at 9:30 am (busy) to address backlog
- 1.0 hour at 1:30 pm (tentative) to clean up the week's orders
- 0.5 hour at 3:30 pm (tentative) to print weekly closing report docs

If I don't have these infernal things popping up through-out the day, incessantly reminding me, I would honestly forget.

[size=9][u]Side rant[/u]: Silly me, I'm more focused on serving the customer than I am about putting together widget reports for someone else to tinker with. Sarcasm aside, I do recognize the importance of the tasks in the grand scheme of things. This is just sour grapes about the corporate culture that expects 18 hr workdays to accomplish all the tasks assigned.[/size]

In my business, days can get derailed with a single phone call and the similarity of projects for clients lends to severely monotonous days. For me, that adds up quickly to "What day is it?" If I don't have my regular time-sensitive tasks scheduled, I would think it was Monday every day of the week - except maybe Friday!

On a slightly different note, there are other repetitive tasks I have blocked out on my calendar (1.5 hrs / day 3 days/wk) that get pushed around, moved to other days, or skipped completely. Trust me - with 110 clients, I know what needs to get done but sometimes it's a matter of helping the person who's yelling the loudest at that time, calendar be damned! So if another client is too busy with their own stuff to be worried about whether or not I've sent out their third reminder, it's not a big deal. (But I can always use "I've got something scheduled during that time" as a fall-back for other things!)

arc1's picture

Sounds like some common sense, not padding!

To me it seems to go back to the idea of only putting things in your calendar which are set in stone, and then doing all the other tasks around it... if you literally can't function without getting some breathing space at those times to focus on a particular activity, makes sense to me you would hard-code that time into your diary.

ccleveland's picture

I believe the [i]Getting Things Done[/i] (David Allen) approach says that only things that [u]have[/u] to get done that day should go on your calendar. E-mail, arguably, could go either way.

When I work, if a task has a deadline, it goes on the calendar, but even then, I don't usually "block" free-busy time. For me, that would be too much micromanagement of my schedule. If the task only needs to be done "as soon as I can," then it goes on a list.

CC

WillDuke's picture

No day goes as planned, but that doesn't mean you don't need a plan.
I don't recall where I got the concept, but I think it might have been GTD. Okay, I know Napolean said that no battle ever goes according to plan. I know that Napolean meticulously planned his battles. I get the correlation. Hey, maybe I heard this from M&M...

Anyway, Ash, you're right in line with that theory. Okay, your calendar (and mine) is subject to the fire alarm going off. That's why I also prioritize my items. I could get 5 things done, but someone pulled the alarm. Now I have the fire out, I can still get 1 thing done. I can pick the highest priority item.