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Time Management Tips

Managing Interruptions: Fixing Your Calendaring

by Susan Fennema – Beyond the Chaos

Managing interruptions is a huge deal for me. Despite thinking that I’m an awesome multi-tasker, I’m probably just a good fast switcher. As we know, multitasking isn’t a thing. And, it’s why I can’t even listen to a podcast all the way through. But, managing interruptions with calendaring is a thing. And it usually works…unless it breaks. Let’s start by talking about what can break it and then we’ll talk about getting back on track.

My calendaring broke this morning. Here’s why. I’m trying to leave for vacation and doing all those last things to allow for a work-free time away. So, I’m managing interruptions in advance. The first part of that is getting all of next week’s must-do’s done. And that includes writing this blog post. Which I was supposed to start an hour ago.

Breaking Your Calendaring 

But, I got interrupted with a last-minute dog boarding change, which resulted in me having to coordinate that, change plans, reverse payments, pay new people, and whatnot. Following that, I got a response to a for-sale item I had listed online. Wanting that extra $150 spending money for my vacation, I set up a time for the person to stop by and made that sale.

Compound that with a business issue where I’ve been troubleshooting something through a support ticket. It all got put back on me to address with another provider. So, I also had to re-start that ticket somewhere else. So, how did I get off track this morning? Life. Life just happens sometimes.

Many other things can break your calendaring as well. Sometimes, it is just procrastination. Or, a flat out emergency. One of my clients got called away for a family emergency the other day. Not only did that break her calendaring, but it also broke mine. What about when something just takes longer than was expected? Or a big one…you just don’t feel focused enough to work on the task you designated at that time.

I’m not going to lie. I’m feeling a little overwhelmed this morning, trying to get out for vacation. Managing interruptions and respecting my calendaring hasn’t worked for me today. But, that doesn’t mean all is lost! So, let’s get to the meat of this. How do you get back on track?

Getting Back on Track 

The first step is to recognize that you’ve blown it. You’ve probably passed up some calendar blocks. Hopefully, you didn’t actually miss any meetings, but it’s possible.

Once you are aware you’re off track, the next step is to avoid scrambling around like a crazy person. You have to actually stop and assess. Go back and figure out what you missed. If you actually missed a meeting with another person, it is imperative that you prioritize that communication. Get in touch with them, apologize, and figure out when you can reschedule.

The beauty of calendaring is that you did the active planning. So, you know what you were supposed to do, which allows you to accommodate, now, what you have to do. I will reference one of my favorite quotes here:

“Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.”

I’ve heard this attributed to Dwight D. Eisenhower, but also that it was a US Army maxim. The gist of this is that you learn so much from the planning that you can readjust. You learn so much through the exploration of options and contingencies that it is much easier to adapt.

Calendaring Tetris®  

So, let’s get to moving calendar blocks to accommodate the changes. It can be like working a puzzle. I find it kind of fun. If I could plan and schedule all day, that would probably make me happy. But, it’s also fairly unproductive, which makes me unhappy. So, the goal of rearranging is to do it as efficiently as possible.

If it is a working block you missed, there are four options:

  • compress it
  • reschedule it
  • skip it
  • change something else

Compress It

I try to cushion my calendar blocks because I know I like to get up, check Slack, pet the dog, get a drink, etc., while I’m working. So, for example, I’ve been thinking about the topic of this blog post all week. I’ve been pretty excited about it. It’s actually kismet that my calendaring broke this morning so I had good examples. With that said, I was able to reduce the 2-hour block for writing down to 1 1/2 hours, especially by not allowing myself to interrupt me!

Reschedule It

Assess whether your calendar block is necessary to do today. Look ahead a week or two and see where it might fit. If you are calendaring regularly, you should be able to see where you have availability. Perhaps you have to move some other things to accommodate the timeliness of moving the current block. But, if all your blocks in place, you should be able to find a hole.

There are times when you might be backed up and have to find a Saturday or an evening to fit the block. I don’t recommend that you allow this practice to become a habit. You need your time with your family and to recreate so you can clear your business brain to become more creative during your business time. But, from time-to-time, you might have to bite the bullet and give up some “free” time.

