This is post covers a topic that I wanted to write on for quite a while. Few weeks ago Dirk asked me on how I employ the timeblocking technique and that got me into the mood of actually tackling this subject. Especially since that week was one of those weeks that - due to my son being sick at home - ended up completely different than planned. I’ll specifically not focus on the tools I use, but on the technique and method. If you’re interested in my tooling, let me know. I want to give an insight on how I organize myself - just because it works for me, this doesn’t mean it is a good fit for others. If at all take it as an source for inspiration - not as strict recipe. Furthermore this is not a strict dogma, but moreover something I constantly work on and improve.
My weekly planning is the result from reading various books and articles and being inspired by those. A fair chunk comes from The seven habits of highly effective people as well as numerous podcast episodes on time management by Ivan Blatter.
On a regular base I sit down and take a glance at the various roles I have in life to make sure that I give them the appropriate space and attention. For me these currently are:
- Family father and husband
- Me and my hobbies (sports, reading, …)
- Head of development at gridscale
- Advisor to couple companies
- Member of the board at OSB Alliance
- CIO for the infrastructure at OSBA
- Active contributor to the SCS project
I see that I organise all my stuff around these roles or fit items into these roles. My calendar is usually halfway filled with recurring items, these consist of:
- Family events, eg. stuff I do with my son and/or wife
- Regular meetings at work
- Regular other activities, such as sport, meetings at OSB Alliance, board meetings
- Time for myself
- Blockers to make sure there is room for spontaneous items
I plan my weeks on Sundays and the process is:
- Review last week and see which
- items I missed to tackle that were planned
- which roles I neglected
- see if I missed anything in the week, that I’d like to have done, but where there was no room
- Check my backlog for items that should be scheduled for the next two weeks
- Check my backlog for stuff that could be done next week or that I want to do
- Items from my backlog include blocks for which I need focus time. I make sure to have several portions of focus time each week. These are chunks of time where I can dive into the tunnel mode and work uninterrupted.
- In my planning session I usually peak up to four weeks forward.
If items arrive during the week that can be scheduled easily without any urgency, I add them to the backlog. Items are not only tasks but moreover “things that take a moment to deal with properly”. A good example are e-mails that I need to respond to, that take more than just a few minutes or that require some research. Furthermore anything that sparks my mind as an idea is added to the backlog. Very small items I try to get done immediately instead of adding them to list (since then one just spends time organising and shuffling lists items instead of getting things done ;) For items that arise with more urgency, I use blockers that I have as recurring items and I add these items to one of the existing blockers. As mentioned above, I organise things by the roles: as such my backlog reflects categories that match these.
I work with two calendars that I fill with data.
- Work calendar
- in this calendar all my work colleagues can schedule stuff with me
- Non-work calendar
- here I’m the only one that adds items
Since in my work calendar all my colleagues can schedule stuff, I need to make sure time that is blocked in my non-work calendar is not available in the work calendar. I either do this by placing blockers or by inviting my work-myself when creating the entry in my non-work calendar. There are tools that solve this, I just did not go through the hassle of setting them up.
When I schedule stuff with others, I usually try to not schedule for an hour. Instead I do things like:
- Schedule from :05 till :50, so that there is buffer between meetings.
- If I get invites to meetings that will be back to back, I respond and make clear that I will drop out a bit earlier. Back-to-back meetings do not make sense and in there is the need to at least have a quick bio-break in between.
- If I have several meetings in a row, that do have space in between them, I actually create an blocking entry spanning all the meetings, so that nobody even tries to nudge a small meeting in between them. Yes, people do that ;)
Dealing with meeting invites
- If I receive a calendar invite that I know that I can’t participate, I respond immediately. That makes life easier for everyone.
- If I receive a calendar invite that I’m not sure about, I respond with ‘Maybe’ - since I want to signal that I saw the invite, but am not sure about my attendance.
- Participating in meetings boils down to me that I want to create additional value in the meeting. If it is not clear what my role in the meeting will be or how I add value in a meeting, I respond with ‘Maybe’ (so that the time is blocked in the calendar) and ask for further info to validate.
My calendar is a bit like my diary (not quite, since I actually do keep a separate journal) - however if I do stuff that is not resembled in my calendar, I actually add an item in my calendar for it. This serves purely the purpose of being able to recall what I did. Do you know these weeks, where you ask yourself: “geez, what a week. I’m exhausted but I feel like I’ve not achieved anything” - for these days or weeks this habit is really useful. I just look in my calendar and see what I did ;)
If I see collisions or know that I can’t make a certain appointment, I’m very keen on notifying the others as soon as it becomes apparent to me. Most things can be dealt with in a good manor if raised early enough.
Being late to meetings
People that have worked or dealt with me know that I’m very down to the point if it comes to being on time. I belong to those people that do think, that being on time is a way to show respect to others. However, there can always be valid reasons for being late. I used to become fairly annoyed with people being late. In the last few years, I’ve shifted my mind regarding that. Instead of becoming worked up about it, I always have a few little tiny items I want to get done, that I do while waiting. Since there is nothing more unproductive than starting into a meeting with a grudge. ;)
At the end of my planning session on Sunday, my week is planned and the calendar is filled. Each day holds a timeblock for spontaneous items - that is one of the important items, otherwise things will get crazy quickly. Life holds a lot of surprises, especially if there are factors such as Kids, other people one takes care of, pets, friends that have emergencies, incidents at work and all that. If things goes out of order, I use my calendar to have the source of info on what I have to re-organize. Being in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ll give an example from a few months ago: On Tuesday we got notified that the crib my son goes to will be closed for the next three days until the weekend, meaning either my wife or me have to stay home and take care of our son during the day. My calendar allows me to quickly asses what will be affected by that and allows me - within minutes - to reschedule and rearrange (move items from calendar to the backlog, move to next week and revisit during the next planning session) items. There are positive examples as well: On a sunny Wednesday I decide: This would be the perfect day to go out for a nice road cycling ride - or a friend calls and asks whether we want to have lunch together. My calendar is allowed to change during the week - the planning is an assistance to organize and needs to feel good, and should not cause me to feel like being imprisoned ;)
As part of my morning routine I go over my day and see which items are important today. In the same session I do a quick review of yesterday and see whether there is anything that I’ve missed, that can’t be delayed any further. Throughout the day I see that I stick to my calendar - this especially helps me with items that are in the category “are not fun, but need to be done” - since if something is in my calendar scheduled and I detect myself being actively procrastinating, I do what my calendar tells me to ;)
- Dirk pointed out that it is not apparent, that my week includes focus time. I made this more clear in the backlog section.