Warren Buffett’s work calendar holds the key to more meaningful work. But it’s not what’s on his calendar that reveals this secret — it’s what’s missing from it.
Nearly 30 years ago, Buffett had a meeting with Bill Gates during which he showed him his personal calendar. But rather than being packed with meetings, its pages were conspicuously empty. His explanation: Time is the one thing entrepreneurs need to control, and keep open.
I couldn’t agree more. Through many years of experience I’ve learned that time, more than anything, is my most valuable asset, and something I need to carefully self-govern. Because when I’m beholden to other peoples’ schedules — when my personal time dwindles to the occasional 15-minute window — that’s when I lose my creative spark.
I can’t effectively ideate in tiny intervals between meetings. And when my entire day is comprised of meeting after meeting, then I can’t do much of anything effectively. I don’t think most people can.
New ideas, inspiration: These things take time — uninterrupted, personal work time. To me, it’s on companies to build a world where employees can optimize their time. The net result is better thinking, better work, and a better product.
Making time in an overscheduled age
To be an leader today is to be overscheduled past the point of no return. Today’s working world demands it. Since the 1991 Buffet/Gates meeting, there have been seismic shifts in the way work gets done, and almost all of them involve more meetings and less “PWT” (personal work time).
The reality is that most of our working time isn’t ours. Whether you’re a front-end developer with deadlines to meet or an entrepreneur with investors to appease, you’re going to spend the majority of your day beholden to other people’s time.
The challenge now is how to strategically schedule personal time in an age of constant overscheduling. That’s why it’s important for business leaders to foster a workplace culture that is optimized for better time management. Here are some recommendations for leaders:
- Give meetings more purpose: As a leader, the onus is on you to run better and more time-efficient meetings. If your company isn’t already incorporating agile principles to dictate meeting formats, it’s time to hop on that train. By effectively codifying meeting types according to function — planning meetings, review meetings, cross-team alignment meetings, for example — and delineating clear agendas for each meeting type, you can significantly reduce the quantity and length of meetings and free up needed time.
- Make meetings exclusive: There’s a story about Steve Jobs in which he entered a meeting he was leading, scanned the room, honed in on one person, and pointedly asked the person why she was there, then asked her to leave. Harsh technique notwithstanding, there’s actionable insight in that story: Namely, it’s important to only have relevant stakeholders present at any given meeting. All meetings should only be comprised of people who should actively participate. Any excess meeting fat only wastes time.
- Schedule your personal work time: We need to do away with cultures of busyness where a packed calendar denotes one’s value. Overriding that perception begins with higher-level employees demonstrating a commitment to personal work time. To me, building personal work time into my own calendar — say, a 1-hour slot on Monday at 3 p.m. — is a concrete way to show employees that they can and should do the same.
- Use technology to run your team more efficiently: Using a project management solution, like Asana or Basecamp, gives teams the power to execute projects from start to finish without having to schedule a weekly or monthly meeting to discuss progress. Users can do everything from assign tasks and deadlines to set goals and communicate results. We use Asana for our marketing campaigns, which has helped our marketing team run more efficiently.
With all that said, it isn’t my goal to overthrow overscheduling. But, I do think it’s essential for business leaders to consider ways to preserve their personal work time. This needs to begin at the leadership level if it’s going to permeate across an organization. It’s one thing that all business leaders should make time for.
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