Posted on

Aggregate your fixed time commitments on fewer days

When I’m coaching and teaching academics, I recommend that they designate and protect four kinds of time: Free, Fixed, Focus, and Flow. Previously in this series, we looked at Free time.

In this article, let’s look at Fixed time. This is one of the areas where you can get control. And, you need to get control as quickly as you can, which requires that you be intentional about making the necessary changes.

Although the label Fixed gives a good indication of what is included in this category, to further clarify, consider it a label for any and all fixed-in-time commitments including teaching, conference presentations, attending cultural events, etc.  If you wonder whether something belongs in this category, ask yourself if it matters when you show up. If it does, it is considered Fixed time.  You can’t just show up any ol’ time for classes, hair appointments, meetings, medical appointments, office hours, or catching a plane.  You must show up at a certain time for a generally defined span of time.

To start getting some control over your calendar (to better serve you and your priorities), analyze your calendar to assess how much fixed time you have scheduled at this point. Next, start to aggregate most of the Fixed time commitments on fewer days. The result will be less lost time and more potential for longer blocks of time for Focus and Flow time, which we’ll look at in upcoming articles.

You may already be using the concept of “batching” when planning some of your personal and professional tasks. You know it is easier, faster, and requires less energy to batch email, meal preparation for the week, and packing for a trip (vs. spreading these tasks across hours or days). Apply this same concept to your calendar by batching your Fixed activities (appointments, etc.) on fewer days rather than having them sprinkled across all seven days of the week.

For most people in most kinds of work situations, collapsing various fixed-in-time commitments onto fewer days serves their overall productivity. For professors, it’s an action that makes a remarkable difference in what you’re able to accomplish and how you feel about your days and contributions.

Please note: This does not mean you cram as many appointments into two or three days as you possibly can. More likely is that you start thoughtfully eliminating or minimizing some of the appointments and meetings you have been trying to fit in (which may be part of how they’ve expanded across many days of your week).

For each of the four kinds of time you’re learning about in this article series, there’s a guideline for how much of your time to allot. The recommendation for Fixed time is a ratio of 2:7 days a week. Some professors choose to purposely place their teaching and office hours on two days or possibly four half-days and then guide as many meetings and other specific requests for their presence to those same days. Other professors may realize that 2:7 is not enough, particularly if they are at a university with a very high teaching expectation. Maybe 3:7 is what they need to make their lives work in a more “just whelmed” state.

The same principle applies whether your ratio is 2:7, 3:7, or 4:7. Decide when those days or half days are and guide as many of your fixed commitments there so that you have other days available to devote to Free, Focus, and Flow time.

Whatever your goal, stay focused on it, knowing it may take several semesters or quarters to get everything lined up the way you want it to be. It is a process and worth the effort for your long-term productivity.

Suggested actions to take today:

  • Take a look through your calendar.
  • Winnow down your appointments to only those worth keeping.
  • After some culling, begin to aggregate those commitments.

Remember, you are not stacking or cramming certain days maniacally! But you are recognizing, for example, that on some days, you are already going to be more dressed up and you think, “Hm, you know what? I’m going to have on a suit. I’m going to be out. Why don’t I go ahead and schedule that breakfast meeting for the same day, then head over to my meeting with the dean, then have class, and then go to my child’s school for the parent event.” Make that sartorial splendor effort worth it.

Other days you purposely collapse the times you’re committed to being somewhere or with someone knowing that this will allow other days to have few or none of those appointments. This provides space (time, energy, and attention) to work on projects for longer periods of uninterrupted time. Because there is a “switching cost” to a morning that includes analyzing data, heading to a department meeting, and then trying to get your head back into the data analysis, planning your calendar as much as possible using Free, Fixed, Focus, and Flow time helps reduce the need for switching into and out of deep work (Cal Newport).

Experiment to see what shifts you can make over the next couple of weeks. Small changes yield results and they will help give you the energy to make more significant shifts going forward. Sustaining your life as a scholar requires you to take good care of yourself by taking good care of your calendar.

Meggin McIntoshMeggin McIntosh, also known as “The PhD of Productivity®,” is professor emerita and founding director of her university’s Excellence in Teaching Program.  She is now an executive coach for high-achieving academics who are intent on making a difference through their work.  Whether she’s coaching, teaching workshops, or writing, Meggin’s mission is inspiring joyful work.  You’re welcome to explore and receive many of Meggin’s publications, videos, and classes through her hubsite  More and more of them are being offered freely each month so be sure to take a peek if you want more joyful work in your life.