How does your calendar make you feel?
Is it a messy jigsaw of meetings, reminders, and urgent tasks? Or does your schedule give you space to breathe — and time to focus on your most important goals?
Most people run very inefficient calendars.
In his classic post, Paul Graham diagnoses the friction between managers' schedules and makers' schedules:
- Managers' schedules: time slots of 1 hour or less allow frequent touch-points across the business, as well as networking at speculative meetings.
- Makers' schedules: units of half a day or more allow unbroken focus time to design, code, or write.
Many of us unintentionally combine these schedules. Teams sync when everyone happens to be free. 1:1 meetings are scattered through the week. And there is little time for deep work.
Brains have an impressive ability to change gears. But chaotic schedules reduce our productive time by a whopping 40%. No wonder we have days when "real work" doesn't start until 5 PM!
Switch cost and mixing cost
There are 2 major costs involved in switching tasks:
- Switch cost: your performance slow-down when changing between similar tasks.
- Mixing cost: your performance slow-down when changing between different types of tasks.
Changing from one task to another always incurs a switch cost. But you can reduce mixing costs by batching similar tasks. Here's how to apply this using staggered calendars.
You could batch your meetings on a randomly chosen day. That would reduce mixing costs and increase your focus time.
But benefits are greater with staggered calendars — for you and your entire team.
Careful scheduling increases focus time and improves information flow through the company. Here's how it works for a 2 or 3 layered organization:
- If you run a team, plan your team meetings for Wednesday and stack all your 1:1s on Tuesday.
Why you should do this: Batching your 1:1s on Tuesday leaves Monday, much of Wednesday, and all of Thursday and Friday free for deep work — the stuff that only you can do, and which requires your full concentration.
- If your reports run teams, ask them to lead team meetings on Tuesdays and stack their 1:1s on Mondays. If their reports also run teams, then stagger this arrangement by another day!
Why you should do this: Individual contributors discuss priorities and challenges with their managers 1:1 on Monday. Any roadblocks that can't be resolved 1:1 or asynchronously can be tackled by specific departments on Tuesday, or — if necessary — by leadership on Wednesday.
Staggered calendars free up focus time and facilitate the regular, predictable flow of information: from reports to managers to leadership.