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Time Management: Tips to help take back your calendar

This blog article is part of Foundant’s quarterly content series designed to offer tangible tips and practical resources on how to Work Smarter, Not Harder.

I am writing about time management on a Saturday. Ironic, right? Despite having a manager who promotes balance and wellness and would encourage me to do otherwise, I intentionally planned to do this today, knowing I’d have uninterrupted time. Last week’s busy schedule of meetings and unexpected urgent tasks made it impossible to give this assignment the focus it requires. So, here I am on a Saturday, coffee in hand, enjoying the fact that I have not been distracted by a single email or chat notification.

But what if you could carve out this time during the week? Sure, working outside of your typical schedule is inevitable at times, but doing that on a regular basis is not sustainable.

In our most recent Work Smarter, Not Harder podcast episode about time management, guest host Rachel Myers and Sammie Holzwarth, Foundant Product Manager—Grants and Scholarships, share practical tips to help you make your calendar work FOR you instead of letting it own you.

Tip 1: Time Blocking

“How can we avoid ‘calendar panic’?” asks Rachel, who defines this as the feeling you get when you look at your jammed-packed calendar first thing in the morning, knowing you can’t possibly do it all.

Add Tasks to Your Calendar

Both Rachel and Sammie block time on their calendars to accomplish specific tasks or activities. They consider how much time is needed for each project and hold the necessary space during their work week. A calendar that includes meetings and tasks enables you to better understand the implications of shifting and re-prioritizing items when you receive the inevitable “urgent” requests and invitations. “You’ll be amazed at how accountable it keeps you,” emphasizes Rachel.

Another variation of this strategy is to group smaller tasks and block time to complete them all at once to minimize context switching and maximize productivity. Imagine focusing on your emails for 20-minute blocks instead of checking your inbox every time you see or hear a notification.

“A 40-hour time-blocked work week, I estimate, produces the same amount of output as a 60+ hour work week pursued without structure.”
Cal Newport, author of Deep Work

Schedule Pre- and Post-Meeting Time Blocks

Whenever possible, Rachel also schedules 15-minute blocks before meetings to prepare for the upcoming discussion so she can be present when the meeting starts. Similarly, she blocks 15 to 30 minutes after meetings to address any action items while they are fresh. This can help you avoid adding new tasks to your already long to-do list.

Block Time at the End of Your Day

Schedule 20 to 30 minutes at the end of your day to review unfinished and new tasks and adjust your schedule for the rest of the week accordingly. Wrapping up your day, understanding your upcoming priorities, and doing minor prep work will help you get your next day off to a great start.

Tip 2: Evaluate Meeting Length and Format

Think about the purpose and desired outcomes of your meeting when planning the length and format.

Explore Shorter Meeting Times

Consider scheduling shorter meetings—as little as 15 or 30 minutes—before automatically defaulting to an hour. You can often be more efficient, particularly if meeting with someone you work with frequently doesn’t require as much context.

Consider Which Format Will Provide the Most Value

Does your work require frequent troubleshooting or information-gathering sessions with individual stakeholders (donors, grantees, program participants)? As a product manager, Sammie spends significant time listening to client feedback and questions. When she shifted from automatically scheduling one-on-one meetings with every client to looking for opportunities for small group conversations, she discovered that both she and the clients benefited. She had fewer meetings and more time to connect where needed, and clients appreciated the opportunity to learn from the peer discussion. Rachel had a similar experience when working for a community foundation that scheduled regular office hours for grantees. Again, not only did staff benefit from a more predictable meeting schedule, but the format proved better for grantees, who learned a great deal from each other’s questions.

Use a Scheduling Tool

How many emails or phone calls does it take you to schedule a meeting with an external stakeholder? Two, four, more? Sammie recommends using a scheduling tool, such as Calendly, to simplify this process and save time for everyone involved. Create rules, such as not allowing back-to-back meetings and blocking times you are unavailable, to help manage this process.;

Tip 3: Create Space for Deep Work

Schedule time every week to focus on more strategic work. Rachel recommends at least two hours to give yourself uninterrupted time to concentrate, brainstorm, and dig into your big ideas. “The ROI will be exponential,” exclaims Rachel.

“In short, deep work is like a superpower in our increasingly competitive twenty-first-century economy. And yet, most people have lost the ability to go deep—spending their days instead in a frantic blur of e-mail and social media, not even realizing there’s a better way.”
Cal Newport

Watch Rachel’s short 5-minute video to learn more about how to take back your calendar.

Are you inspired? I am! As soon as I finish this blog, I am going to block time on my calendar (not on Saturdays) for the next few articles in the series, along with my other tasks. If you haven’t already incorporated these strategies, I encourage you to join me because I know you are also incredibly busy. You work in the philanthropic sector and want to make a difference. However, your time is finite. Ultimately, you can’t serve others if you’re burnt out. Time management is critical. Consider integrating these tips and tools to help you take back your time to tackle your biggest priorities!

Join the Conversation

Do you already use some of the tips shared by Rachel and Sammie? Let us know how they work for you in our Work Smarter, Not Harder conversation in Compass, Foundant’s online community for philanthropy. Do you have different strategies to share? We’d love to hear from you!

About the Author

Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area in California, Katie never moved until she left for college. Since then, she has lived in two countries (U.S. and Chile), four states (CA, CO, OR, MT), 10 cities, and has had too many addresses to count. (Need moving tips? She’s got them!) Grateful for the opportunity to explore such different landscapes, meet diverse people, and experience unique cultures, Katie considers every stop on this journey an integral part of her story. Perhaps that’s why Katie is passionate about telling stories about other people and experiences that inspire her. Throughout her 30-year career in marketing and communications, Katie feels fortunate to have been able to dedicate her skills to writing compelling copy about organizations that serve others or enable the work of those who do. Before joining Foundant’s team in 2021 as the Marketing Copywriter, she focused her efforts on writing about the programs and services offered by a public university art museum, a customer-owned utility, and local government in Eugene, Oregon—all of which make a difference in the lives of those they serve. That’s what brought Katie to Foundant. She is energized every day by the work its clients are doing to make the world a better place. A mountain girl at heart, Katie is happy to have finally planted her roots in the city of Foundant’s headquarters, Bozeman, Montana. When she’s not working, you’ll likely find Katie outside, looking for different ways to explore the local trails, rivers, and lakes. It’s hard to say whether she has more photos of Bozeman’s breathtaking sunrises and sunsets or her beloved dogs, Moby and Max. One thing is sure—she has fewer photos of her husband and two teenage daughters whom she loves deeply but are far less willing subjects.

Profile Photo of Katie Sproles