We all have chaotic days when someone throws a monkey wrench into our schedule, but with a few built-in pillows that use Outlook Calendar, you take on the challenge with a “let’s do it” attitude.
We all have times during our workday when we wish we weren’t available to our co-workers, boss, or customers. The good news is that you can do this in non-traditional ways using Outlook Calendar events – by scheduling reserved blocks. Through reservedI simply mean time blocks that you do not want or cannot be for other employees and clients.
SEE: Software Installation Policy (TechRepublic)
In this article, I’ll discuss four easy ways to block times and reduce the stress and pressure that comes with a busy work day. Honoring these times will put you back to work bright and ready to go – you’ll be more productive for it.
I use Microsoft 365 desktop, but you can use earlier versions or Outlook for the web. There is no demonstration file, you don’t need one.
1. Add a little kisses
Perhaps the biggest complaint while working is, “I just ran out of time.” Now that can happen for a number of reasons: a meeting might be late, you might get caught in traffic, or you might remember at the last minute that you have carpool service for your kids. It happens to all of us. That’s why it’s so important to add a pillow between appointments.
If possible, and try not to minimize this recommendation, schedule 10 or 15 minutes at the beginning and end of each meeting. That gives you time to move from one meeting room to another or helps when a meeting is running late – which it often does. If everything goes according to plan, you’ll have time to organize your thoughts and have a cup of coffee before the next meeting.
Don’t think of this refill as downtime or wasted. Instead, these little pillows keep you on time and mentally ready for what’s to come.
This padding is easy to add. When making the appointment, start 15 minutes earlier than required and add 15 minutes to the end as shown in Image A† The one-hour meeting, scheduled from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m., blocks one and a half hours. If 15 minutes is too much, schedule 5 minutes before and after. But give yourself a bit of a buffer between all your appointments.
2. Add Downtime
It’s a little odd to think of productivity in terms of downtime, but it’s hard to be productive when you’re stressed, overworked, and just plain tired. Tip one helps a bit with this. Another way to keep your mind on the game and focused is to have a little downtime in your schedule. Schedule a few blocks of time for yourself each day. You will probably use this time to regroup and get some work done without interruption. Most of us try to respect our colleagues’ schedules. Make sure to close Outlook or turn off notifications if they distract you.
Then again, there’s nothing wrong with using this downtime to grab a cup of coffee, close your office door, and do a little brainstorming. Most of us solve problems better when we’re not under pressure. In my development days, I would often set a problem aside for an entire day and then find the solution the next day that came to mind almost immediately when I returned to it.
Most of us don’t produce the same quality of work that we would otherwise do if we stayed focused on the task at hand, without interruption– and that’s the key. You’re still working, but you’re focused.
Your downtime can be at the same time or varied each day to accommodate a busy schedule. When you schedule this downtime, you can be elusive or honest if you share your Outlook calendar. You don’t have to identify it as downtime, but make it clear that you don’t want to be disturbed unless there is an emergency. As you can see in Figure Ba simple Do Not Disturb block should work just as well as putting a sign on your doorknob and closing the door.
Don’t see this downtime as a break. Think of it as a time to regroup and get back on track, or better yet, stay on track before you go off track.
3. Out of the office
Most of us are occasionally completely out of the office during working hours and unreachable. Perhaps you are traveling, have a personal appointment or have a week of carpool service for your children. These types of appointments can be one-time or recurring. The trick is to schedule them in Outlook Calendar and make it clear that you are not available at all.
Figure C shows an absence block from 2.30 pm to 3.30 pm. However, as you can see the time block includes 15 minutes before and after – stick to tip 1. You may only see the scheduled hour, but again you’ve given yourself a bit of a buffer.
If your out of office appointment is every Wednesday, use the Make Recurring link to block that time for every Wednesday afternoon. Plus, it’s okay to be a little more direct. Use instead of OOO OOO—cannot be contacted.
4. Schedule breaks
Some of us know exactly when we need a break and we don’t even think about scheduling one. However, some of us get into that zone and before we know it, we’ll be sitting with our noses in a screen for hours. My husband often stops at the door of my home office to say, “You need a break.”
If you’re like me and many others, it’s a great idea to schedule short breaks a few times a day. It’s easy to do. The hardest part is forcing yourself out of the zone and into an employee lounge. Maybe a brisk walk outside will work better for you. It doesn’t matter as long as you’re not working or thinking about it. If so, then it’s downtime (tip 2) and not a real break.
Figure D shows a short 15-minute break from Monday to Friday at 10:30 AM. This is not the same as downtime because that period of time should be longer and you are usually still working even if you are just thinking about a project.
Note that this break time conflicts with many scheduled events – this is good information to consider when planning regular breaks.
Regular breaks give you a moment to catch your breath and either laugh at a colleague’s joke or just relax somewhere outside your workspace. If you usually skip breaks, you will benefit more than you think. Breaks are like power naps: you come back strong and ready to work.