One of the first things to do when you get some semblance of control over your schedule is batch processing meetings. The worst days are those where you have 6 meetings with 30 minute gaps between them. The attention residue alone will prevent you from getting anything done. This isn’t easy to avoid because most places tend to have 3-4 standing meetings that involve a larger group of people that can’t really be moved.
There’s a 3 step process that I’ve come to rely on to get more out of the week –
1. Assign meeting days. Depending on the larger group meetings, assign 2 (or 3) days of your week as meeting days. Every time a new meeting comes up, schedule it on these 2 days.
2. Schedule meetings yourself. As far as possible, take charge of scheduling your meetings so you can batch process them. When you schedule them, look to do them either side of your larger meetings so you do them back-to-back. Where possible, try to find ways you can do that for the other person too. If not, don’t worry – take it as your reward for doing the work. And, when in doubt, schedule them for the back end of the day so you keep your mornings free.
3. Protect your deep work days. As time passes, begin putting in blocks on your deep work days so no one schedules meetings.
If this works well, you will soon find 2-3 days in a week where you have large stretches of time available to you for deep work. And, during your meeting days, you will find smaller extended stretches to dive in. While it helps greatly to develop a mentality where you use every block of time available to you to dive into deep work – perhaps simply by putting your headphones on -, I’ve realized that it works much better when you build a schedule conducive to it.
And, as you might have guessed, the principles surrounding batch processing meetings can work just as well if applied to admin work, email, etc., etc.
One of the simplest ways to find value is to look for what is scarce. In our age of distraction, focus is scarce. And, the onus is on us to build schedules that enable us to focus and get the most out of the day. It isn’t the hours we spend work that counts, it is the work we get done in those hours.