Managing your non-meeting time
Entrepreneur, Startup CEO Coach, Team & Culture Expert
Busyness is common in entrepreneurs because of their passion for all the possibilities.
Accept that you will not achieve all of the things you want to get done.
Carve out space on your calendar for the ‘big rocks.’
Lesson: Productive Meetings with Dave Kashen
Step #7 Energy: Managing your non-meeting time
So one of the phenomenons that I think is pretty universal in the corporate world certainly here in Silicon Valley is this phenomenon of busyness. We're all so busy and it's almost become like a badge of honor like, "Oh, I'm busier than you are. I crushed it. I was working till 3:00 morning. I was there till 5:00 in the morning." It's almost like it's become the status symbol. One, I think it's a reality of just an explosion of opportunity and possibility and availability of information.
One of the things I appreciate and I share with my clients is that the reason that entrepreneurs in particular can feel so overwhelmed is because they are so deeply committed to achieving something such that the experience of it is deep overwhelm of all the possibilities, all the things they could do in their limited time whereas other people have equal numbers of theoretical possibilities for their time. They're just not as committed to achieving anything in particular. I think that's an important frame to keep that it's actually a really noble place that that overwhelm comes from, the sense of, “Oh, my gosh! So much is possible and I so badly want to achieve this. I only have this much time in which to do that.”
I think that's just important to keep things in perspective. Some people do call meetings to feel busy. I think coming back to being really thoughtful and intentional about why you're having a meeting, what you're trying to achieve, and making sure that there is a real purpose for it before having it.
One of the things that we toyed with doing that we may do is almost like a spam filter for your meetings. If someone requests a meeting, you get back at like, "Well, I want to make sure that my meetings are all very effective. Please tell me what the agenda is before you accept it." I think we could do a lot of good by being more clear about why we're having meetings and only having them if there is a clear purpose.
This issue of busyness is a pretty pervasive one. I think ultimately we need to accept the reality that we will not get done all of the things we would like to get done in the time that we have. So if we start with that, we can let go a little bit. Then it just becomes a question of prioritization. At any given minute of your time, any given moment of your time, you're doing something whether that's working, exercising, being with family, sleeping. You're doing something.
The metaphor I've heard I think from Joel Peterson, who is the chairman at JetBlue, he was a professor of mine at Stanford, he used a metaphor and I think it comes from David Allen, Getting Things Done and others, of think of your time like a jar. What most people do is they let all the sand come and trickle in and fill up their day. It's like death by a million paper cuts, email, you get all these inbounds, all this stuff. It's like, oh, my gosh! It's so overwhelming. There's so much going on. But then we don't actually achieve that much. It’s this weird paradox and an unfortunate paradox.
What the best, most effective people do, the best time managers do is they first figure out what are the big rocks. They get the big rocks into the jar. I think what that looks like for us in this day and age is the jar is really our calendar. Most of us are using digital calendars. If you can carve out that space on your calendar literally, schedule time on your calendar for the big rocks either just literally call it that and just make sure you're doing the big rocks for the specific things that you know to be the most important things for you to work on and accomplish that week, then the other stuff has to fill in around it.
What most people do is they'll only calendar their meetings or specific events, but they won't create space, create time in their calendar for work that they have to do or for thinking or reflection or renewal, all the other things that make us more effective. So first, get the big rocks in place. Then get the little rocks in place and then let the sand be the filler around that, time on email, Facebook, all these other things that can really distract us. So that's one.
The other thing that I think is really powerful in this realm of how to be most effective is there's a great article by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz called “Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time.” It's probably ten years old. It's in Harvard Business Review. Tony Schwartz now runs The Energy Project. The whole idea is that if you think about a given hour of your time, for that hour when you're most productive, you're probably at least 10x more productive than the hour when you're least productive. So what you really want to be doing is optimizing for those 10x hours. That's actually more a function of energy than time. So being really thoughtful about the things that give you energy, the things that drain your energy and trying to bring those in balance.
They have this really cool matrix of the different zones. In the upper right is the performance zone. This is when you have high energy and it's positive. The horizontal axis is positive to negative, and the vertical axis is high to low. An upper right is the high positive energy, the performance zone. We hopefully start the day in that zone. In the upper left, when you're still exerting high energy but it becomes negative is what they call the survival zone. The bottom left is the burnout zone. We have low negative energy.
The bottom right is what they call the renewal zone. This is where we're still positive but we purposefully go low energy. We purposely do things that don't take a lot of our energy and in fact give us energy. For some people, that's exercise, taking a walk, calling a friend, taking a break, going for a walk.
They started their career studying athletes and then transferred this into the corporate world. When they studied the best corporate athletes what they found is that they purposely bounce back and forth between performance zone and renewal zone. They don't try to stay high energy all the time. They purposely go low energy. They do things that renew them throughout the day and create rituals so that they can have more of those 10x kind of performance zone hours. That's something I think is also really important to think about is how do you create that for yourself.
They basically find that most humans can be in that 10x zone for about 90 minutes. Ideally you structure 90 minutes of high productivity work followed by renewal, break, repeat. If you just got a few of those chunks in your day where you're just focused, that's a whole another huge challenge. Staying focused and working on the highest priority things, you'll be a lot more effective and productive than most people.
One of the things I think is really interesting that certain CEOs have done and talked about is actually just mapping out your week and looking at your different meetings and the way you spend your time and trying to allocate those into different buckets, and try to just get a better picture of how you're spending your time so that you can have more clarity as to are you spending your time in the bigger ox or you use your time getting wasted in small details? Where do you need to shift so that you can actually achieve more of what you want to achieve?