It's About Time

"Wait a minute, Doc. Are you telling me you built a time machine... Out of a DeLorean?" - Marty McFly, Back to the Future


Let me guess: every week starts, and you look at your calendar and cringe at the number of meetings or tasks you have in the upcoming days? I was in the same boat. It was a constant swarm of 30-minute meetings (often with no plan or outcomes), sessions where dozens of invites show up (and few are genuinely engaged), and random things that were popping up all over the week, disrupting any moment that I had put aside to think.

I've been viewing my calendar differently for the last year, and it's starting to pay off in significant ways. Calendar management is now considered with a lens that "time as currency"; it's paying off in huge ways.

Side note: I'd also recommend Greg Mckeown's remarkable book, Essentialism to get some additional thinking on this, but...

In order to have focus, we need to escape to focus.

While others view the calendar as an 'allow list', I took a more strict stance on the calendar to be around deliberate focus.

It seems obvious, but when did you last take time out of your busy day simply to sit and think? I don't mean the five minutes during your morning commute you spent composing the day's to-do list or the meeting you spent zoned out reflecting on how to approach another project you were working on. I'm talking about deliberately setting aside distraction-free time in a distraction-free space to do absolutely nothing other than think. - Essentialism

Here's the methodology I've been working with:

  • I use categories with calendars; green is "calendar management," dark gray is "cannot move" (a doctors appointment), yellow is "open office hours," etc
  • Set some core working hours. 9 am-5 pm PST, for example.
  • I block out the calendar outside of core working hours, "CM: Block."
  • 30 minutes at noon for lunch, I block (in green), "CM: Block"
  • Friday afternoons, at 1 pm-5 pm, I block (in green), "CM: Focus Friday" - I want time at the end of the week to focus, read, wrap up the week, learn a new thing, etc
  • One day a week, I also have a block of "open office hours" - feel free, schedule a catch-up, let's chat about random shit, but I know I'll be interrupted.

Now that I have the general week blocked out, each day I also pick a 2-hour block as "CM: Think (but flexible)" - these are movable, complete-time blocks if a meeting pops up, but it also ensures I have a solid 2-hour continuous block to be productive and in 'the flow.'

For other meetings - every other week, I have 30-min 1:1 meetings with my direct reports. In the same time block, in the alternating week, I have my direct's staff meeting.

We have a standing agreement on any team meeting: be able to give the gift of time.

On Tuesday AM on the day of our 1:1's, if there's nothing pressing I need to talk about, I send out:

As promised – I am always happy to give the gift of time back. You're scheduled for a 1:1 later today; please let me know if you want to keep it (happy to!) or give time back to free up the calendar. I have nothing new/urgent on my end at this time.

75% of the time, the meeting frees up.

In any meeting I send out to others, I always try to have two critical things: an agenda and an expected outcome/decision.

These are all simple tasks to better grasp the calendar - do what works for you. My methods are always a work in progress, and this system continuously fluctuates. I end up moving around my CM blocks all the time - and it's OK - as long as I get them in at SOME point in the day.

Time is a gift. Remember that - everyone loves gifts.

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Forward Thinking

This week I discovered A Machine For Helping You Doodle, and it's something that I need to do more of.


Here's the concept: doodling helps cognition. Clive Thompson created a 'style' of doodling as a kid with the following rules, similar to an etch-a-sketch:

  1. You draw one single line. It can be as long as you like.
  2. To start the line, you put your pen down.
  3. You can make right-angle turns only, either 90 degrees or -90 degrees.
  4. You cannot back up. You must always move forward.
  5. You don't lift your pen until you're ready to stop. When you lift the pen, the doodle is done.

Now he's turned it into a brilliant web app to play with. I need to doodle more, and this will get me started (though I still may scribble on paper), but this is so cool.

Check it out here.

Thought of the week

Here are a few of the articles and videos that resonated with me over the last week:

  • Journaling in DayOne every day and writing this newsletter weekly has helped me focus more and more on what matters to me. "Start Writing" talks about the benefits of the deliberate practice of writing - More
  • "Seek The Edge" is another excellent read, "For at the edge lies what is needed most for growth: new sights, experiences and challenges aplenty" - More
  • I have been saying this one for years - but it's super important to "Build a culture of learning at work." Having your team structured for 'continuous learning' is how to achieve velocity - More
  • Mark (thank you!) sent me the post "Culture Shock," which looks at the US from the view of someone who has moved here two months ago. Super insightful read - More
  • "Apple's app tracking policy reportedly cost social media platforms nearly $10 billion" is not unexpected; but I feel that these platforms are trudging too deep into our privacy - More
  • I am always looking for helpful tips on giving talks, and in "How to do a talk when you don't like giving talks?" there are some perfect points to remember. "Be you" is one of the hardest, but most effective ways to present - More
  • Always been a sucker for good new thinking for productivity tools, and this article goes into the rise and fall of 'planner' apps. Read more in "Your Next Productivity Tool is..." - More
  • My sleep sucks, and even though I've recently discovered I have mild sleep apnea, I found "5 Nutrients to Eat for Better Sleep and How to Incorporate Them Into Your Diet" a good read on finding things to help me sleep better - More
  • I plan to write more on what my latest workflow is on reading/notes and highlights, but "Why You Should Be Curating Your Ideas" explores 'the creative flywheel' and how you can decide what's worth keeping - More


Continuing on the theme of time, here's a video of Hans Zimmer's beautiful score "Time" (from Inception) from "The World of Hans Zimmer" tour. One of my favorites.

Be well. ✌🏻