The story so far

You may well have read a book or been to a workshop on time management and come across the Default Diary being touted as a universal cure. (For those that haven’t: this is where you ring-fence blocks of time to allocate to the tasks and projects that improve the performance of yourself / your team / business).

You may even have got as far as trying it.

If you did, I’ll wager a friendly glass of something that it didn’t work.

Here’s why that happened.


What are the odds of that?

Not long after Nelson Mandela was released from prison, I found myself 8000-odd miles from home, stood by the side of a main road, on the outskirts of Durban, South Africa.

I’d flown down for a mate’s wedding and was about to travel up to visit his dad in Harare, Zimbabwe. The first leg was to hitchhike 400 miles to Johannesburg and then pick up a 24-hour slow train to cover the 700 miles to Zimbabwe’s capital city.

Quite literally, no sooner had I stuck out my thumb than a battered rental car pulled up sharply in front of me.

Over the next few minutes, I found out the 2 occupants grew up in a market town 10 miles from mine in middle England, their uncle had been my English teacher and a cousin of theirs was my ex-girlfriend. They were heading straight to Joburg and would happily drop me at the train station.

“What are the odds of that?” thinks I.

“What’s that got to do with time management and default diaries?” thinks you.

The connection is something that people more intellectual than I refer to as ‘the high probability of low probability events’.


The best laid plans of mice and men

That car journey was most definitely a low probability event.

In a smaller sense, so is getting a flat tyre on the way to an important meeting; or your PC crashing just as you sit down to do that proposal; or a signal failure on the District Line (ok, I took it too far – that last one is not a low probability event).

For the average business owner the list of low probability events is endless.

And so, the odds of one of these unexpected events happening in any given week is actually quite high.

Marshall Goldsmith nailed this when he describes people as ‘superior planners and inferior doers’. We habitually over-estimate how much we can achieve in any given allocation of time because we habitually underestimate how likely it is that we’ll hit a snag.

The result is lot of half-completed projects – which kills progress because business normally rewards you for things you finish.


And this is why default diaries don’t work

Default diaries typically don’t work for people not because they’re a bad idea – but rather because they’re not being implemented in the right way.

When we sit there bright and sparky on a Monday morning and view the pristine sunny uplands of our working week it genuinely seems like we’ll fit it all in.

Those 1-to-1 meetings with your team will happen.

You will write that content for your SEO guy.

You will do a margin review on all your products and customers.

Then a low probability event miraculously happens and the first thing to get ditched from your diary is…?

Pretty soon you’ll throw the whole thing out of the window.


And this has a huge impact on the development of your business because …

The tasks and project’s you’ll be ditching will (invariably) be the ones that are ‘Important’ in nature rather than ‘Urgent’.

I’ll cover the distinction in more detail elsewhere. For now ‘Urgent Tasks’ are where something needs doing and there will be a negative consequence of not doing it in the very short-term.

With ‘Important Tasks’ there is no negative short-term impact of not doing them. The only consequence is the lack of a potential positive impact in the long-term.

So you make this choice and nothing bad happens – but the positive impact that doing them would have caused will also not happen further down the track.

The consequence of this happening week after week compounds into a future that leaves you feeling less than whelmed.


Don’t give up on the Default Diary just yet

Default diaries are a fantastic cure. In fact they are the best solution to this problem, so you need to make them work – for you.

As Jim Lawless said, “Change happens in the diary”.

In other words, when it comes to habits and good intentions, whether personal or for your business, it won’t happen (for long) unless it is enshrined in your diary.


So how do I make Default Diaries work?

The fact is, like so many other ‘solutions’ in business, default diaries quite often take a bit of ‘wrangling’ to make them work for a specific person.

To do this properly will probably involve a 1-to-1 conversation, but for the time being these thoughts will get you started.

The most common mistakes are these:

  1. Too many appointments: no one want to be pinged 10 time a day
  2. Slots of time are too short: if you’re 10 mins late starting a 30 min appt it’s too easy to ditch it
  3. Lack of clarity about how why – exactly – this task is genuinely important to you

Avoid these and you should have at least some success on which to build.


The awesome power of the first 10%

Lastly, and most importantly: treat time like money.

What I mean is that if you were serious about saving money, you’d save the first 10% of what you earned and live off the rest.

When you try to save the last 10%, there’s never anything left.

It’s the same with time. If you need to find 3 hours a week to run your business better – make it the first 10%.

You only need to use this tool sparingly.

Only use it to ring-fence time for the most strategically important tasks for you and your business.

Everything else can fight over the time that’s left.


Top tip: this doesn’t just have to be for work stuff.


Want to know more?

This is just one of 5 brilliant tools to help you take control of your time. And when you control your time you take control of your business and your life.

Ready to take a proper look at how great business coaching can transform your day? Get in touch and I’ll be happy to share what I do.