“I work such long hours, this job is meant for two people, not one…”

“Work is like the magic porridge pot of tasks – I can’t keep on top of it…”

“I start the day with the best of intentions but “stuff” happens and I don’t always get around to those things I knew were a priority when I started…”

“I know what I need to do but it’s hard when you’re accountable to a Director, a CEO, a Board Chair. They all have their own priorities and I’m the person they turn to.”

If this sounds like something you might think to yourself, or something you’ve said, then you’re in alarmingly robust company – so many people I speak with are in the same boat. As a small business owner I find myself torn between so many competing tasks from client work to business development, from bookkeeping to managing office supplies – and that’s before someone calls me and adds a new thing to the list.

One of the ways I’m combatting that is by identifying where my time vampires are coming from… I’m using a technique of Red, Blue, Black time – I wrote about it recently.

The other way I’m combatting this is through a technique called Zero-Based Calendar which I think comes from a man called Bryan Harris, although I discovered it when I started using the SELF Journal from Best Self Co., which is a luxurious pre-printed twelve week diary and goal/activity management tool.

This is a sample page from my journal. The idea is that distractions creep into your day in through the gaps you leave between appointments whereas the gaps between appointments are when you’re meant to be doing the real work. By filling your schedule in advance these distractions simply can’t wiggle in. I’ve found it even more useful since I adopted a dog last year – her walks aren’t negotiable like my personal time always has been in my mind. By ring fencing this I book-end my day nicely.

It is also a great exercise for those of you who have no idea how long it takes to do anything; you soon learn if you’re allowing enough time for each activity. And a great exercise in highlighting your priorities to those competing voices. If you can show your manager what you’ve got planned for the day then s/he can help you prioritise this new task, or not. I know someone who used the margin in her calendar to note down every single disruption over a few weeks, which really supported her business case for ring-fenced time for certain tasks – not in the office.

Of course the SELF Journal is way more than a schedule planner and there are other tools available. But this is mine and I share so that you will learn the lessons I have learned.