May 19, 2011
Be Ruthless With Your Time
I have historically been very open with my calendar. For most of my career, people who want to meet with me, both internally or externally (with the exception of random vendor solicitation), generally have gotten to meet with me. Some of this is generosity, but I’m also a compulsive networker and have always made time proactively to meet with people just to meet them, learn more about different pockets of the industry or finance, meet other entrepreneurs and find out what they’re up to or help them, and connect more broadly from there. I’ve also routinely been on multiple boards at the same time, as I’ve found that’s a very helpful part of my management routine.
But of late, I’m struggling more and more with calendar management. There are more and more demands on my time internally as Return Path gets bigger. There are more asks from people with whom I really don’t want to meet. More travel, which sucks up a lot time. A longer commute and more people who I want to see at home who have early bedtimes. So I’ve taken to being more ruthless with my time. I could probably do an even better job at it than I am now.
The main shifts I’m trying to make are to be proactive instead of so reactive; to cut meetings, shrink them, or group them when appropriate internally; to use videoconferencing instead of travel where possible; and honestly to just be a little more selfish and guarded with my time. If the meeting doesn’t have something in it for me or Return Path — some promise of learning something or meeting someone either directly or indirectly helpful — I’m unlikely to do it any more as I once would, or I’m pickier about it (it has to be in my office so I don’t have to travel…it can only be 30 minutes long, etc.).
The two main tools I’m trying to use to manage my calendar proactively, mostly driven my brilliant executive assistant Andrea, might be useful to others, so I thought I’d share them here.
The first one is a networking list. Andrea and I created a simple spreadsheet of everyone externally that I like to keep in touch with, and we prioritized it. Every time I meet with someone on it, we mark the date. Then when we meet to review my calendar periodically, we look at the list and figure out who I should reach out to in order to set up the next wave of meetings. (I have one for internal check-in meetings with people other than my direct reports as well.)
The second is a time allocation model. I am sure I got this idea from David Allen or Jim Collins or some other author that I read along the way. First, we are religious about keeping an accurate calendar, including travel time, and we even go back and clean up meetings after they’ve happened to make the calendar an accurate reflection of what transpired. At the end of each quarter, we download the prior three months’ worth of meetings, we categorize them, and we see where my time went. Then we make changes to the upcoming quarter’s calendar to match my targets based on what I’m trying to accomplish. For what it’s worth, my categories have changed over time, but currently, they are Free, Travel, Non-Return Path, Internal, Board, Client/External. Pretty high level. This exercise has been really helpful in keeping me proactive and on track.
I miss some of the more random networking that I used to do. I am at least a moderate believer in serendipity, and the likelihood of serendipity goes down as I clamp down on my calendar. And I will miss being on some outside Boards or helping new entrepreneurs figure out how to be first time CEOs. But hopefully my combination of being selectively proactive and exercising good judgment about what inbound things to jump on will keep the machine humming.