When I first started managing, I expected that I’d magically have more time since I could delegate important problems to people on my team. But team support takes more time than I had anticipated, with recruiting, weekly 1:1s, debugging team issues, performance reviews — and that's before even talking about the product.
For a while I was totally reactive. I accepted any meetings I got invited to, and said yes to every 1:1 request. Each 1:1 was interesting and useful, but I spent so much time in 1:1s or broad discussions that I didn't have time for my goals.
Especially as a lifelong procrastinator who is easily distracted 😊, I’ve learned to be more disciplined about my calendar. My top tips:
Explicitly outline my priorities and match my calendar to them. I outline my goals every 6 months, including what % of time I expect to spend on each goal. If 20% of my time should be spent supporting my team, what if I hold 1 whole day every week for that? That way my priorities directly translate to where I’m spending time. These priorities also have to include whatever solo time I need to think about hard problems. Whatever doesn’t fit on my calendar, I know I need to delegate or decline.
Match my calendar to my energy, and build in space for breaks. I think better in the morning, so I set aside blocks of “thinking time” a few mornings every week that I don’t schedule over. And all of my 1:1s are 25 minutes, so even if my schedule is back-to-back all day, that 5-minute break between meetings gives me a chance to pour myself a cup of tea and re-energize.
If I get the same kind of request 3+ times, create a dedicated structure for it. If people repeatedly ask for product decisions, I need to create a product review process. If people repeatedly ask for management advice, I could set up monthly coffee chats for anyone who’s interested, or write a shareable note. (The posts I’m publishing here all grew out of these internal notes!)
Create different spaces dedicated to specific purposes (and label them) so everyone is clear on what problems will be solved where. For instance, for my direct reports, I want to unblock day-to-day issues, coach through difficult situations, and discuss long-term career growth. So I create an async 1:1 forum (eg, a WhatsApp chat) with each of my directs and use it for day-to-day product or team questions. That way, we can focus our 1:1 meetings on coaching. And I mark one 1:1 meeting every month for a “career conversation”, so we don’t lose track of that in the urgency of the day-to-day.
Publish my priorities to my team. Every Monday I publish my weekly priorities and give myself a score on last week's priorities. This forces me to write down what's important and make sure I have time set aside for it. It’s also an easy way for my team to understand what I’m working on (and what I’m not working on), plus shows that it’s okay for them to also prioritize their time.
Use tricks like the Pomodoro technique to get focused even in short time windows. If I know I only have 15 minutes and am having trouble focusing, I take five minutes for a break, and then set a timer for 10 minutes and tell myself I’ll focus on one thing for just that long.
The true test of whether my system is working? If someone comes to me with a request, 80% of the time I can immediately direct them to a good way to solve it. That way I don’t have to spend extra time or energy figuring out how to make time for it, until I actually need to change my structure in a bigger way.
And most importantly, this calendar discipline gives me focused time to make progress on my goals, which are all about building better products — and that’s what matters to the people we’re trying to serve.
#5 is gold. Will start from next Monday!
Agree, #5 is solid. I built an app to help me with 1 & 2 called HeyToday (HeyToday.co). It still needs some love, but it has been helpful to make the amount of time tasks take more explicit.