5 tips for preventing schedule overload in a post-COVID workplace

5 tips for preventing schedule overload in a post-COVID workplace
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Schedule overload is our most productive self’s worst enemy. And the unfortunate reality is, it’s easy to overload your schedule before you realize it. Commitments to colleagues, team meetings, and multitasking throughout the workday quickly add up. Before you know it, you find yourself breaking commitments, zoning out in meetings, dropping the ball on project management, and burning out. To complicate work schedules further, coronavirus disrupted the working world, and added a layer of overwhelm to our already crowded schedules. 

As we rework the workday and get back into a rhythm, it’s necessary for workers to set boundaries to maintain a healthy work-life balance. At the end of the day, we show up as our best selves when we aren’t constantly in overdrive. We’re here to help you prevent schedule overload in the post-COVID workplace. Keep reading to learn more about how COVID-19 impacted work schedules and our five best tips for keeping your schedule organized.

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How COVID-19 impacted our calendars

Coronavirus wreaked havoc on workers’ calendars. We did some research to understand the specifics of the impact. We wanted to understand how work schedules changed as a result of mandatory WFH policies and where burnout and work-life balance fit into the picture. Our data showed workers became busier, worked longer hours, and saw our calendars get more chaotic after our employers started mandating that we work from home.

By the fifth week of the pandemic, team members spent more time in meetings and had far less time to focus on their to-do lists. To summarize, meeting time went up, and solo time (for both work-related and non-work-related reasons) decreased.

Not only did meeting time increase, but time spent in one-on-ones and team meetings spiked too. The average worker spent an extra one to one and a half hours per week in team syncs alone (that’s a 29% increase).

 

Unsurprisingly, our research revealed a 45% decrease in “out of office” time. With nowhere to go besides another room in the home, employees took less time off. When employees don’t take time to rest and recharge, burnout unfortunately rears its head in no time. 

But as some of us start heading back into the office, will work overload necessarily calm down? It seems doubtful. Doodle’s State of Meetings 2021 report revealed some astonishing statistics that show that work overload doesn’t appear to be slowing down. According to the report, the number of virtual group meetings increased by 613% from January to December 2020. The use of Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Slack skyrocketed into early 2020 (talk about serious information overload). And employers have to make tough decisions around hybrid working models, permanent remote work, and what the future of offices will look like, which can complicate schedules even more.

Here are five tips for keeping your schedule organized so you don’t feel overwhelmed as you work to get back into a rhythm and make your workday work for you.

1. Schedule time to optimize your calendar every week

As you head back into the office, now is a perfect time to set new, better routines. The first step is asking yourself whether you’re making time for what matters to you. Whether the answer is yes, no, or somewhere in between isn’t what matters most. The important thing here is to have a clear answer.

Set aside 15-20 minutes at the start of your week to proactively plan what you want to accomplish before the end of the week. Then schedule 15-20 minutes at the end of each week to journal what you accomplished and what got in your way.

In the first sit-down, write down what you want and need to accomplish. You may want to use task management software to keep up with these goals. In the second, write down what worked and what didn’t throughout the week. Avoid being self-critical and do your best to evaluate your time objectively. 

This process will teach you a lot about your priorities, work habits, and roadblocks. As you do this week after week, be on the lookout for recurring trends. Plus, it’ll give you a list of your accomplishments that may come in handy when it comes time for your performance review.

2. Lightly audit your calendar

We saw our calendars fill to the brim with new meetings when workplaces moved to remote work. So going back to the office is the right time to try a lightweight calendar audit to help you find opportunities to spend your time more effectively.

Start by choosing a representative week on your calendar and printing that week (or saving it as a PDF you can mark up). Then you’ll want to rate each of your meetings 1-5 in order of importance.

