Seeking More Balance? Consider Buffer Time 

By Amanda Zinke, MBA, MSOD, PCC. I’ve worked with executives for a long time and the thing that always surprises me is how much time management influences their success, balance and agility. Recently with the integration (or should we call it collision?) between work and home, the lines that separate our professional and personal lives have gotten even more blurred.

COVID has upended our lives, and the way we work incredibly over the course of the last year.  Many of the executives I work with no longer travel and in the beginning, it seemed like a boon, look at all of that “extra” time they were not using. But something has happened over the last several months — and not just with the executives I coach.  Across the board people are “filling in” their time with meetings and more work. And that means less buffer time.

Consider this — most of us are no longer taking that time between meetings to walk between offices or even buildings. Giving us time to process or even think through the next thing on our agenda. Instead, we may be trying to fit in checking in on home-schooled children, cobbling together something for lunch, or catching up on Slack.  Somehow many of us do not give ourselves the same permission or time we used to have. 

Where before we had our commute (or at least our family’s commute) as buffer time (and space) between home and work, now many of us have lost that. And we have lost the time we used to have between meetings, grabbing a cup of coffee and running into a colleague, or heading out to grab a salad. We may have used our buffer time to eat a meal with a work friend or talked to our spouse on our way home from the dry cleaner.  But now we are walking out of our workspace (if we have walls and a door) into our “other life” with no delineation, and more importantly, no transition time.

If this is true for yourself, consider how you can incorporate buffer time.

Buffer time allows us to transition mentally and physically from one task to another. For this reason, I suggest shifting your physical self between meetings or tasks. Shift your view from your flat panel to out the window. Take a meeting standing and the next one sitting. And schedule actual time into your calendar that is FREE each day. In fact, if you can, sprinkle free blocks throughout the day.

Inevitably, things will come up and some of your buffer time might get filled in. Be thoughtful about how you manage this. If this is habitual, consider designating time for overflow work or for fighting fires. With the remainder of the time, consider how to fill it (see some ideas below)

Ideas for Using Your Buffer Time

Some folks like to fill in this space with lower focus tasks (organizing or doing menial tasks). Others enjoy some type of physical movement (even if it’s a walk around the living room or some deep knee bends standing next to your desk). Still others like to connect — a quick coffee with a friend via FaceTime, a snuggle with a pet, or a quick call to their partner to connect, rather than triage or plan. Other ideas include meditation (I love the Calm app for their 15-minute daily meditations). Or you could choose to dance it out (at the end of the day this is one of my family’s favorites).

My invitation to you is to spend the next week integrating buffer time into each day for the following four weeks. Experiment with what you use the buffer time for and track what happens for you. Do you feel more of less focused and engaged? What is happening with your productivity, connections, relationships, and outcomes? What is the effect on your mood and outlook? Let us know!

For more about the management, self-care, and leadership, schedule a consultation with Amanda.