05/02/2014 11:03 am ET Updated Jul 02, 2014

Spring Cleaning Your Calendar

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Last weekend, my daughter and I did a spring cleaning of her closet to make room for the Easter outfits from grandma. We purged the stuff that no longer fit, packed up a box of fancy dresses that had become too "girly" to send to her cousins and moved the spring and summer clothes where she could reach them. It took less than an hour and has made a big difference in our morning routine.

We all know the satisfaction and relief -- the sense of space -- that comes from spring cleaning our closets. Calendars are like closets. Untended, they tend to overflow with outdated invitations, miscellaneous meetings that don't match our priorities and working sessions that are too short to produce results or too long to be tolerable. If your calendar runneth over and you don't have time to breathe, it's time for a spring cleaning.

Here are our favorite techniques for spring cleaning your calendar:

Just say no. Take a discerning eye to the meetings you have accepted for the next two weeks. Are you truly essential to each one of them? Request clarification or decline meetings that a) do not have a clear purpose, b) don't state your role in the discussion or c) do not require your presence to achieve the outcome.

Tip: Remember, getting together to simply connect and catch up is incredibly nourishing -- so don't dump that lunch with an old friend or mentor any more than you'd dump your favorite flip-flops!

Try on your standing meetings. More likely than not, your staff meetings, status meetings and other recurring meetings were once perfectly tailored to your needs but have lost their shape over time. Like that favorite jacket you've had for a decade, consider whether it's time to rethink, redesign or remove any of your standing meetings. A good way to clean house is to ask the other attendees how well the current design is meeting their needs. Maybe with a few adjustments, your standing meetings could once again be a perfect fit.

Color coordinate your day. Do you find yourself getting all your "real work" done at night or on the weekend? Chances are, the work you're squeezing in "after hours" is really what's most important. If so, start blocking working time. We advocate scheduling meetings with yourself and color-coding them so you can see at a glance how often you're making time for what really matters.

Be warned: People will only hold working time as sacred as you do. Be ready to power through the discomfort of saying, "No, I'm not in another meeting. I'm just unavailable."

Refresh your calendar's look. Maybe in your last job, it was essential to prioritize budgeting and plan meetings. But maybe now, spending time with customers is the most important use of your time. As you decide which meetings to keep -- and which to clear out -- make sure the criteria you're using has kept pace with the times.

Know your style. Are you most productive in the mornings or late afternoons? Are you energized by small, frequent breaks throughout the day or a longer, more substantial one? Consider what flow brings out your best, and orchestrate your meetings accordingly. Maybe it works best to designate meeting and non-meeting days or only to take meetings in the morning and work independently all afternoon. Whatever your style, get in touch with it and align your calendar to it.

Would you accept a closet full of items that just don't fit? Why do you tolerate that in your calendar? Take 30 minutes and spring clean your calendar today. Because breathing space is even better than closet space.

Please share your favorite tip for controlling your calendar in the comments section.

Co-authored by Shani Harmon