calendar management

Do you work on a Maker’s Schedule? Or a Manager’s Schedule? Should you switch?

wpid-20150816_153645.pngI was going to only write about Genius Hour today, but in poking around, I came across a link to this article from July, 2009 by Paul Graham about the Maker’s Schedule vs. the Manager’s Schedule and my first thought was: Genius! These two are related.

First, Genius Hour. It’s is a pretty simple idea. Torn from the Google playbook, and seemingly adopted in education (I’m hoping my kids will come home with Genius reports this year), it’s all about designating a piece of time for the pursuit of your passions.

Classroom or office, the idea is If you give people time to pursue what they’re interested in, they’ll develop their best ideas, the ones they care enough about to implement. We all need time for creative refreshment (vacation, anyone?) and focus. Voila: Genius Hour. Daniel Pink shares a great story about how a Credit Union manager made time for her front line staff to have an hour a week for Genius Hour. Pink also emphasizes the importance of not just being creative but having the power to implement the results when you’re given a genius idea.

And that is what brought me to the Maker’s Schedule vs. the Manager’s Schedule.

In a nutshell, Makers (in Graham’s case, coders) need time to produce. We all know this feeling. You’re writing something, running numbers, preparing a budget, doing anything that requires more than a 30 second attention span and your reminder bings: time for a meeting! That’s when the Manager’s schedule (1 hour increments for meetings) is colliding with what your Maker needs (uninterrupted time to think-and-do).

For most of us, our jobs are not clearly divided. We’re both Managers and Makers. We’re in meetings, our time is chunked up, but we’re still expected to produce. We don’t give ourselves time to produce well, which leads to rushed work, stressed employees, and missed opportunities. Meanwhile, we’re in meetings, we’re wondering how we’ll ever get around to doing X.

Can the calendar bring some control to this conundrum?

I’ve experienced a designated a block of time each week for staff meetings agency-wide. That means nobody is scheduling “can’t miss” meetings over standing team meetings, which reduces scheduling stress. It’s predictable, simple, and everyone does it, so it has an impact.

Bringing these thoughts together, what practical action can we take?

  • If you manage your own schedule, you might designate a regular Genius Hour and a Maker time (half a day? A few hours?) on your calendar.
  • If you manage others’ schedules, can you help them do the same?
  • Respect the scheduled time – yours and others’.

Has this given you any genius ideas? Or have you seen these efforts in action? If so, please leave your story here.

Why you shouldn’t wait for the right moment to act


Yesterday, I had to force myself to shut my door, sit down at my desk, and finish a bunch of things that I don’t relish doing. They weren’t particularly hard tasks, or complicated. I just don’t like to do them.

Those are the things that tend to drift quietly to the bottom of my task list, especially when there are big projects I can more eagerly turn to.

I occasionally think about a cartoon by Emily Flake in the New Yorker showing a teenage girl sitting on her bedroom floor surrounded by instruments, art supplies, and other hobbies. Her mother says something to the effect of maybe if you focus your energy it’ll come out with more force. The same is true for our work energy. And I would add, don’t wait until you feel like doing it.

In the crush of ever-increasing demands at work and home, we struggle to prioritize and make room for what really matters while keeping the rest of the balls in the air. Mindfulness, time-management, apps – they all promise greater efficiency and better control over the chaos of our modern existence.

A few days ago, I was talking to a colleague over lunch about the transition from managing single projects to managing many projects and people who manage projects. It can be overwhelming and the usual time-management techniques are useful, but not quite enough. So what works?

1. Prioritize

If you have a clear sense of your mission – for the day or for the year – you can use it as a measure for whether something belongs on your to-do list.

  • Is it directly relevant to your mission?
  • When will you do it?
  • How long will it take?

I have found that putting a few things on your list for first thing in the morning and sticking to that gives you a mental boost for the rest of the day. Not to mention, you can cross them off the list!

2. Plan for interruptions

This is especially important when you’re managing other people. They need your time and input. If you can, it helps to block periods of time when you’ll be available to them. This won’t completely eliminate interruptions, but knowing when you’re likely to be available helps others respect the times you’re not.

