Back when I was working at Atlassian I noticed a change in my day to day: meeting creep. You all know meeting creep, it’s those kickoff meetings that suddenly become a standing once a week or worse, it’s the information share that is nothing more than adult story time, or the invitations to totally unrelated projects that pop up like Whack-A-Mole.
The biggest problem was that all of these new meetings were eating right into my focus time, or the core hours of the day when I am at my creative and productive best. The hours vary for everyone, but for me the sweet spot is from 10am until lunch around 1pm.
Losing this solid block of hours was crushing my productivity and job satisfaction because I wasn’t able to go deep on the projects I needed (and loved) to do, or just straight up needed to get done.
One time I was asked to work on the creative for an ad in Times Square, basically the project of a lifetime for a New Yorker like myself, with only a week or two to turn it around. With a solid block of meetings every day I was freaking out that it was never going to get done in time, so I pulled late hours and lost sleep to get it done. When the ad was live and the company went to watch it, the feeling was amazing, but the journey getting there sucked.
The maker vs. manager problem
It’s not like I’m some sort of procrastinator who poorly manages their time. The reality is that I am a maker in a world structured by managers. Paul Graham, founder of Y Combinator, wrote a classic piece about makers vs managers and reading it at the time really struck a chord with me.
Makers need large blocks of time for deep creative thought and execution. It’s impossible to explore an idea and then build it if you are constantly bombarded by meetings or pings from Slack where even if you are able to get back to your original task, the effects of context switching can be very costly.
However, we live in a world that is run by managers. They are the business leaders that shape much of the day to day within a company, and they trade in a different currency than makers.
For managers, the basic currency is information, whereas for makers the basic currency is ideas. Information is easily traded in back to back blocks of meetings. Ideas, however, can be a bit trickier and time consuming because they need time to be developed and distilled, which require long stretches of uninterrupted exploration and discovery.
When managers don’t understand this they create a really difficult working environment for makers. The best managers to work for are they ones who understand the creative process and give makers space for it to unfold.
How I made time for making
My solution to the problem was simple but effective: I blocked out every day of my calendar from 10am-1pm with “Focus Time (Ask Before Booking).”
I find that this is usually a good amount of time for me to execute on an idea before I feel a nature pull towards doing something else.
The results? After telling my team my conundrum and my solution of blocking out time daily to create, I found that 99% of the time people completely honored my calendar and would simply find other availability and book that instead.
Every once in a while there would be an emergency where I would obviously attend a meeting, but those were very infrequent. I was also very lucky to have a manager who understood the importance of deep work and focus time who supported the effort and encouraged the team to have entirely meeting-free days.
Start Small For Quick Calendar Wins
If you don't take control of your calendar you will never be able to find the focus required to get your best work done. I am sure that for some people carving out this much time seems impossible so start small.
Try talking to your manager during your next 1:1 and take a look at your calendar together to see what can be done. There are probably plenty of meetings that you've been added to because it's so easy to add everyone instead of risking someone feeling left out.
Find those recurring status update meetings and turn them into async text or Loom based updates. Even getting back 30 minutes here and there is a great way to curb meeting creep and gain back time to get more done.