In this new age of full-time jobs, side hustles and the gig economy, figuring out how to make time for everything can be a challenge. In my career, I balance my role as VP of Business Development for Huntington Learning Center, curatorial projects with AMH Industries, and leadership positions at the Guggenheim Museum, Coalition for the Homeless and Learning Disabilities Association of America in addition to many other projects that come up along the way. Here’s how I set myself up for success (and keep my sanity through it all!).
Create a morning routine that sets the day up for success.
After hitting snooze once, I get up, make my bed and head to the kitchen for coffee. It may sound juvenile that I make my bed, but it is an important step in my day that gives me a sense of order and shows me that the day has begun (and that I can’t go back into bed). I set at least thirty minutes to exercise, which enables me to move my body and get ready to tackle the day. If I leave exercising until after work, conflicts may arise that prevent me from getting it done. Before leaving the house, I check my appointments for the day so that I can organize my thoughts while commuting to the office. I often schedule breakfast meetings at or before 9am to kill two birds with one stone – eat and work. Then it’s off to the races!
Make time to prepare.
Whether I’m on the road, at a Huntington Learning Center, or at our corporate office, I always take time before the day begins to organize any follow-ups from previous meetings and get ready for the day. Before each meeting, I take between five to ten minutes to prepare items that I want to address during the meeting and then afterwards to recap my to-do’s and reset my mind for the next conversation. Preparing both before and after is a critical activity I do to ensure I make time for everything that needs to get done and that I do it successfully. Without preparation, I do not believe I would perform at the level necessary to effect change and positively impact each project.
Schedule in-person (or video-conference) conversations
I could work behind my computer screen all day, but I’ve found that is not the most productive way to accomplish tasks. I highly urge all my colleagues to make time for in-person conversations, to pick up the phone instead of writing an email or to walk down the hall to meet in-person instead of picking up the phone. Of course, after a conversation, I confirm everything discussed in an email to make sure nothing gets lost in translation. In-person meetings can be formal or casual, but they are essential for success. It’s crucial for me to constantly touch base with all members of the team and speak 1:1 (whether in-person or remotely) to go through all business issues and cut out the back and forth with email. Outside of scheduled meetings, I take time for casual conversations with colleagues – sometimes the best ideas come from a hallway chat. It’s important to find out what’s going on in each department and what colleagues are thinking about to ensure collaboration and cross department conversation are happening.
Whenever I’m in meetings, I close my email and anything else that might be a distraction. I come in with a notebook to jot down important points as they arise and to reference my notes I hope to discuss. It’s so important to focus when meeting to fully connect. There is a caveat, if there is a time sensitive matter, I inform those in the meeting that I’m expecting a call or email to let them know why my phone or computer is out. I’ve trained myself to only check work emails or texts when I plan to respond immediately. Otherwise, it’s easy to forget and leave things unanswered. One strategy I use is setting up email and text breaks throughout the day to clear out incoming messages and make space to focus on my projects. Being present is one of the easiest ways to maximize productivity.
Create a mobile office, so you can take care of business wherever you are.
Since I’m constantly traveling, I’ve had to master the art of the mobile office. Everything I need fits in a tote bag. I’ll always have my laptop with a charger, my cell phone with a charging device, my appointment book (I use my computer calendar, but I’m old school and still use a written book – there’s something to writing down tasks and meetings), as well as a notebook to organize my thoughts and to-do’s. Too often we use the change of scenery as an excuse and waste valuable time and energy.
Make time for yourself and the people important to you.
In a world that’s go, go, go, taking time for myself and my mental health is essential to survive and thrive. At the end of the work day, I try to truly shut off – I may check my work email if there is something time sensitive, but other than that, I keep after-work hours for connecting with family, friends, and taking care of anything else on the personal side that I need to do. Sometimes the most productive time and energy comes from just relaxing and doing nothing at all!