  • Are there times when you’re likely to be in your office with the door open?
  • If you manage people in other locations, do you make a point of being there at certain times of the day?
  • Do you respond to email all day (and night?) or do people know they’re most likely to hear from your at certain times of the day?
  • If there’s a big project or a team that requires more time than usual, do you have a standing time for questions? Do you respect that time on your calendar?

3. Say No

This is hard. How many of us really believe someone who begins a request with “it’s okay if you don’t have time but….” Yet we admire the people around us who are able to say “I don’t have time right now,” or who let us know that if they take that task on they’ll have to let something else go.

In a world of overachievers and super-women, it can be hard to say no, but it’s a muscle worth developing.

If you have a hard time delegating, or tend to take everything on yourself, you may want to recognize that tendency and address it.

4. Act now

Don’t wait until you feel like filling out end of the year budget reports, paperwork for evaluations, filing a project, or whatever task is your least favorite. You probably won’t ever feel like doing it, you’ll just hit that point of panic when the angst of your long-neglected work outweighs the ugh factor of doing it.

Is it on your list for today?

Then just do it.

And it doesn’t hurt to have something you enjoy on the list just behind it!

Increase your power this week with the 80/20 rule


Are you busy?

Silly question.

As the typical work week continues to expand, you probably have more things to do than you can possibly keep track of. Stressed. Frazzled. Overwhelmed. We’ve got it covered.

Last week I heard someone say they wanted to take a time-management class but they didn’t have time because they were so overwhelmed. Not funny.

Short of overhauling our national policies and changing the culture of your workplace or home tomorrow, what can you do to bring some sanity to your week?

Consider this. Your power goes where you send it and for most of us, it goes someplace like this:

Arugh, how did I get another 200 new emails? Voicemail light flashing. Yikes, I almost forgot to set up that meeting and I have a report due tomorrow. Performance reviews? Again? Didn’t we just do those. And that problem from last week is back again, why don’t those people know how to get it right. Maybe I’ll get started on that memo, oops! Time for a staff meeting already?

That’s the “I’m so busy” trap. For most of us, we don’t even realize we’re falling into it, after all, aren’t the busy, overwhelmed and frazzled the important ones? But this trap saps your power. Here’s a way to jump-start your thinking about your power, where it goes, and how to use it for maximum effect this week.

Most of the things buzzing around our mental to-do list can be broken into 80% low-impact and 20% high-impact.

Low impact: answering a simple email, reviewing a web-page for accuracy, filing your inbox, running an errand, responding to a meeting invitation, setting up a meeting.

High impact: taking that time-management course, thinking through a long-term project by breaking out the pieces and identifying resources for each of them, writing a critical report in time for others to review it well.

Usually, the attention we give to the 80% is a buzz of distraction, gnawing at our focus and leaving us feeilng like we don’t have enough time.

The 20% is what we squeeze in, or where we take shortcuts because we haven’t left ourselves enough room to complete them well. Who hasn’t dashed off something important at the last minute, promising themselves I’ll do better next time?

It’s time to power up and make the 80/20 shift – clear your calendar for next week, leaving only the most essential things.

Part one. Get a paper and pencil (or whatever note-taking tools suit you) and set your timer for 5 minutes.

  • List your 20% high-impact items
  • Put them on your calendar (use chunks – blocks of time – and ditch things that you really don’t have to do)
  • Devote 80% of your attention to these items

That’s right. 80%.

Part two. Set that timer for 5 more minutes

  • List your 80% items
  • Put a time on your calendar for them (again, chunks of time)
  • Devote 20% of your attention to them this week.

It could look like this:


Try applying the 80/20 power rule for just one week and see if power changes.

And don’t forget to take lunch.

(Hint: you might want to do your worst task first or delegate something to someone else)

Overwhelmed by Something Big? Try this.


