Run a Ruthless Calendar, Live a Balanced Life

Jan 29, 2022 | Executive Coaching, Meeting Effectiveness


Using January as an indicator of how your year will play out, are you going to be satisfied with the results?  Published reports of a 2018 research study reveal 92% of people who set goals for the New Year abandon their resolutions, often in the first month.  If this describes you, there is still good news:  You have time to course-correct.

The secret lies in how you utilize your calendar.

Your New Year’s goals may not even be work-related, but how you manage your time and energy in the 9-to-5 impacts your resolve to live up to your personal commitments.  You leave the workplace exhausted or frustrated, and you opt for a quick dinner out rather than something healthy prepared at home.  That one choice, made under pressure, could possibly derail multiple pledges to eat healthy in the coming year…or to save money, lose weight, spend more time with family, etc.

Rather than beat yourself up over falling off the horse this month, arm yourself with some life hacks that will greatly increase your chances for keeping your resolutions.  Here are four rules you can announce to your co-workers, family, and friends that you will follow from now on.


Rule #1:  Shortened meeting times
One of the biggest mistakes I see executives make is scheduling events in Outlook back-to-back, like train cars.  We leave ourselves no time to assimilate ideas and action items covered in the last meeting before charging into the next.

As managers and leaders, we’re paid for our experience and judgment to make decisions that will lead to better outcomes for the company…not careen from one meeting to the next.   Good decisions are hard to come by without time to exhale and renew yourself.

Time is finite, but energy is renewable.  The problem in business lies in the fact that there are only so many hours in the day, and we over-schedule ourselves while trying to shoehorn everything into our days.  This practice may be an efficient way to consume our office hours, but it exhausts individuals in such a way that late afternoon meetings sometimes yield terrible results.

One immutable law of personal performance lies within our bodies. It is our ultradian rhythms.  Similarly to how circadian rhythms regulate our sleep patterns, ultradian rhythms control the ebb and flow of energy, motivation, and willpower.  Simply put; ignore your body’s natural need to recharge every 90 to 120 minutes and you will crash before the end of the day.  This crash strips you of the desire to keep the commitments you vowed to do, and that’s how a dysfunctional office routine sabotages work-life balance. There’s just nothing left of you by the time you get home.

What if you and your team all modified your personal practices at the office to leave a buffer between appointments by shortening the lengths of all meetings?  By default, Outlook calendars create meetings in 30- or 60-minute increments.  Because we’ve committed the full hour to one another, our natural inclination is to “get our money’s worth.” So, we stretch conversations until the hour is complete…sometimes well after the purpose for the meeting had been met and we could have adjourned!

Instead of 60-minute meetings, why not make them 50 minutes?  Or go crazy and make them 45!  Your agreement to shorten meetings keeps everyone on point and builds in time to renew and recharge during the day.


Here’s how to set shorter meeting times in Outlook calendar.

  1. Open Outlook
  2. Click File in the upper left corner
  3. Select Options in the lower left corner
  4. Click Calendar in the pop-up window
  5. Under Calendar options: check the box for “Shorten appointments & meetings”
  6. Select “End early” from the pulldown list next to this setting
  7. Choose the number of minutes you want to shorten meetings
    Set times for meetings “Less than one hour” and “One hour or more”
  8. Click OK in lower right of pop-up window to save your changes


Rule #2:  Everything goes on the calendar
Forbes’ Senior Contributor, Dana Brownlee has several brilliant recommendations in a blog post on time management. She maintains professionals need to time block their calendars for both active and passive work.  Active work includes appointments, meetings, and deliverables – hours that must be synchronous with others internal or external clients.  Passive work is all the thought, analysis, research, brainstorming, and preparation that lays the foundation for good decision making.

Greek philosopher Aristotle said, “Nature abhors a vacuum,” and so do our Outlook calendars.  When invitations come in, we check the time and date, and if the hour is unclaimed, we’ll accept the meeting without considering that our time could be better spent doing passive work.  This is how we get overcommitted and end up working longer hours, either in the office or at home.

