One surprising thing as a new manager was the troubles I had managing my workload. My calendar was constantly filled with ad hoc tasks and meetings, leaving little room for my own priorities. How can you stay focused on your own agenda when you keep getting pulled into various things?

The key isn’t to work harder or longer; it’s about maximizing the time you have.

Take control

If you don’t take control of your calendar, other people’s priorities will take control of you.

In the past, my days were fully booked with back-to-back meetings. Talking about things that should have been an email, delegated, or not invited to in the first place. And then I’m not even talking about the important ad hoc stuff that happens. But with such a full agenda, how can you make time to work on the things that matter to you or your teams?

By following the three tips below, you can regain control of your calendar and focus on what’s important.

#1 Block recurring time

The step to make sure you have time to work on important topics is to block time for it. Not especially for that one topic, but block recurring focus time in your agenda. Make it a priority to block a 1-2 hour slot every week. I hope your coworkers are decent enough to not plan over an existing meeting.

Make the most of your focus time. Turn off notifications on email/slack/etc. and put your phone on airplane mode. 1-2 hours of deep work can beat 4+ hours of constant interruptions every day! Looking for actionable tips? Here is how I removed my phone as a distraction.

#2 Set daily goals

Each day should have one clear goal. Choose one thing you want to achieve today. Having one clear goal to focus on, helps to see the wood for the trees. Say no to the things that do not help you reach your daily goal.

Personally, I find it helpful to use a fancy Notion template for my goals and activities. Make it fun and rewarding to achieve your goals. Every morning, take a few minutes to set your goal and how you are going to achieve it. By eating that frog I make sure to tackle the biggest things first.

#3 Async where you can

What is even better than not having your calendar flooded with meetings? Replacing them with async alternatives!

Proposals are a great candidate to do async. Instead of having 5 engineers on a call to discuss a proposal. Write it down and have everyone write their comments async. If there are some major differences, schedule a meeting. Because you already read, commented, and thought about the proposal this meeting will be much more effective than the kickoff meeting you would have done otherwise.

Use these three actionable tips to make room to work on the things that matter. As James Clear the author of Atomic Habits once said: “You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.