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Hold tight to your sanity. Manage your schedule.

2010 September 8
by John

After a recent meeting moratorium was imposed by the place where I work, I started thinking more about time management. It’s commonly hard for people to say no, and for those that derive their self-worth from how busy they are (most Americans do this as a translation of busy=important) a hectic schedule is almost a status symbol.

Sure you’re busy, but are you productive? I’ve found that I am less useful the busier I get. I don’t have anything good to add to conversation, and I can’t commit cycle to thinking critically. Back when I owned a business the other owners and I learned some good lessons from Strategic Coach about owning your day rather than letting your day own you. At the risk of sharing their material inappropriately, the short version is simple. Segregate your days into three categories: focus days, free days, and buffer days.

Focus days are strictly for getting things done. For developers, this is often accompanied by headphones and choice music, and lots of Mt. Dew. I also throw in sending the phone to voicemail so it doesn’t even ring, closing email and chat clients, and sometimes (because I have the flexibility) working from home. Do everything you can to keep your head in your work. Avoid distractions. That includes facebook and twitter — unless of course your work IS facebook or twitter. I try to get two of these each week.

Free days are much lighter. They remind you why you got into the XYZ business anyway. You dream, plan, think, read blogs related to your work and look on the horizon of your field. It helps you keep abreast of trends and technologies, and clears away the weeds of the focus days, getting back to the big picture. I aim for one of these a week.

Buffer days operate just like they sound: they provide a buffer between focus and free days. These are the days you do the work required to do the work you need to do on focus days. You have meetings, ask questions, send emails, do research, etc. so that when you sit down on your focus day to write that code or plan the event you have everything you need to get it done. By deduction, I get two of these each week.

Because of our meeting moratorium, I plan focus days for Tuesdays and Thursdays, buffer days on Mondays and Wednesdays, and Friday is a free day – which is also a very nice way to ease into a weekend.

My current goal is to get other folks I work with to buy into my plan, and (best case scenario) have the same schedule of days. How quiet would it be on those focus days if everyone in the company were zeroed in on the most important thing on their list? How much fun would the free days be if I could sit down with my entire team and talk about the future and interesting projects we’d like to look into?

2 Responses leave one →
  1. Krista permalink
    September 25, 2010

    VERY interesting. Makes good sense. Here’s hoping your influence spills over to the rest of the company!

    • John permalink*
      September 25, 2010

      Yeah me too!

      I actually just talked about it with someone from another department for the first time — so far it’s been people I work with directly. She seemed genuinely intrigued:

      “So, you just decline the meetings then on Tuesday and Thursday?”
      “Well, I propose a new time, and if nothing else works we go ahead and meet then, but yeah, basically”
      “Huh…” (thoughtfully)

      So we’ll see. But I have found that while Tuesday and Thursday are more productive, I kind of dread Monday and Wednesday. I have meetings ALL DAY LONG! :)

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