Balancing Act: reactive vs. responsive

Even as a faithful power-user of IRUNURUN, I have struggled with striking a balance between being reactive and being responsive. I recently had a breakthrough.

It might sound simple, but this is no trivial matter.  On the one hand, I want to block time for the things that matter most to create focus.  This means intentionally not responding to every little thing that crosses my radar.

On the other, I want to be as available as possible to clients and to the most important people and responsibilities in my life. Herein lies the problem:  you can’t have it both ways, or so I thought.

Reactive.  Most of us are pretty reactive.  We spend the vast majority of our time responding to other people’s needs, and perhaps even take some pride in it.  But if we’re being completely honest, we know we are sometimes more responsive than necessary.  Do emails really require a near-real-time response?  (Isn’t that one reason we still carry phones?)

Anyway, we pat ourselves on the back for just keeping up.  We think we’re “on top of things” and “productive”, but we’re really just highly reactive.   Not sure?  Just ask yourself, “How many hours of the day do you do things on purpose (scheduled or not) and completely ignore incoming stimuli?  …versus react to requests for your time and expertise?”  Even an hour or two would be pretty impressive.

Responsive.  Without a doubt, clients, colleagues, and family members still value responsiveness.  Prospects generally want to talk when the urge moves them…which is often at that very moment. They neither care how we’d planned to spend our days, nor should they.

One study a few years ago suggested that the number one driver of client satisfaction among financial services clients was having their calls returned within 2 hours.  No doubt, responsiveness is valuable!  And if your business is of a more transactional nature, you may have less time than that.  Respond or they’ll call someone who will!

So what to do?  We have two opposing forces at work on our schedule and productivity.  How can we block meaningful chunks of time for significant, important, non-urgent activities…the kinds of things we put in IRUNURUN…and still remain highly responsive any day, any time?

The Start: the “ideal” schedule.

In the spirit of focusing on the things that matter most, I started by creating an “ideal schedule” for the week.

On my ideal schedule, I came up with an amount of time required to complete each of my important IRUNURUN actions as well as some time for necessary evils like email.

  • Email.  3 half-hour blocks (early, mid-day, late afternoon)
  • Morning reading.  Half hour (daily devotional, a couple of blogs, news scan)
  • Daily prospecting.  1 ½ hours
  • Weekly follow-up with important people.  2 hours
  • Exercise.  1 hour, even if it’s just walking
  • Afternoon reading.  Half hour of meaty professional development (HBR, books, white papers)

So this looks like 4-5 hours of intentional time per day four days a week, and 6-7 hours of intentional time one day per week.  The rest of the time I was “available” for client needs, prospecting calls, presentations, speaking engagements, whatever.  Sounds reasonable, right?

Not even close.  In the spirit of responsiveness, I was actually checking email every 10-15 minutes (which would invariably chew up 10-15 minutes). I’d take just about any meeting requests that came my way, which would invariably knock out my “ideal” blocks, and I had never included time demands from family and friends which invariably pulled out at least an hour or two per week.

Another huge loss of time: transition time.  I’m not talking about physically getting from one thing to another (that takes more time than we think, too!).  I’m talking about the time to get my mind right, the juices flowing, and the ideas coming together on the subject matter.  I never scheduled for it, but there was clearly time evaporating at the beginning and end of my time blocks while I was switching gears…which happened multiple times per day.

The answer: flexible time blocks + one “focus” day.

Here’s what I’ve come up with that seems to be working.  I start with my ideal week, but instead of considering that schedule rigid, I consider it totally flexible.  I make my scheduled blocks available to anyone who needs it, with a catch.  Any time a client meeting or other demand takes a blocked time, I must move that block to an available space.  When there are no more spaces to move it to, it’s no longer available.  Easy-peasy.

The other thing I have found really helpful is a “focus” day.  I don’t prescribe it, for the reasons already covered, but the last day of the week without any requests for client meetings becomes my “focus” day.  I load it up with important IRUNURUN-type ideal activities and no other meetings.  I’ll talk more about the “focus” day in another post.

How have you created rhythm to your work?  How have your created balance between being reactive and being responsive?  I appreciate your thoughts!