Surely of all the wonders of the world the horizon is the greatest
You have many good intentions at the start of the day, but before you know it, one request comes on top of another and you have a day full of meetings.
My personal ‘best’ is 17 meetings in a day, many of you I am sure will have done more than that.
The shift to remote working has made this challenge harder, as the need to stay connected has had the side effect of driving more and more toxic collaboration.
They say your inbox is somebody else’s to-do list, well the way we work today your diary is what someone else wants you to do. And I can tell you one thing, other people value your time a lot less than you do.
It’s time to take back control.
One feature with the way we organise our time is the shared digital diary. Everyone can see everyone else’s day, and when they are ‘free’ to meet.
But that visual cue belies a creates a distortion in thinking, the purpose of your diary is not to have meetings, it is to structure and enable you to achieve what needs to be done.
Much of that requires working together, but much of it does not. In that time outside of meetings, is where your original thinking, your focus, and the lion’s share of your work will get done
Here are some techniques that have worked for me.
First off, when works for you to do certain types of work. For me, the first two hours of the day are golden, and I think I do about 50% of my value in that timeframe. Therefore I guard this time, and avoid meetings here whenever I can. For you it might be different, but there will be 2–3 golden hours a day. Know them, and cherish them. The pareto principle applies to your work too — 20% of your time, will deliver 80% of the value.
Actively manage your calendar. At the start of the week, think about what you need to achieve that week, and before your time gets booked by the day-to-day, get sessions booked in to achieve those things. If there are three main focus points to deliver on, and each will take 2 hours, then figure out how you can get focused time to achieve those.
Each morning check your calendar for 5 mins and review all the meetings, take time to request more info for meetings that are coming up and decide if you can excuse yourself from anything ahead of time.
For your important work, book slots for those into your calendar. The wide open space that someone might see, or that 30 minute slot where you catch your breath are just asking to be booked.
So, take control, if you need 2 hours to write X, put it in as a meeting that only you are coming to.
You can also try putting 1/2 day a week in as a recurring meeting just for yourself for ‘focus time’ to do deep work. For me it is Thursday morning. Another team I worked with had ‘core hours’ — where every day 10–12 and 2–4 there were no meetings, with the remaining time set aside for meetings. Perfectly balanced, as all things should be.
Depending on how senior you are you may have more or less ability to dictate your own time, possibly you are existing in an environment where there is an expectation for a lot of meetings.
Either way, a discussion with your team about how to create space for deep work is always valuable. Other people probably have the same challenges as you, how can you create working rituals, that actually enable work?
Working together in a team, having agreement on what works for everyone to enable collaboration and deep work is worth a lot. Many teams that travel a lot have the opposite problem, when people never get the chance to sync up and communicate fully, a tool that works well there is to have a ‘contact day’ where you’re in the office together. Maybe today, there’s a good option for a ‘no contact’ day in the week where you avoid meetings.
Of course, this isn’t all about you. We also have the responsibility to help others. If you book a meeting, ask yourself is there a decision that needs to be made that requires a group of people to talk about it, at the same time. If it does — put your time into preparing beforehand, an agenda, and an intended outcome, share materials beforehand, and chair the session If you organise it.
Benedict Evans recently wrote that calendars are a fertile area for development, and while there has been huge innovation in email software (eg Superhuman) there are no similar strides forward being made in Calendars.
Perhaps you will be the one to resolve that with a new product that fixes some of these problems, but until then, I’ll see you in the gaps in my work schedule.
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