The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.  – Lao Tzu

We’ve all heard that one before, right? And we know it’s true but, when your journey consists of a thousand tasks, each of which require at least a thousand steps all to be taken immediately, it feels a little too vague.

Some people are natural step-by-step takers. The rest of us could use a little help.

Lately, as the trees begin to bud out and this endless winter seems like it might actually yield to warmth, I’ve found myself reading a lot about time management, habits, and mindfulness. I don’t think it’s a random association of interests, but an attempt to understand how we make sense of this busy, hectic, ever-faster world around us. After this preparation for a sort of spring-cleaning, I’ve decided to tackle the big projects first.

Why the big ones? Because those are the ones that weigh heavily on my mind. I can churn through a check-list but if I know there are long-term tasks out there on the horizon, my sense of unease is not quieted.

Some are big projects at work, some are big projects at home (kitchen cupboards – shudder!) and some are years and years past due (old home movies on Hi8 tapes).

Amid all the good advice, I’ve honed in on two steps that help, and they’re rather simple.

1. Make one list

I’m a compulsive list-maker and have been ever since I got my first day-planner in high school. Unfortunately, this habit has managed to spread itself around my life. Until recently, I tried to keep a work list, a home list, a grocery list, a weekend list, a random list – you name it. The Post-it folks and I were getting a little too cozy. I now have a single list – in one notebook – that has everything in it. There are apps for this, but for me, the act of writing it down is a lot faster than pulling out my phone in the middle of a meeting, creating the list, and then remembering to look at it later.

For you, electronic may be the way to go. For me, paper creates a sense that I’ve got it.

Now that the list is in one place (and yes, I do stick post-it notes in my list-notebook but hey, nobody’s perfect), I am learning to expand the list.

Instead of writing “clean the house” on it, I write “sort all the books” then I write “donate the books in the car” (because that’s where they’ll end up).

This works at the office too. I had a project that required several conversations, multiple written products, and communication by a certain deadline. I wrote each of those steps down on my list, which forced me to do two things:

  • acknowledge all the pieces of work that would be required
  • get a better sense of how long these pieces would take

As an incurable optimist, I tend to think I can probably accomplish things in “two minutes” or “twenty minutes” when they’re more likely to take an hour or two. Focusing on the real demands of a project helps me see the steps in a more realistic way which leads nicely to the next step:

2. Put everything from the list on the calendar

That’s right, everything. With an accurate amount of time.

That doctor’s appointment that I’ve been meaning to schedule for three weeks? Still not done. Why? Because I called once, spent twenty minutes trying to figure out if i was in the new medical records system or not, then I wasn’t and needed to get a referral. Referral? Scheduled and done. But then I just carried around my list that said “make appointment”. Of course, I always had something better/more important/more pressing to do.

Now, I have a time set next week for 20 minutes, when I will make that call. And the number for the office is in the appointment.

This has been working well for projects, broken down into realistic chunks of work, and other tasks at home.

I’ve known people to block “work time” on their calendars, but without committing to what they will spend that time on, they tend to either schedule over that time with meetings or flail about, trying to decide what to do and ultimately feeling like they didn’t use that time well after all.

By getting specific about what I need to do and committing the time to it, I find I am more likely to keep my appointments with my work and to make progress.

What about those little things that really do only take a minute or two?

Schedule a 15 minute slot of your day for “quick tasks” – or whatever you want to call it – and spend that time plugging through your list. (Beware the internet!). This is the same method I’m using to tackle my gargantuan inbox. 15 minutes a day.

The key to making this work is finding the way that fits your personality best.

If you’re a morning person, you may make your list first thing and tackle a few items before leaving the house. You probably won’t make progress if you’re trying to set aside time after everyone’s gone to bed to work on something important.

If you’re an evening person, you may carve out some time later in the day to work without interruption on a long-term project. Getting up at 5a.m. to try something new might not be best for you.

Regardless of your personality, knowing what needs to be done and when you will do it is key.

I’d love to hear from you if you have techniques you’ve used to get out from under big projects – or if you’ve tried these approaches and they didn’t work.