The first rule in time management is to ruthlessly protect your time. In a world of abundance, your time is the most limited resource. Do not let anyone else create events on your calendar. It should be jealously guarded.
Whenever someone asks for your time, instead of accepting a meeting, ask whether their issue could be resolved with a Slack message, Google Doc, or email instead. If a meeting is inevitable, keep it as short as possible. Ensure that everyone is prepared for the meeting in order to make the most out of the time, and stack your meetings on specific days to ensure long periods of uninterrupted time outside those days where you can get focused work done.
The second rule is to proactively design your calendar.
This chapter was inspired by (and some parts lifted with permission from) some of the lessons in a talk by Keith Rabois.
The first step to proactive calendar design is to understand where your time is already going. This is why Keith Rabois recommends doing a calendar audit and a regular review of your activities and meetings.
The calendar interfaces we use today actually exacerbate the problem of not optimizing your time. Most executives are entirely reactive to requests for their time and typically let anyone in the organization put meetings wherever they want on the calendar. You should instead view your calendar as something you proactively manage and design. Each Sunday afternoon, write down your top 3 priorities for the week and design your calendar to spend 80%+ of your time on those priorities. You can leave some “leftover” time on your calendar to fill with the reactive requests.
Almost every CEO that we meet with lists recruiting as one of their top 3 priorities. But if we pull up their calendar, most of them have two 45-min coffees and a single 1:1 with their head of talent. If you’re only spending 2 hours on recruiting, is it really in your top 3 priorities?
Managing your time proactively is very counterintuitive and not how most people operate. You need to constantly check back in every week to not let yourself slip into a reactive mode and perform calendar audits on a regular cadence. That means sitting down and going through your calendar for the past month and categorizing each event into your various priorities, as well as identifying how much of your time was spent on high leverage activities. — Lessons from Keith Rabois Essay 3: How to be an Effective Executive by Delian Asparouhov
To learn how to identify your priorities and then categorize your recent activities accordingly, see Getting things done.
A simple way of ensuring that you get your week's top three priorities accomplished is to block off a Top Goal event in your calendar for an hour every day. You can dedicate this to your most important tasks. Turn your phone on silent, turn off all notifications, and don't check email during this time. See Getting things done for more information.
In order to maximize your team’s output, you need to spend time on the activities that will influence that output the most. For example, at Square, Keith Rabois would spend at least five hours every week preparing for his presentations at the all-hands meeting on Fridays. That might seem like an inordinate amount of time to spend on a weekly presentation; however, if he was able to communicate a single idea that affected how everyone at the company made decisions, then it was absolutely worth it.
We recommend using a color coding system when creating calendar events to group activities. For example, use different colors for activities related to recruiting, one-on-ones, recurring sync meetings, customer meetings and time blocks.
This system helps you be more cognizant of where you spend your time, and alter that if needs be. It also helps with energy audits.
The small joys in life, say lunch with a friend or taking a long walk, tend to get squeezed out of calendars to make way for other people's priorities. It is important to proactively schedule these, otherwise they will never happen.
This is especially critical for exercise. If you are planning to go the gym on Tuesdays and Thursdays, make sure that's in your calendar (and public to your team), otherwise meetings will replace that time. Make sure travel time is scheduled too.
As an introvert, back to back days of meetings are very draining — I avoid them like the plague. Instead, I proactively block off time in my calendar and have meeting-less days to design my calendar to suit my needs. — Op
If you're starting to feel yourself getting burned out at work, it's time for an energy audit (as well as a vacation!). An energy audit is simply looking through your calendar and reflecting on which meetings give you energy, and which take energy from you. Then try to eliminate the latter category by hiring, delegating, and redistributing work.
It is useful to look at energy and leverage at once. Map out activities with leverage on one axis (low to high) and energy on the other (draining vs energizing). High energy, low leverage activities are traps: you really like them, but they should be delegated. High leverage, low energy activities are chores: if you can't automate them, group them with higher-energy activities.
This is also a great exercise to do with your direct reports during their one-on-ones.