In the shortest days of the year, with holiday music looping and my body recovering from a busy year, I find myself pulling out the Belgian waffle maker more often. We have a Christmas morning tradition of making waffles at my house, which ends up being a three-times-a-week-in-January tradition. Hey, summer is a long way away.
Occasionally, I make perfectly round and fluffy waffles. Most times, I make a complete mess. I end up with oil sprayed across the counter, which is almost impossible to wipe up. I change my mind on spatulas three times, dirty multiple bowls, experiment with toppings, and cover the kitchen with a light film of batter dust, like a gentle evening snow.
But by far, the messiest problem is when the batter pours over the sides of the waffle iron while cooking. If you've ever tried to make waffles at home, you know what I'm talking about.
As the iron heats up, the batter expands into all of the nooks of the device. And, if you add too much, it expands right out onto your table. I still can't get it right every time, but I realized that the perfect waffle requires under-filling the iron, giving the batter the room it needs to expand.
Think of your work week in the same way. If you fill your schedule to the brim and fill every available time slot, your week is bound to get messy.
So how do you make the perfect waffle -- or the perfect weekly schedule?
Only fill 80 percent of your week.
First, leave yourself some empty space. During the week, a dozen different unexpected problems will arise. Employees may need impromptu meetings and direction. An important customer might have a burning issue. A sick child or spouse could throw off the whole week.
I try to block off every Monday morning and Friday afternoon, just to give myself time to finish last week's commitments and go into the weekend with a clear mind. But, the buffer also helps catch any overflow from mid-week.
Don't forget about solo work time.
Next, protect your time to GSD (get stuff done). If you have a position that requires a lot of collaboration, it's easy to make yourself the last priority, and before you know it your week is full.
Using tools like Calendly or YouCanBook.me, hide certain blocks of your own availability from the people that schedule time on your calendar. These tools are great for offering self-serve appointments, but if you end up with meetings scattered ad-hoc throughout the week, it's poor planning on your part.
If you don't have a scheduling tool, get in the habit of time blocking appointments on your own calendar that are marked for the type of work you'll be doing. Just be careful not to overdo it, as I covered here.
Say 'yes' a bit less.
Feeling like you never have enough time? Some people blame being "over-committed." But, as Dan Sullivan of Strategic Coach puts it, it's impossible to be over-committed.
Instead, you're over-obligated. You have over-obligated yourself to a number of things that you are under-committed to.
So, like my mess of Belgian waffles, it might be time to clean off your plate. Evaluate the things that take up most of your time, and re-prioritize as needed. If everything feels important, then consider the possibility that you need to delegate certain tasks to your team, or bring on an extra helping hand so that you can narrow your focus.
Remember that overflow is waste.
When batter pours out of the waffle iron, it's wasted. So, while it can be tempting to squeeze everything into your work week that you can, remember that beyond a certain point, the quality of your work diminishes, and you can't get back the time that you lost.
Making the perfect weekly schedule -- or the perfect waffle -- is all about consistency. If you protect your calendar and stay disciplined about your schedule, your week may not turn out perfectly every time, but you'll reduce the waste and maximize your chances for success.