I have probably said this before, but I will say it again: Your choice of words, both spoken and written, have a powerful effect on your executive functioning.
This is especially true when it comes to setting boundaries around time. I am betting that many of you started January with a plan to buckle down and truly work on goals and projects.
You may have even gotten to the point where you planned the time to do that work. And some of you may have even blocked out space in your calendar for time with the words: “work on ____ project”. Good for you!
Yet here we are in February, and well, those goals just keep getting bumped.
Why does that happen?
Part of the problem lies with those two words: “work” and “project.” They are simply too vague. When our words are not specific enough, other (more specific) distractions and people eat into those time slots. After all, a lot of what we do falls under the category of work, and a million things qualify as projects.
To stop that slippery slope of meetings or appointments or emails stealing your time from your truly important goals, you must first change your language.
To give a more concrete example of language to use, here are some ideas.
“Start kitchen organization project”
“Organize cupboard under the sink”
“Plan marketing event”
“Write list of tasks for marketing event and set dates”
“Spend more time with Judy”
“Talk to Judy about a weekly/monthly coffee date and put it in the calendar”
“30 Min speed walk at 4pm daily”
I’d like to take credit for this next bit of advice, but I can’t.
One of my Seeing My Time clients was analyzing her inability to keep herself and others from invading her supposedly sacred project time. Why did that project time always come last?
Then she had a wonderful idea: She made one little change in her planner and weekly plan sheets that made a huge difference:
For those blocks of time representing her personal projects, she simply wrote: Do not schedule.
She explained that seeing those words stopped her from letting herself, or others, schedule meetings or conversations during those times. The words made her pause and think, activating her executive functions of metacognition and problem-solving.
For example, if a meeting request comes up for that time slot, she now says, “I’m sorry. I have a commitment at that time. Let’s look for another time for us to meet.” She doesn’t have to think about it.
I did a similar thing eons ago when I was run ragged being a mom of young children. At the time, I felt like I’d lost my soul. I was “doing” for everybody else and doing nothing to restore myself.
My solution was to create a “Do not schedule” 60-minute slot on my calendar for every Friday morning after I dropped off the kids at school. That was my time to just sit quietly and do meditation or yoga stretches. If someone came up to me and said, “Marydee, we are going to have a meeting on Friday morning after school starts, can you come?”
In my mind, I could see that very consistent block of “do not schedule” space which made it very easy to say: “Thanks for asking. I have a commitment on Friday mornings.”
The best part? Taking care of myself made it possible for me to take care of others with more grace and energy.
Think about a project or goal of yours that you would like to prioritize. Be specific in the steps you write down. Look at your calendar and block out some “do not schedule” time. Honor the importance of preserving that space for yourself. Little by little you will make progress on your goal and that will feel wonderful.
You can do it!
Marydee Sklar is the president of Executive Functioning Success and the creator of the Seeing My Time Program®. She is an educator and author of three books on executive functions, as well as a trainer and speaker. Marydee has more than twenty-five years of experience working with students and adults with executive function challenges.