As much as I fear sounding like a broken record, this topic keeps coming up with my clients and in groups I belong to (and not just with VAs, in case you wondered!), so I wanted to take a run at it again. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that a person can hear about a system or a solution many times and have it strike only a glancing blow before bouncing off, and then one day, it suddenly clicks.

If you struggle to get everything done, my hope is that today is a clicking day for you. :)

The problem?

When you feel overwhelmed and unable to get everything done, chances are you’ve overcommitted yourself. There really are only so many hours in a day, and even fewer in your work day, and once they’re gone, you can’t make more of ‘em! If you want to have a sane life, you cannot make promises like, “I’ll get that to you later today.” You can’t take direction like, “Please get that back to me as soon as you can.” The problem is that “later today,” and “as soon as you can,” aren’t times you can point to on a clock and calendar. As a result, you can’t plan for them, or see how much free/open time you might have in which to do them.

The person who controls the time controls the work.

The solution

1. Know how many hours you want to work on any given day. If you don’t know the boundaries of your day, it’s too easy to overcommit.

2. Make only explicit agreements. The examples I gave above, that use words like “later today” and “as soon as you can” are all examples of implicit agreements. Implicit agreements are floppy, and have no real form. They’re open to interpretation; for instance, say you tell your client you’ll have something done today. In your head, today is only over at midnight. But maybe in your client’s head, today is over at 5p, her time. You can imagine how misunderstandings about when it’s actually due could show up easily.

Explict agreements are clear. “I will have that to you by 5p, ET, tomorrow.” “With explicit agreements, nothing is open to interpretation at all.

3. Put everything on your calendar. Everything. Every task, every appointment, every check for voicemail (return calls twice daily), every email check (check email three times each day), every break… everything. Schedule appointments with and for yourself, first. You are always the most important person to keep commitments with and for.

Now, when a client says, “Please get that back to me as soon as you can,” instead of saying, “I’ll get that to you later today,” you can look at your calendar, see when you have time, and reframe your answer so that you can actually schedule the work, and provide a specific time you can get the thing back to the client. You and your client may go back and forth on scheduling, but in the end, you’ll have controlled the project by controlling your time.

Scheduling may sound like a prison. In reality, most people find it incredibly freeing because in seeing a calendar full of work, it makes it painfully obvious that to try to squeeze anything in is insanity personified. It makes it far easier to say no to someone’s request (and find an alternative) when you can actually see that you don’t have time because of all you’ve already said yes to. Stop struggling. Start scheduling.