Time Well Spent: Reallocating Your Work Calendar for Strategic Thinking
Patrick Yearout, FMP, CHT
Director of Innovation, Recruiting, and Training, Ivar’s & Kidd Valley Restaurants
CHART Past President
One of the best sessions I attended at the CHART conference in Orlando this past summer was Kelly McCutcheon’s workshop on how to develop strategic thinking skills that we could take back to our companies to help better prepare for our long-term futures. Among the information she shared was this slide:
Check out Kelly McCutcheon’s companion article “Strategic Thinking: A Six-step, Six-hat Template for Success in Reaching Goals.”
Having been a hospitality trainer and a member of CHART for more than two decades, I believe these statistics to be accurate for the industry. I have had the opportunity to get to know hundreds of hospitality trainer members over the years, and it does feel like many of us share a common desire to engage in strategic planning and chart the course for our organizations’ future, but our best-laid plans often get derailed by a relentless cascade of tedious tasks. The daily grind, overflowing email inboxes, and endless meetings – not to mention putting out fires at our hotels and restaurants, dealing with the chaos of new unit openings, and the extra work that has piled up from pandemic-induced staffing cuts. All of this has left us feeling like we’re constantly treading water, struggling to find the time and mental space for the big-picture thinking that fuels innovation and growth.
10 Ways to Break Free from Routine
If this scenario fits you and your organization, and it’s challenging to break free from routine and create room in your work calendar for big projects that you have been itching to tackle, here are 10 suggestions to help tame the beast of daily minutiae:
Conduct a time audit
Start by tracking your daily activities for a week or two and note every task, no matter how small. Next, categorize each item into essential and non-essential activities and identify patterns where you may be spending excessive time on non-priority tasks (especially those that are not really work-related). Once you have a clear picture, create a new schedule that allocates more time to high-priority tasks and less to time-wasting activities.
Delegate or outsource
Recognize that what might appear routine or mundane to you could hold a unique allure for your lower-level team members. While a task may not always align with your higher-level objectives, it might provide valuable opportunities for growth and engagement among your colleagues. If this is the case, assess your team’s strengths, delegate these tasks, and provide clear instructions and the autonomy to handle specific responsibilities. If your team is stretched thin or you’re a solo operator, consider outsourcing tasks such as data entry, graphic design, or administrative support to freelancers or specialized service providers that fit within your department’s budget.
Leverage automation and technology
Explore software and apps that streamline repetitive tasks such as email filters and autoresponders to manage your inbox more efficiently, or consider using project management software that automates task assignments and reminders. If you are responsible for generating regular reports, invest in reporting software that can pull data from various sources and compile it into a formatted report automatically. And if you need assistance on where to find these types of tools, check out my CHART blog post from last year about reliable sources for tech vendors.
Trim unnecessary meetings
Review your meeting schedule and determine which ones are truly required for you; as much as we hospitality trainers like to believe we are the versatile and essential Swiss Army knife that is absolutely needed for every aspect of the operation, maybe we don’t need to sit in on all the weekly maintenance sessions or the marketing department’s discussion of the LTO calendar. When you do attend meetings, make sure to set clear objectives, share the agenda in advance, allocate specific time slots for each topic, and cordially encourage participants to stay on topic and avoid tangential discussions.
Strategically say “no”
If you are asked about working on a task that doesn’t contribute significantly to your objectives or deviates from your priorities, consider declining it or negotiating a later deadline. It’s important to be polite and transparent in your communication, especially if it is coming from a superior, but you can do so by explaining your current workload and commitments and how this new request will alter those deadlines. You could also offer alternatives or suggest delegating the task to someone better suited if possible.
During your work intervals, silence your phone, close irrelevant browser tabs, and use website blockers if necessary to prevent distractions. Also, turn off non-essential notifications on your devices, allowing you to maintain concentration on your work.
Batch your email responses
Designate two or three specific times throughout the day for email management so you are not constantly checking your inbox, as it disrupts your workflow and slows down your progress. This batching approach helps you regain control over your email while maintaining productivity in other areas.
Implement a one-touch rule
This rule encourages you to address tasks as soon as you encounter them, thereby minimizing the time it takes if you have to revisit them. When a task lands in your queue, assess its complexity and urgency. If it can be resolved quickly (within a few minutes), tackle it immediately to de-clutter your to-do list. For more complex tasks, schedule dedicated time in your calendar to address them, ensuring they don’t pile up and become overwhelming.
Request guidance from your boss
If you are still having trouble conquering your calendar with the first eight suggestions, it might be time to approach your boss with a well-thought-out request for assistance. Start by explaining your workload, your commitment to delivering high-quality work, and your desire to spend more time on high-level strategic planning. Your supervisor, who might not even be aware that you feel overloaded, will probably be able to offer valuable insights into task prioritization or potential delegation, or they may also help reevaluate your responsibilities or suggest adjustments to your workload.
Seek continuous learning
There are a variety of workshops, webinars, and courses available within CHART to help with this exact problem. Make sure to watch not only this association’s website, but also those of your local and national hospitality associations for possible training to improve your daily efficiency and effectiveness. And if you don’t see anything relevant on the horizon, don’t be afraid to post a question on discussion forums like CHART’s Ask My Peers, or reach out directly to your training colleagues and ask for their advice.
It’s incredibly easy to become ensnared by the relentless demands of our daily routines as we make our way through our professional lives. By implementing these suggested strategies, however, you will not only be taking the first steps toward reclaiming your work calendar and making yourself a more productive and valuable contributor at your company, but also creating the time necessary for developing strategic visions that will transform its future.