Canadian Underwriter

Too many meetings? Time to schedule “Untouchable Days”

July 8, 2019   by David Gambrill

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Corporate sales culture is dominated by “urgent” meetings, phone calls and email messages; so many of them, in fact, that it’s hard to get any work done.

Your employers require you to produce outputs, be they financial/claims reports, summaries, policy documents, pitches to broker clients, advertising campaigns, funding proposals, etc. But how do you carve out the time to do the work when everyone wants a piece of you, demanding your time in meetings as well as your attention to a daily tsunami of emails and phone calls?

Basically, schedule days of the week to ignore everyone while you get your work done. On “Untouchable Days,” you are off the grid.

“These are days when I am literally 100% unreachable in any way … by anyone,” Neil Pasricha writes in a blog for the Harvard Business Review. A former director of leadership development at Walmart, Pasricha is now a best-selling author of six books, including The Happiness Equation and The Book of Awesome.

“Untouchable Days have become my secret weapon to getting back on track,” Pasricha reveals. “They’re how I complete my most creative and rewarding work. To share a rough comparison, on a day when I write between meetings, I’ll produce maybe 500 words a day. On an Untouchable Day, it’s not unusual for me to write 5,000 words. On these days, I’m 10 times more productive.”

The key, he says, is to book these days on your schedule about 16 weeks in advance – with one Untouchable Day per week.

What do these days actually look like?

“On the actual Untouchable Day itself, I picture myself sitting in a bulletproof car surrounded by two-inches of thick impenetrable plastic on all sides,” Pasricha writes. “Nothing gets in. Nothing gets out. Meetings bounce off the windshield. Texts, alerts, and phone calls, too. My cell phone is in Airplane Mode all day. My laptop has Wi-Fi completely disabled. Not a single thing can bother me … and not a single thing does.”

Untouchable Days are designed to give you the freedom to overcome mental blocks or periods of unproductive frustration. Not sure how to phrase that client pitch you are writing? At a loss about how to approach a particularly complex risk? Take a break. Go for a jog or a nature walk. Grab a snack, or hit the gym. Meditate. A growing body of research shows that our brains need downtime to remain creative and generate their most innovative ideas, as blogger Thomas Oppong notes.

But what happens if the company CEO has only one day to meet with you about the company’s financials, and that falls on a previously scheduled Untouchable Day? Or to put it another way, what happens if your Untouchable Day is under threat?

“I have a simple rule,” Pasricha says. “Untouchable Days may never be deleted, but they can move between the bowling-lane bumpers of the weekends. They can’t jump weeks, though. They are more important than anything else I am doing, so if they need to move from a Wednesday to a Thursday or a Friday, that’s fine — even if I have to move four meetings to make room. The beauty of this approach is that when you plant the Untouchable Day flag on your calendar, it really does feel permanent in your mind.”