Give your calendar an extreme makeover

In his book Getting Things Done, David Allen talks about how your calendar is a list just like your to-do list: it's a list of time- and day-specific actions.  It needs to be an accurate reflection of what you are committed to doing.  There shouldn't be things in your head that aren't on your calendar, and there shouldn't be things on your calendar that you aren't really going to do.  If you're finding that you are constantly late to things or are not getting your most important work done, it might be time to make over your calendar.

General principles for effective calendar management:

Keep as few calendars as you can get away with, and have guiding principles regarding what goes on which calendar.  For example, having separate work and personal calendars might mean that you forget a weekday dentist appointment because it's not on the work calendar that you reference on weekdays, so a guiding principle could be that anything that occurs during work hours gets put on the work calendar.

Include pre- and post- appointment time when blocking your calendar for events.  If you will need 15 minutes to gather your thoughts before an important 10 AM client call, book "Prep time" from 9:45 to 10 so that you don't find yourself in a 9 to 10 AM meeting that day.  If you often have a lot of action items from your weekly directors meeting, book 15-30 minutes after the meeting for processing.

Block out time to get to/from your meetings and appointments.  When you book a doctor appointment, go ahead and block out the time it will take you to get there and get back to the office. Tip:  You may want to color-code "logistics time" differently so that you can tell what's a hard-and-fast start/end time and what's a little more flexible.

Take action:

Time required: 30 to 60 minutes for initial cleanup, 10 to 15 minutes per week for maintenance

Set aside time to focus on this action item.  A half-hour is probably enough, as long as it is uninterrupted.

Review your current calendar(s).  Can you simplify/consolidate at all? If not, identify the guidelines you will use to  determine what things go on which calendar, and try to avoid situations where you need to enter things in two different places.

Review your one-to-one meetings with your employees.  Do you have at least 30 minutes scheduled with each person at least every two weeks?  If not, figure out which days will be most reliable (least likely to have conflicts that require you to reschedule) and schedule them.  If you do have meetings but frequently find that you're rescheduling or canceling them, figure out what will work better.   Find an approach that you can stick with, and treat that time as sacred.  Helping your employees move forward is the most important part of your job.

Add transit time for all of the appointments you have for the next four weeks.  This includes things you have scheduled for evenings after work and any meetings that are in locations other than your regular office.

Add a recurring appointment for your own project work.  A three-hour block is a good start; two three-hour blocks are even better.  It is okay if this block has to be moved as the week evolves - it will probably rarely be on the same day week-to-week- but the key is that you have at least one chunk of time each week to work on the things you have to create, produce, and/or think deeply about in your work.  If you're running from meeting to meeting, this work will never get done.  

Block out the 15 minutes prior and after all of the meetings that are on your calendar for the next four weeks.  (You can add a recurring appointment for this for any of your repeating meetings, far beyond the four weeks.)  You can call this "buffer" or "prep" or whatever makes sense to you.  The purpose is to ensure that you have time to breathe between meetings and aren't booked solid.  This time allows for things to run over, for you to run to get  more coffee, to process action items, or just stay on top of e-mail during a busy day.  

Advanced: block out a meeting with yourself 12 weeks from now to revisit your calendar and other productivity systems and assess how things are working.  

Related posts

Manager's Minimum Viable Productivity System

Management Resource: the Pomodoro Technique

Time Management Principles that Apply to Everyone

Maker's Schedule, Manager's Schedule by Paul Graham

This post completely changed how I approached time management as a manager.  It's obvious when spelled out: you cannot do deep work in 10-minute interstices between meetings.   This post shows why you should batch your meetings (with buffer in between!) and your "deep work" time rather than taking a random approach.


4 mental shifts that will help you have a difficult conversation

Having conversations you don't really want to have is an unfortunate fact of life for managers.  You can't do your job effectively if you aren't able to constructively confront situations.  But difficult conversations are, well, difficult!  We tend to worry a lot about specifically what to say or not say, which is certainly important.  However, the words become a little less critical if you can go in to the conversation with a more constructive mindset, as you will set a different tone for the interaction.  

Here are four mental shifts that can make it easier for you to go into a difficult conversation, no matter whom it's with.

Management Tool: Annual Review Checklist

Overview of the Performance Review Cycle

The performance review document is part of an overall performance management process, often conducted on a 12-month cycle.  While each organization approaches things differently, components of a typical process include:

  • Setting goals for the upcoming year

  • Conducting a mid-year check-in

  • Writing formal performance review documents for each employee, often with a rating

  • Conducting a year-in-review meeting with each employee to discuss the document

  • Making performance-based salary increase decisions

  • Communicating salary increase information to employees


The Purpose of the Performance Review

The performance review document is just one part of the process, but since it provides the basis for all of the other steps, it’s pretty important!  At a lot of organizations, the process is treated like just another administrative task, about as much fun as submitting expense reports.  The smart manager knows that this process, however cumbersome and illogical it might be, provides an opportunity to take a strategic approach to employee development. 

The performance review, if done well, can serve multiple functions:

  • Official organizational record of the employee’s performance and contributions for the year
  • Supporting documentation for salary/promotion decisions
  • Basis for formal conversation with employee regarding his or her performance
  • Guidance for employee on what to focus on

What to Consider When Writing Annual Reviews

In addition to following your organization’s procedures for writing the reviews for your employees, you may also want to consider some key questions:

  • Who will be actually reading the worksheets?  Will your manager read them?  Your manager’s manager?  The division head?
  • What should someone else, either a reviewer in your reporting chain or perhaps a prospective hiring manager, know about the employees’ contributions?
  • Whose input might be important in developing a complete picture of each employee’s performance?

The “audience” for a written performance review includes more than the employee.  When you are writing it, you should think about how someone who doesn’t know the employee or the team’s work, such as your great-grand-boss or a new supervisor who takes over from you, would process the information.  Would it help that person understand the employee’s performance?

Checklist for Annual Reviews

Here is a checklist of the key steps involved in writing performance reviews:

Increase your business acumen

How well do you understand your company's business?  For many roles, it isn't critical to know the ins and outs of the business model, marketing strategy, sales targets, etc., and you can get by without really understanding the larger context you're operating in.  However, if you want to be able to ensure your team's viability in the short term and advance your career in the long term, it's worth your while to brush up a little on what you don't know.  Understanding the business can help you in your career even if you don't plan to stay at this type of organization or even in this particular industry.  Having worked at a startup, federal and state government agencies, higher education, management consulting, and international development. I can attest to the commonalities across industries and company size.  

How To Manage An Employee Who's Older Than You

"I have kids your age" is not really something you want to hear from one of your direct reports.  However, as the workforce becomes less tenure-based and more results-based, this is going to become familiar to a lot of managers.  It might be tempting to just laugh it off, but if age keeps coming up in team conversations, it might be worth addressing the issue head-on.

Improve Your Delegation By Not Answering Questions

Some management pitfalls reflect a lack of skill, but this one ironically occurs more frequently the more experienced and skilled the manager is.  The problem?  Answering employee questions.  But wait, isn't that the job of a manager - to help employees carry out their work and give them the information they need to be successful?  Well, yes....and the way in which you do it matters a lot.  

Get More Done By Doing Fewer Things

The following approach will help you transition to a kanban model where you limit the number of projects that are active at any one time.  It will also give you a visual representation of the work that you can use to communicate with your boss about where a new "#1 super-important priority!!!" project fits into what's already on the list.  If nothing else, just having all your work documented in one place will be helpful in giving you a sense of accomplishment and focus.