Why bosses should prioritize under-scheduling in 2016

At the executive level, managing priorities effectively is imperative at work. This is imperative in one's personal life, too, though it might be more difficult to identify a proper ranking system.

For instance, a friend invites you to attend a benefit she is throwing next week, but on your calendar you notice that is your only free night with nothing planned in the next two weeks. You were looking forward to having that night to spend at home, catching up on the novel you haven't picked up in weeks and maybe enjoying a glass of wine. That night was supposed to be yours to unwind, relax and rejuvenate. But is it acceptable to decline the invitation to have a night to yourself?

Every situation is nuanced and different responses may seem most appropriate at different times. However, according to Elizabeth Grace Saunders, author of How to Invest Your Time Like Money, a time coach and founder of Real Life E Time Coaching & Training, it's important to realize your life is not "like working on an assembly line where efficiency [is] the only goal," especially in your personal life.

Satisfaction is not only about accomplishing certain priority items; it is also about prioritizing certain experiences of time, according to Ms. Saunders.

Here are five tips Ms. Saunders offers to reclaim desired experiences of time.

1. Create your own definition of success. The most important step is getting "clear on your desired experience of time." For instance, this might mean having at least 15 minutes between meetings to reread your notes, get a drink of water or write an email. This might mean having enough time to exercise regularly, calmly prepare for projects at work or at home, or having the ability to pick up and leave for a weekend without feeling stressed out.

2. Be honest about high priority activities. "It's amazing how often we think of something and then turn it into a burden or obligation when it was self-generated," Ms. Saunders wrote. She suggests determining what are real "must-do" activities and what are things that can be put off or even temporarily suspended. The "must-do" activities can get scheduled into your calendar while the "would like to do" activities can be relegated to a separate list that you can knock out when you have extra time.

3. Keep your calendar under-scheduled. For many executives, full days of meetings might be hard to avoid. However, you can have more positive experiences with your time if you have four hours or less of meetings each day, according to Ms. Saunders. She also suggests grouping your meetings on certain days so others are left open. In your personal life, it is equally important to keep some time reserved for yourself.

"Outside of work, your life can feel much calmer if you have at least one unscheduled weekday evening and at least half of a weekend day that's more relaxed," Ms. Saunders wrote. "During that open space, block in time to move ahead on projects and activities that are important to you."

Under-scheduling doesn't mean your free time should be spent doing nothing, it just means you can focus on something you like without feeling the need to rush through it or measure your productivity.

4. Learn to say "no." Many people feel obligated to take on additional projects or responsibilities simply because they see an open space on their calendar, according to Ms. Saunders. But remember you set aside this time to focus on your own priorities. Give yourself permission to decline if proposed activities are not aligned with those personal goals.

"You're not lying to say you're booked or at capacity when you have set aside the time for yourself," Ms. Saunders noted.

5. Appreciate life every day. Science shows focusing on positive cues and having gratitude can increase happiness. "The key to happiness may have nothing to do with fitting something more in your schedule — and may have everything to do with stopping to enjoy what's already there," Ms. Saunders wrote.

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