I came to the only conclusion possible: I need to cut down on meetings.
I am re reading The Effective Executive over the last few days, and it is amazing to me how a book written in 1966 aged so well. It seems to be more relevant each day that passes.
The first principle that Drucker lays out in it is: Know Thy Time
“The supply of time is totally inelastic. No matter how high the demand, the supply will not go up. There is no price for it and no marginal utility curve for it. Moreover, time is totally perishable and cannot be stored. Yesterday’s time is gone forever and will never come back. Time is, therefore, always in exceedingly short supply.
Time is totally irreplaceable. Within limits we can substitute one resource for another, copper for aluminum, for instance. We can substitute capital for human labor. We can use more knowledge or more brawn. But there is no substitute for time.
Everything requires time. It is the one truly universal condition. All work takes place in time and uses up time. Yet most people take for granted this unique, irreplaceable, and necessary resource. Nothing else, perhaps, distinguishes effective executives as much as their tender loving care of time.”
Excerpt From: Peter F. Drucker. “The Effective Executive.”
This whole chapter is a punch to the gut regarding how I am spending my time.
More specifically, how hard it is to realize:
1) How little time I actually have, and
2) How quickly it is all slipping away (and mostly in meetings)
I think about the day or week I just had, and I wonder, was that really the best use of my time? If I were to take an honest inventory of my time, would I be proud of how I used it, or would I be embarrassed?
The answer, unfortunately, is often the latter.
So, I sat down to actually calculate exactly how much time I spent last week and in what things.
- I worked 36 hours because we had a holiday, so I took half of the day off.
Out of these, I spent:
- 8:35 hours on 1-1s (23% of time)
- 4:00 hours on company wide meetings (11% of time)
- 7:30 hours on team-specific meetings (20% of time)
- 1:30 on outside companies meetings (4%)
So, about 60% of my time was consumed in meetings alone.
And then, if I look at some free time I had in between meetings on Thursday and Friday for instance, it would be safe to assume that I wasted them on busywork and/or feeling too tired to do anything important.
And then, to be absolutely honest with myself, I probably worked about 3 or 4 hours the whole week in things that are high-leverage tasks.
About 11% of my time.
So, if I put this learning visually, I would see my time being split like this:
- 6/10 blocks of time go to meetings
- 3/10 blocks of time go to meetings overhead / shallow work
- 1/10 blocks of time go to deep work
So, if I want to 2x my output to the company, I should try to have a routine like:
- 4/10 blocks of time go to meetings
- 2/10 blocks of time go to meetings overhead / shallow work
- 4/10 blocks of time go to deep work
Yes, if I quadruple my deep work/ focus time, I will probably double my output of meaningful work.
That's because work doesn't scale linearly with time. It’s more like a decreasing marginal gains situation – the more time you spend on a single task, the less productive you become.
But wait, there's more.
The other way I could increase my output is by delegating or automating a part of my shallow work, so that I can focus on deep work even more.
And that takes me to the next painful reality: I don’t know what is the shallow work I am doing specifically - I have a hunch that most of it revolves around answering things on Slack - but it is impossible to delegate work that I don't know that is.
This is what I took out of this:
- I need to cut back 30% of my time in meetings; That is 6 hours a week.
- I need to discover how exactly I’m spending my time on shallow work, to see what can be delegated/automated/made more efficient.
If I look at the previous week, 12:40 hours (~60%) were spent on recurring meetings. It should be easy to cut down around 3 hours on these.
The problem is that the other 40% of the meetings were one-off and/or unexpected.
These are specially hard to fend off - and the less recurring meetings I have, the more likely it is that they will creep up on my schedule. And because they are contextual, it’s harder to say no.
Finally, my action items are:
- Cut down 3 hours a week on recurring meetings and 1-1s.
- Every time an one-off meeting is scheduled, note down when, by whom and why (I have to do this for a month, so I can find the root cause of this problem)
- Re-schedule recurring meetings in blocks so it's easier to reduce their overhead;
- Have a logbook for shallow work and tasks done during meetings overhead - so I write down exactly what I am doing; One or two weeks sampling should be enough for that.
PS: I'm writing down this more of a journal entry than anything else. Writing helps me think, and helps me learn. I also hope this also helps someone else out there.