Time Blocking, Color-Coding, Batching, and Calendar Audits
Calendars had been there with us for thousands of years now. The first recorded calendar being the Babylonian calendar consisting of 12 Lunar Months starting when a crescent moon was sighted on the western horizon at sunset. With the advent of computers, calendaring software came into usage that enabled users to view their schedules and book meetings with other people.
The term calendar itself is taken from the calends, the term for the first day of the month in the Roman calendar, related to the verb calare “to call out”, referring to the calling or the announcement that the new moon was just seen. — Wikipedia
In the 1960s, a typical executive spent around 10 hours doing meetings. Since then, as the complexity of organizations and the nature of work we do has increased, we now spend about 23 hours a week doing meetings.¹ Post COVID, this has grown further and research states that people now attend 13% more meetings.²
More than ever, we are now living in times where our days are governed by what is there on our calendar. And at times, this can be overwhelming. However, there are four techniques that can help your reclaim your control over your time.
A lot of us maintain a to-do list, be it on an offline notebook or an online tool such as Asana, Google Keep, or Todoist. Time Blocking takes this a step further and you actually block time on your calendar to do specific tasks. Benjamin Franklin is one of the early practitioners of Time Blocking.
Time Blocking helps ensure you have time left to go through your planned to-do items and you’re not spending all your time reacting to inbound requests. It also helps you prioritize as you get a realistic view of how much you can get done in a day. A secondary benefit is that it reduces the cognitive load of figuring out what you should be working on next as you have a plan in place.
The way I go about time blocking is every Monday, start of the day, I list down my top three priorities and then block time for the tasks against them in the week. I do consciously leave out open time slots for flexibility and serendipity.
Color coding involves assigning colors to your calendar events based on priority, projects, or the kind of activities they are. A color-coded calendar helps you understand how your week looks like. A regular calendar treats all events as the same. Whereas in the real world, a time block for an interview might require a completely different energy level and mindset as opposed to a time block for an executive review.
Batching is a productivity technique in which you club together similar activities to reduce the context switching overhead.
You can bucket your tasks as per projects you are working on, people you will be spending time with, or the nature of the activities such as is it a Review session, a 1–on-1 with a report, or a time to write do code reviews or write product specs. You can extend the system to batch similar meetings too, wherever possible.
A variation of batching is having themes for your days and focus your tasks and meetings around the designated theme. Twitter and Square’s CEO Jack Dorsey³ is one of the well-known practitioners of theming
Calendar Audits uncover the gap between how you perceive you spend your time viz-a-viz how you actually spent your time.
You can run audits on multiple dimensions such as projects, people, and types of activities. Think of Calendar Audits as a feedback loop for your weekly planning activity. A few questions that calendar audits provide an answer to are:
- As a Product Manager are you spending enough time with your customers?
- As a People Manager are you doing enough to grow your team?
- Are you spending enough time on your highest priority initiatives?
- Are you spending your time on high-leverage activities?
- Is your schedule balanced and optimized for your role?
Calendars help people find a common time to meet, discuss, and get work done. However, calendars have not evolved to understand the context of a person’s role and responsibilities. This means that it ends up treating every person and every open time slot as the same. With these four techniques, you can take back control of your time and design a schedule that is optimized for your goals and priorities.
We're working on a side project called Mornin to simplify how people can go about applying these four techniques on Google Calendar. Do give it a spin and let us know what you think.
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