Desperate to declutter your business schedule? A seemingly endless stream of publications on time management insist you should structure your time according to an overall plan. This sounds like a good theory at first.

In practice, however, most people find it too difficult to live by a highly-structured schedule. The more intricate and rigidly-organized the plan, the less likely it is that anyone will be able to fulfill every task.

Rigidly organized plans tend to turn into fragile plans because their components tend to interfere with one another, making them break down.

On the other hand, “going with the flow” — which ultimately means adjusting to the plans of others — is an equally ineffective way to accomplish one’s goals.

Instead, try this one simple approach: Relax your scheduling. Make your plans a little less strict.

Life is full of unexpected interruptions and delays. Rather than struggling to stick to an inflexible schedule in spite of them, factor in extra time for each task when you plan. Collect these surplus increments of time throughout the day and store them up to cover any contingencies.

These are called your Green Zones — short periods of time (about 15–20 minutes) dedicated to taking care of unplanned disruptions or day-to-day minute.

You can use your Green Zones when someone pops into your office in search of “just a bit of advice,” for example, or a co-worker asks you to come look at something. But remember — you can only give them those 20 minutes! After all, that’s all the time you’ve got. After that, some requests will go unanswered that day. These tasks can be added to your plans for tomorrow.

This strategy has two major benefits:

  • You’ll condense all your minor tasks into a couple of dedicated periods of time, allowing you to deal with them quickly and efficiently.
  • You’ll discover that some things can be solved without your help. While those who sought your help wait for your next Green Zone, they may well solve the problem on their own. This ultimately saves YOU time and helps your co-workers become more capable and independent.

Try to create your own Green Zones. Be dedicated and resist the temptation to schedule projects during these times. Leave them unallocated as long as possible. You’ll find yourself less stressed and just as effective as you are now — if not more so!

Had a rare workday free of disruptions? You can always use the extra time for a well-deserved coffee break!

Originally published at