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  • jamespicklescoachi

Do you own your diary or does yourdiary own you?

Updated: Jan 15

Happy New Year!

Whilst January can sometimes feel like it goes on forever, it’s rarely a slow start in the workplace – most of us hit the ground sprinting, attempting to make up for our time off rather than easing back in. There’s emails to go through, goals to set, meetings to get in the diary and resolutions to start tackling. As a result, the first few weeks of the year can feel a little bit like you’ve been put in the washing machine on a spin cycle.

Whilst there’s a natural rise and fall across the year, we have a chance in January to dictate the pace and tone that we want to take forward into 2024. So, have you considered how you can actually want to work this year? Or how you can take control of your diary and stop it getting jammed full of meetings before the Christmas decorations are barely down?

Mind the gap

When you look at your diary, do you plan breaks into your day? Most of us don’t, especially when we’re in senior positions and have seemingly less control over our schedules. It’s too easy to argue that others need us to be on calls, or to feel that having a jam-packed calendar means that we’re on the path to a successful 2024.

However, I recently came across some research from Microsoft, showing the power of regular breaks in your day. The results are clear:

  • Breaks allow the brain to reset, reducing stress

  • Back-to-back meetings result in decreased engagement and focus

  • Back-to-back meetings cause stress spikes, because you’re so focused on the clock

Plus, there’s the somewhat obvious issue that if you’re always in meetings, you have no time to act on the points that were discussed in them. So what can we do to ‘mind the gap’ and make space in our day?

Block your time

An easy way to make sure that you get those essential breaks in is to simply switch to 25 or 55-minute meetings. The idea might feel a little grating, especially if you often run over time. But the truth is that nothing major is going to happen in the five minutes it takes you to go and make a drink, and you’re giving that time back to your team as well. Plus, if you're regularly overrunning, you might need to rethink the agenda.

The other action you can take is blocking out regular breaks in your calendar. Doing this means it’s actually not possible to get bogged down in back-to-back meetings (unless you ignore your own planning). You’re not relying on you saying no – your diary is already doing the job for you.

(On a side note: if you’re someone who likes to work to a schedule, task time blocking can also be a great way to get you in a flow state and feel in control of your day.)

Working with your natural preferences

If you’ve been working for a while, you’ve probably discovered that at a certain time in the day, you burn through your to-do list at a supersonic rate. Nothing can stop you, you’re full of ideas – and then an hour later, you feel like you just need to take a nap.

This pattern of energy relates to our chronotype. Understanding whether you're a wolf, lion, bear or a dolphin can help you recognise when you’re likely to be at peak productivity, so you can schedule your day accordingly.

Even if you don’t have control over your working hours, think about when that supersonic time of day is for you, and adjust your plan to match it. For example, I do my best deep work in the morning, after a walk. Collaborative tasks and coaching are best before 3pm, where possible.

Take some time to consider your own preferences before you dive into your to-do list, and you’ll boost your productivity.

Own your diary in 2024

Setting boundaries and building in breaks at work can be challenging. But remember, a meeting invite is just that – an invite. If it doesn’t work for you, suggest an alternative time. Use the tools available to you; electronic calendars give us far more freedom to share our working and meeting preferences with others.

So, I challenge you to own your diary as we head into 2024. Take the time to note down what your ideal working day looks like, and see what steps you can take to make that a reality. Don’t let your diary own you – you’re the one in charge. 

Take care,


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