You are the only one in charge of your time. At times, you may be invited or asked to do more than is possible in the hours that exist in one day. We must be able to decline invites and say no. Becoming comfortable with this ability to set boundaries and feel good about it can lead to a happier existence. If you become too busy doing activities that do not align to your own priorities, you will not find magical time to nurture those priorities. Younger people are noticeably less comfortable with controlling their time. Becoming choosier about how we spend our time seems to happen as we mature.
In the work setting, some activities will be required. But consider these points: A meeting invite does not mean that you must accept or attend. An email does not require you to respond. Consider response options. Sometimes doing nothing is the best course. Other times, delegating or suggesting a less time-intensive approach may work well. Walk down the hall to chat, pick up the phone. Just do the task being discussed rather than engaging in a lengthy process. I have a friend who has his own successful cinematography business. He turns away clients who require that he go to frequent meetings. He thinks it is an awful waste of time and has no idea how corporate employees sit in conference rooms all day talking about work rather than just getting work done. What a contrast from employee life!
Sometimes there really is a time crunch. But many times, we have choices about priorities and preferred approach. A difficult peer keeps scheduling meetings to complain about something not within your span of control? Decline the meeting and suggest he or she give your manager a call. Do not give the person the platform to air grievances repeatedly without problem-solving. Subcommittee of the summer picnic-planning group wants you to attend biweekly meetings to discuss which picnic area is best? Delegate, or ask them to come review with you once they have a firm list of recommendations, or better, a solid plan in place. Do not allocate disproportionate time to low-value activities.
Practice limiting time spent using different techniques. Be conscious of your time allocation constantly. Think about an extreme situation. If you were the CEO and got thousands of emails a day- from strangers, spam, solicitors, employees, peers, and more- you simply could not answer them all, even if you did nothing else the entire day. You would also, as CEO, be invited to far more meetings and engagements than any one human could attend.
So you would do some combination of:
Ignore the incoming traffic and invites
Use a support system to manage emails and schedule for you
Issue direct responses, and show up, when sensible
Start each week and day with a quick review of your priorities. Map out what must be done and what you want to get done. For those nonessentials: cancel, delegate, or punt into the future. Master the art of resisting the urge to read an email and immediately do whatever it wants from you. Sometimes there are exceptions and you must shift attention right away based on organizational or bosses’ priorities. But in general, you will do better on your goals by maintaining focus on the essential tasks rather than acting like a frenzied slave to emails and calendars all the time.