It’s Friday again, and we are almost half-way through the Tranquility by Tuesday Challenge! This upcoming week we’ll be looking at Rule #5: Create a back-up slot.
As life becomes more complex, this rule becomes more important. Anyone can create a perfect schedule. True time management masters create a resilient schedule.
That’s because while we can make time for various important but not urgent things, life inevitably intervenes. You meant to meet with an employee who could really use some encouraging feedback, and set the meeting for 10:00 a.m. Thursday. Then your biggest client has a huge emergency right at 9:30 a.m. You meant to take a child out to lunch, solo, but she gets sick, or you get sick, or your spouse’s flight home is canceled because of a snowstorm across the country, meaning you’ve now got the other kids and…
This is all incredibly frustrating. Which brings me to the concept of “rain dates.” When you are invited to an outdoor summer event, the organizers will often set a “rain date.” They are acknowledging that much can go predictably wrong outside (it’s right there in the “rain date” name) but there is no question of whether the event will be rescheduled, or for when. It will be — on the rain date. If you want to go, you know not to put anything unmovable in the second slot. By creating a back-up slot, you vastly increase the chances of the event happening, even if not when originally planned.
In life, we need more rain dates. Anything truly important, that you truly want to have happen, needs a back-up slot. If you can’t meet with that employee at 10:00 Thursday, you’ve both identified Friday at 9:00 a.m. as another option.
Now I know this would get unwieldy to create back-up slots for everything, so one way to approximate this is to just leave more open space in your schedule in general. I aim to leave Fridays mostly open. That way, if I don’t get to something earlier in the week (because something comes up) I can do it then, and don’t have to shove it to the next week. If some new opportunity comes up, I can also put it on Friday, since I generally have the space.
I know this doesn’t work in every line of work. But almost anyone can benefit from leaving more open space in their schedule. It could be two afternoons a week. It could be an hour every day.
I also know there are pressures against this; there’s a pretty famous book called “Book yourself solid.” The problem is that when you are booked completely solid, if one thing runs over — as it inevitably will — everything runs over, and there is no way to get caught up. If a crisis comes up, lots of stuff has to be canceled and rescheduled, and in a booked-solid schedule there is no good place to put the rescheduled events. If something cool comes up, there’s no place to put that either.
That latter problem may not seem as obvious, but I have found in life that when I’m really booked up, I have a tendency to almost push new things away. I don’t have time to set up an exploratory chat, so I don’t, but who knows what might have come of that? I have to race off to the next thing, so I don’t have a longer conversation with someone I am scheduled to speak with, and maybe cool things would have come from that too. It’s hard to know, but I do think that open space often invites opportunity in a way a cluttered calendar can’t.
So, as you’re planning your week this Friday (you are planning your week this Friday, right?) see if you can preserve some open space, or create some open space. Maybe something else can be canceled, or made shorter, or given to someone else.
In the Tranquility by Tuesday project (when I had 150 people try out these rules over 9 weeks for my most recent book) there was definitely some grumbling about this rule. Everyone is busy! But those who tried it were often impressed about how much their stress levels dropped. As one person put it “sometimes I felt too relaxed.” But she got everything on her priority list done. So that sounds like a win to me!