  1. Mission-critical events you absolutely have to attend
  2. Events you need to attend to do your job and no one else can attend for you
  3. Someone needs to attend these, but with enough lead time and training, someone else could attend these for you
  4. Events that straddle the line between necessary and nice-to-have
  5. Events that have no real impact on your job

Type 5 meetings are easy wins. Cancel them or push them off. They should never be recurring. Scrutinize type 4 meetings very closely. This is a good area to push back in a nice way to see if you're truly needed. These should almost never be recurring. Type 3 takes some work, but can really pay off. This isn't just how you open up more time for yourself now, but on an ongoing basis. By learning how to better train your team and delegate, you open up more opportunities for your team to grow while giving you more tools on how to juggle expanding responsibilities. You can evaluate type 2 meetings for frequency and timing. For example, maybe not all one-on-ones need to be weekly.

If you aren’t sure how best to determine if you’re needed in a meeting, consider these questions for a quick gut check:

  • What is the goal for this meeting and does it apply to my role?
  • What are the meeting organizer’s expectations of me if I attend? (i.e., Does the meeting organizer need input from me? Are they disseminating information out that I can read later?) 
  • Who else is attending the meeting and is there another attendee who could fill me in later?
  • What happens if I don’t attend this meeting? (Pro-tip: Try to avoid being a barrier. If you play an important role in what’s being discussed, attend the meeting or be sure to give your feedback ASAP so teams can keep moving forward.)
Calendar audit example
Calendar audit example

While the lightweight calendar audit shouldn’t take you long, we created Calendar Insights to help make auditing your calendar easier.

3. Automate calendar management as much as possible

One of the best ways to reduce calendar overload is to automate as many manual processes as possible. For example, are you checking your personal calendar and your work calendar to schedule appointments and meetings? Syncing your work and personal calendars is a great way to save time. If you’re worried about privacy, you can also set your work calendar to display your personal calendar events as “busy” with no other details. 

If you’re constantly having to reschedule double-booked meetings, consider using Clockwise to make your meetings flexible. Clockwise is a free time orchestration tool that uses AI and your preferences to find the best times to meet and automatically resolve scheduling conflicts. And to save time setting up your meetings, try Clockwise Links. Whether meeting with a colleague or external stakeholder, links removes the back-and-forth while also preserving your Focus Time.

You can also consider coding different events with various colors so you can see what kinds of events you have coming up at a glance without having to read the title or details. Another way to automate your time management: Try a time blocking app.

4. Schedule heads-down work time

When reviewing your calendar, it’s important to take into consideration how much time you have open for heads-down, focused work.

Harvard Business Review recommends busy workers take stock of what they call time fragmentation. “This is based on the idea that making any real progress on thoughtful work requires more than a 30-minute increment of time, and that it takes 15 minutes to return to a productive state after an interruption.” In their analysis, they found context switching cost one large software company more than 450 hours per year, per manager.

This is where blocking off time for focus can help. Proactively setting aside long blocks of time for deeply focused, proactive work prevents you from saying yes to too many reactive requests from others. To make this process less manual, we offer Focus Time events. Turning it on helps you visualize how much time you have for focused work by automatically creating Focus Time events on your calendar that show as “busy.” These dynamic calendar events update in real time as your calendar changes, so you always have an up-to-date view of your Focus Time. Then you can time block your Focus Time blocks with Asana using our Asana integration

5. Make time for what matters

Finally, it’s important to remember that life isn’t all about productivity. Now that we’re heading back to some semblance of normalcy, use the gains in time and energy from your better habits to do the things that bring you joy.

Schedule a coffee run with a current coworker you’d like to get to know better, or a former coworker you want to catch up with. Step away from your computer and give your eyes a screen break. Take a walk outside and maybe call a friend or listen to a favorite podcast. Go to your kid’s baseball game. Ironically, many of the things we think of as distractions are actually key to enhancing our creativity. 

Going forward

While we all missed pre-COVID life, things aren’t going to go right back to how they were before. Which is a blessing and a curse. While there are struggles ahead, there are also opportunities to do things better than before. And that includes how you use your time. By optimizing your calendar weekly, auditing it regularly, utilizing calendar automations, scheduling heads-down time, and making time for what matters, you can reclaim your workday and prevent overload. Clockwise can help you manage your calendar better than before.

About the author

Alyssa Towns

Alyssa Towns a freelance writer based in Denver, CO. She writes on a productivity and career-related topics for Insider, Clockwise, G2 and other publications.

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