Controlling your time

We all have numerous activities and people competing for our time. More than anywhere else, this seems to play out at work.

If you’ve ever had a day full of meetings, you know what I’m talking about. It feels like you go to work for the entire day so that other people can get stuff done while you feel like you accomplish nothing.

A day half full of meetings isn’t much better, especially when the meetings are scattered throughout the day. Sure, you technically have half of your day to get work done, but it’s constantly broken up by meetings.

We came to a point on our project where this was getting really bad, especially for developers. We would often spend half of our days in meetings, and as a result we wouldn’t have any long stretches of time to focus on writing code. We had to do something about it.

So we did. We blocked off 2pm until whenever you left each day for no meetings. We acknowledge that meetings are necessary, but we need to set aside time for ourselves so that we can get the things done that we have promised that we would get done. This is an actual calendar invite in Outlook, so the time shows up as busy to anyone trying to schedule a meeting.

We also blocked off 10am-11am every day to have meetings. When we need to schedule a meeting, we try to fit them in between 10-11. We have our standup at 10, so we’re already stopping for that anyway, so it’s a good time to talk.

The Results

This system has been awesome. I often have meetings from 10-11, and sometimes longer, but if the 10-11 slot is full, people will schedule meetings in the time slots around it. As a result, I’m often done with meetings for the day by lunchtime. I have close to the same amount of meetings as I did before, but now I get them all over with at once. Now I have the whole afternoon to get work done. This has done wonders for our sanity.

Since we don’t have many time slots for meetings, this forces people to not schedule frivolous meetings. You know the ones I’m talking about, where someone schedules a half-hour meeting for what ends up being a 10 minute conversation. Now we just have a 10 minute conversation after the standup.

There is a real cost to context switching. It takes some time to get in the zone, regardless of whether you’re writing code, writing requirements, or testing. Every time that you have to stop what you’re doing to do something else, you need to spend time to get back into what you were doing.

In the end, it boils down to being in control of your schedule so that you have time to do the things that are most important. I encourage you to set up whatever boundaries you need in your day in order to help you succeed.