Solution:  Prioritize your activities by time blocking passive work and protecting your time to deliver your greatest value to the company – your thoughts.  In my informal poll of professionals, most executives tell me they only participate in deep thought while showering or commuting.

Another survival tip from a blog on Harvard Business Review is to convert your to-do lists into calendar appointments. If it’s worth agreeing to fulfill, it’s worth putting on your calendar as a time commitment.

So start scheduling time on your calendar for everything. When new requests come in, you can flatly and honestly reply, “I’m booked” or you could negotiate where the task falls in terms of priority against everything else on your plate.



Rule #3:  No more carte blanche
Our lack of time stems from how we manage our own activities, and we must exercise “courage to change the things we can.” However, we don’t necessarily have to “accept the things we cannot change” when it comes to others’ unchecked access to our time and attention.  It’s time to erect some boundaries and stop giving away our time.

How many times have you left a recurring meeting thinking, “That’s 60 minutes I’ll never get back.”? The meeting had no agenda.  There was no thought put into it.  Multiple people from your team were invited when one representative should suffice.  The next time you spot these red flags, decline the meeting outright or propose that you attend only for the portion of the agenda that requires your input.  If no agenda, you’re not going.

Another way we give away time is through our hyperconnected workplace. IMs, DMs, Slack, texts, Messenger, GroupMe.  Your phone and computer chime away all day, and every time they do, you stop what you’re doing to see what’s going on.  Messaging apps are great for the person asking the question because they get to interrupt whoever is on the other side. They are horrible for the person on the receiving end because they now must stop what they’re doing to respond.

Multitasking has proven to be a fallacy. Distractions from being hyperconnected hurt productivity and cost time because they force you to switch tasks frequently.  Even brief mental blocks created by shifting between tasks can cost as much as 40 percent of someone’s productive time.

Unplug. Turn off your laptop’s Wi-Fi. Uninstall messaging apps. Do what you must to minimize distractions so that you make the best use of your time… including that buffer time between meetings to recharge your personal energy.



Rule #4:  Principles are the gatekeepers to your time
At the end of the day, who do you want to be (or become)?  Isn’t that the guiding principle that informs our choices for New Year’s resolutions?

At its best and highest function, a resolution can be that single decision that removes hundreds or thousands of other decisions.  You declare your resolve to start/stop/modify a behavior and will not entertain inquiries to compromise! On principle, Tim Ferriss has refused to read any new books since 2020. He used to get dozens of unsolicited books mailed to him every week with requests to review them for promotion and PR purposes. He wasted no time in evaluating which books were worthy of a mention and which were not. He simply said no – based on principle.

You, too, can protect your time and energy by letting your principles be the gatekeeper.

At inclineHR, we coach our executives to exercise The 5 Finger Rule. They play many roles in life – at the office, at home, in society.  Boss. Employee. Mentor. Spouse. Parent or grandparent. Sibling. Caregiver to a parent. Neighbor. Golf partner. Parishioner. Volunteer. The list almost always extends beyond five.

People will only juggle five of those roles successfully at any time.  Saying yes to the sixth obligation introduces the peril of something being dropped and someone disappointed.

Take for instance, your neighbor will be taking a vacation and asks if you’d watch their dog and mow their lawn next week.  Because they’re such good neighbors, and you want to maintain a cordial relationship (they know where you sleep), you decline.  The 5 Finger Rule tells you that you really cannot squeeze their request into your established routine, and they would likely be disappointed with the outcome if you did.

Meanwhile, you’re still able to give it your all in the five roles that you cannot or will not negotiate away.


Be warned: enforcing boundaries will be perceived as ruthlessness to others who have previously enjoyed carte blanche access to your attention. They will eventually learn to accept it.

The outcome for you will be a workplace that feels less chaotic and leaves you more energy to focus on personal goals at the end of the day.
Building Exceptional Leaders