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Now you need to subtract what I call “uncontrollable time.” These are routine interruptions or a crisis that you know will certainly happen, you just don’t know who, what, or when. Predictable crisis creates a pattern. Productivity experts like patterns, because patterns can actually be planned. In other words, I may not know that a staff person is going to come in and ask me a question. I may not know that a client will call and want to chat with me about an upcoming speech. I may not know that a reporter will email me and want to interview me that day for an article. But predictably, after many years on the job, I know that about an hour and a half of my day is just GONE, due to these uncontrollable occurrences. Sometimes it’s more and sometimes it’s less, but I can use that as a fairly predictable planning figure. What about you? Start with a guess, based on your history and experience in your job.

Take your total hours at work, subtract your meeting times, subtract your uncontrollable time, and now you’re left with a pretty good estimate of your controllable time. In this case, 9 minus 3 minus 90 minutes is 4 ½ hours left to work on your to-do list. A 4 ½ hour day is very different than an 8 or 9 or 10 hour day. This is your “get real” figure. This helps you be realistic before you begin your day about how much time you really have to work with. If you have 4 ½ hours, why would you put 17 hours of work for yourself on a daily to-do list? You know it’s absolutely not going to happen.

Your next step is to write out that Daily list, with a short hit list of things you truly intend to accomplish that day. This is not a Master to-do list, which contains everything

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