Skip It

What happens if you just choose to not do the “thing” at all? Was it time-sensitive and you missed the window? Or, in retrospect, with crunched time, is it just not important to ever do? It could be something that you just add back to a someday/maybe list that you will address at some time in the future. So, in this instance, that calendar block just disappears.

Change Something Else

Perhaps there is something later in your schedule that could be rearranged to accommodate your missed block of time. Go through the future items the same way that you went through the past ones. Can you compress, reschedule, or skip those? One of the things that helped me to get my schedule back on track today was that it appears it will never stop raining. So, I canceled the dog walk. Bummer for Shelby, but I can compress my part of that exercise time, which usually takes about 45 minutes, into a 20-minute yoga session. It gets me some exercise (although not as much), but gets me back on track.

Managing Interruptions (in the first place) 

If you are living in a world where you are constantly managing interruptions, you need to look at your overall process. What are those things that are regularly interrupting you? Can you get a virtual assistant to help you answer the phone, manage your emails, or to set your appointments? You can turn off Slack and email. It will be there when you come back.

Do you have processes and procedures set up in your business to handle client changes or support? What about sales? These are areas where you can automate and/or systematize to prevent interruptions. And, to help hand off tasks to others if you prefer.

Some interruptions are true, important, and urgent. But, if they are not, block those into your calendar to handle in the future and don’t let them take you off track.

If you need help systematizing, don’t hesitate to reach out. It’s part of what Beyond the Chaos does!

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Time Your Most Valuable Asset by Paula Mathews

You’ve heard the saying, “A Place for Everything and Everything in its Place.” Corporate America is teaching this as 6-S or Kaizen, but it simply means that you don’t waste time looking for things. Wasting time isn’t as important to you now, maybe, as it will be in 10 or 20 years, but I strongly believe that there is a time for everything and…timing is everything. In this regard, you are the equal to every person in this world. You have the same 24 hours a day that every other person in the world does, but what you do with those hours is up to you. A business hero of mine is Seth Godin (www.sethgodin.com). In a recent blog, he stated, “… Are you intentional about what you’re learning, or connecting with, or the entertainment you’re investing in? We don’t have a lot of time. It seems to me that being intentional about how we spend our precious attention is the least we can do for it.”

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Developing Relationships in a Virtual World

by  Susan Fennema – Beyond the Chaos

Developing relationships in this virtual world of email, chat, and conference calls can be challenging. How do you convey the personality of your company and team members when you do not have opportunities for face-to-face contact and sometimes, not even phone contact?

An added challenge for those of us running virtual companies is developing relationships within your own team members. In my case, we are spread out from New York City to San Francisco. Plus, we have clients from Maine to Los Angeles. So, even figuring out time zone conversions for meetings can be an issue.

All of this affects our abilities to do our jobs well. But, not all is hopeless. Developing relationships virtually just requires a different skill set than the in-person relationship building of old. Let’s start with the different types of digital communications:


Email has been tried and true since about 2004 with the advent of AOL Mail. (Anyone just hear that dialup sound in your head?) Obviously, upgrades to email throughout the last 15 years have brought it into all areas of our lives. Whether you love it or hate it (or both!), it is a necessity for business communications… and many personal ones. Email gives you space to create a tone, which helps with developing relationships. A big rule here is to remember not to hide behind it. By letting your personality come through, you’re able to convey who you are and how you interact.

My rule of thumb is to write it as I would say it, and then go back and edit it to include any nuances. And, possibly I would edit it to be more concise. Even with the ability to type all you want, you still need to get to the point, to avoid TLDR responses. Or, have people ignore the email completely.

This method might be your only way of communicating with people, especially initially. Even during our sales process, I use clear, concise communications. The intention is to start educating our potential clients on what it would be like to work with us.

Conference Calls

It’s not enough to just call people anymore. You have to share screens and have more than one person on most calls. For us virtual companies, that’s how we run all of our meetings. If you haven’t seen the “real-life conference call” video, I encourage you to be entertained. Over time, those interruptions and issues have become so common-place that we just accept it and move on.

Initially, I hated to use the video part of the conference call tools. It felt sort of like those who hate hearing the sound of their own voice when they record an outgoing message. Also, as a work-from-home person, I felt like I had to go “primp” for every time I was going to be on screen. But, video calls give you the ability to see colleague’s expressions and reactions and to have “eye contact”, even when you are just looking at their image and it looks like you aren’t looking at them at all. It still helps facilitate communication.

