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January 14, 2021

Optimize Your Time with The Balanced Calendar

By IT Revolution

What prevents you from getting work done? One of the top answers is too many meetings!

Too many interruptions, meetings, and tools overburdens workers and can lead to burn out.

In this post, we visit Dominica DeGrandis’s advice for creating a balanced calendar to optimize your time.

Too Many Meetings

A calendar full of meetings leads to little time to complete actual work. We double book, triple book, and even quadruple book our time. 

Dominica DeGrandis describes three common types of calendars:

  • The 30-Minute Jam
  • The All-Day Cram
  • The Triple-Booked Wham

The 30-Minute Jam

If you’re managing a lot of people or support multiple teams, you probably have a lot of one-on-ones and stand-ups to attend. This leads to a lot of short meetings, back-to-back, every day. 

The problem with booking your day, and even your week, with short meetings is the context switching.

“Switching takes you away from the progress you were making and forces you to shift your mind. It’s like rush hour traffic. Just when you get up to speed, you have to stop,” Dominica DeGrandis.

This perpetual stop and go exacerbates context switching.

The All-Day Cram

This calendar has very little white space. Nearly every day every minute of the day is full. This back-to-back, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. meetings calendar leaves zero flexible time.

This means there is no room for unexpected, important, or urgent work. This inflexible schedule means people will inevitably be left disappointed or even angry.

Even the act of consistently having to cancel and reschedule meetings takes up valuable time. If you’re having to reschedule over and over again, think of the amount of time wasted from your already overbooked calendar.

The Triple-Booked Wham

We cannot be in three place at once. So what happens when you triple book your time? You either don’t show up or you cancel the meetings.

Both of these action have a cost: rework.

Imagine this scenario. You’re triple booked on Thursday and cancel a meeting. The purpose of that meeting likely had some decision attached to it, some small or large decision or action that the other people in the meeting needed to continue their work. 

Now they are left to work on something else until the meeting can be rescheduled. Once a new meeting is on the books, they must then complete rework: recollect data for the meeting, re-wrap their heads around the context and purpose of the meeting, etc.

“Knowledge work is perishable. The longer the time between when you needed that decision or feedback to where you got it, the bigger the problem. The easier it is for people to forget what they were doing,” Dominica DeGrandis.

Ultimately, the root cause of a triple-booked calendar that usually be traced back to a lack of clear priorities.

How to Optimize Your Time

In order to better optimize your time, DeGrandis presents three simple calendar solutions, inspired by the work of Paul Graham.

  • Maker calendar
  • Manager calendar
  • Combo calendar

Maker Calendar

This calendar is great for creative workers: developers, writers, designers, etc. Their work necessitates big chunks of time to focus on deep dives into intense knowledge work.

Just think about trying to write or review a thousand lines of code in 10 minutes chunks of time. Or trying to write the chapter of a book one sentence every hour. Intense knowledge work requires time and focus.

“Time that allows people to focus without interruptions so they can get into the zone. Flow. That mental state in which a person is fully immersed energized focused and experiences joy in the activity. It’s the complete absorption into what one does so much so that they lose sense of space and time,” Dominica DeGrandis.

The ideal maker calendar devotes large chunks of time (2 hours) to focus on a single task and then coordinates meetings in the time around those blocks. This helps the person achieve flow, which helps them stay motivated and simply enjoy their day.

Manager Calendar

Smart managers can make organizations work to their frequency. If they know their knowledge workers need large chunks of focused time in order to deliver their best work, then they can accommodate them.

One way to achieve that and still get the work of a manager done is to meet with the people who are also on a manager’s schedule during the time the makers are devoted to their tasks.

DeGrandis also points out the importance of leaving unstructured time after all-hands or staff/department meetings. It’s important to remember that many employees won’t feel comfortable asking questions in front of a large group. Leaving unstructured time after these big meetings gives space for people to talk without interruption to leadership.

Combo Calendar

This calendar combines the two previous. Setting aside a few large chunks of time to deeper work (say in the afternoons) and then collects the meeting times together (say in the mornings).

More Ways to Optimize Time

In addition to taking a close look at your calendar and actively rearranging it to optimize your time, there a three other tips DeGrandis provides. These three interruptions busters can further optimize your schedule.

Pomodoros

No, not the tomato sauce. This is DeGrandis’s number one interruption buster and time saving technique. (This technique was originally introduced by Francesco Cirillo.)

Pomodoros break work down into time-boxed intervals separated by short breaks. Grab a timer and set it for 25-30 minutes. Turn off all your notifications, your phone, Slack, etc. Take the time to put your head down and focus intently.

Do Not Disturb Hours

Yep, they’re just what they sound like. Set aside time when you are not available. And make it consistent so people know when you’re available and when you’re not.

If you don’t have an office, get creative and find another visual manner to show you are not available. Put on headphones. A flag on your desk. Do something to let people know when you’re trying to focus. This also gives you permission to give yourself time for what matters most.

Office Hours

This allows the people whose time you value to make a request to meet with you. This can help collect all those one-on-one meetings into one chunk of time.

How to Get Your Boss (and Team) on Board

Okay, now the all important question. How to get everyone else on board. DeGrandis’s advice is to use facts.

“Facts form the foundation of belief. Facts help people believe,” Dominica DeGrandis.

Experiment and then use the results to help convince others that these tools can really work.

Dominica DeGrandis’s Balanced Flow Chart exercise provides one way to help you and your team show the benefits of optimizing your time. You can view the full exercise here.

You can watch the full video of DeGrandis’s presentation of the Balanced Calendar here.

Read more about interruption busters and methods to optimize your time in her book Making Work Visible.

- About The Authors
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IT Revolution

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