So, how did I get over my video issues? I just did it. Just like everything else, the more you do it, the easier it gets. If I am called into a video call and I’ve just come back from walking the dog in Texas heat, I say that straight up. “Forgive my crazy hair, I just got in from walking the dog and, man, is it hot!” With that type of communication, you are letting people into your real life. You’re sharing who you are and what might be “happening” in your life. Plus, you find out more about others. “Oh, you have a dog? What kind? I LOVE DOGS. I foster animals from the pound all the time.” That type of information is usually not communicated over email.

That being said, if I know I’m recording something for a videocast or it is the first time I am meeting with a person, I absolutely up my game. No attendance at those in fleece pajamas with frizzy hair and no makeup. Perception is still important. (But, no one knows if you still have your PJ pants beneath that professional top.)

I am a professional. I also walk the dog and wear PJs to work most of the time. So, be who you are. And don’t be afraid to let people see it.


Chat is my favorite tool for developing relationships. There are so many options have come out over the past few years: WhatsApp, Teams, Google Hangouts/Chat, Teamwork Chat, Basecamp Campfire, and Skype. But, Slackhas made all the difference to me, my team, and my colleagues.

Since we work in project management, which often requires instant communication with clients, we use almost all of those applications regularly. But, Slack is by far the best. I currently am in 14 workgroups. Within those groups, I can communicate with literally hundreds of people. Instantly. When you interact with people via these chat spaces, you are able to quickly see who has a sense of humor, who is happy most of the time, who likes to brag a bit, who communicates really clearly and, of course, the opposite of all of those. I’m a huge fan of emojis as responses to posts, both to acknowledge that the person has been heard and to convey an emotional response. Your personality even shows through the use of those. And you can truly get to know each other through these tools. Even those people you will never meet in person.

My team’s main communication tool is Slack. We get help from each other that way. We share challenges and basic information. Sometimes we just complain or vent. We also share silly stories of what happened to us today. (Think water cooler talk, if you were in an actual office.) Laura has worked for Beyond the Chaos for 2 1/2 years and I’ve never met her in person. We don’t talk on the phone much. We don’t even have that many conference calls. But we know each other very well because of our chat communications. That goes for the rest of our Chaos Killers as well (except Maria and Kim… I’ve met them in person.)

Lessons in Developing Relationships Virtually

So, what are the lessons here? Lesson #1 is that you CAN be yourself over the airwaves. You can demonstrate your sense of humor, confidence, knowledge, and approach. People can feel that they know who you are by your writing style.

And that brings us to Lesson #2. You can truly get to know each other through these types of tools. One of my favorite client relationships is with The Proof Group. All the team members are dramatically different in personality. I worked with the team for over a year before I met them in person in December 2017. I was so excited to meet all these characters whom I had come to know through Slack. And they were exactly what I expected. One day, maybe I’ll even meet my own team members!

Lesson #3: Pay attention to perceptions. And know yourself. Self-awareness is one of the main keys to sharing your personality so that people get the true sense of who you are.

And, finally, Lesson #4: You have to be able to write, despite hearing all the rumors that the English language is dead. Your readers perceive you differently if you aren’t using correct grammar and punctuation. Business writing is one of those skills that is still required. And more so than in the past, you have to do it on the fly, without another proofread and without lead time to think about it. It is instant. And if you cannot do it naturally, and integrate your personality and culture into it, you will struggle with developing relationships. Guaranteed.

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Time Management Mistakes You’re Making

By Ann Connor

There are not enough hours in a day; I wish the day had 25 hours; I’m running out of time. How many times have you caught yourself stating these phrases? This feeling of not being able to manage time inevitably causes stress, which results in even more time loss. So here’s a list of commonly mistakes that probably can save you lots of headaches.

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What does Happiness mean to you, and how can you truly create this as your theme of the Season?

Is this your scenario?

You know the drill. You are trying to “do it all”- meaning, you need to work to earn your living, your family needs attention, you are supposed to eat right and exercise and go to all your self-care wellness, and you are just barely holding it together. Most of the time, food is in the fridge and you are going where you need to go when you need to get there.
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