Jun 17 2008

Office Hours

When I was at MIT, I loved the idea of office hours.  I didn’t use them often, but when I did they were incredibly helpful to me.  When I had focused one on one time with a professor, it took some of the intimidation out of the learning experience and gave me a tight window to be open about the ideas and concepts that I was struggling with, while not worrying about being graded on that stuff.

I received a note from a blog reader recently in response to one of my work-life balance posts.  In it he said "I have kids that I like to spend time with so one thing that I do that quite a few of my peers have adopted is have office hours from 8pm-10pm.  People know they can reach me and it’s the one time I don’t mind getting "have you heard of this or that" type of emails.  Then I can get in later and leave earlier. "

I thought this was a brilliant idea.  I’ve been doing this with TechStars, although not late at night since I’m basically useless after 10pm. Instead, I schedule a block of "office hours time" once a week and get through a bunch of focused 30 minute interactions.  I’ve also got this scheduled in July while I’m at my house in Homer, AK for when I want to do phone calls; there’s a block of time every day that are the equivalent of office hours.  I’m sure I’ll periodically have other phone calls throughout the day around urgent stuff, but anything that doesn’t need to be dealt with in real time will be relegated to office hours.

When I step back and think about my work pacing, the office hours concept plays a big role.  I already schedule almost all of my phone calls and my assistant Kelly has blocks throughout the day when she knows she can do this.  Overall, most of my time is scheduled so I have specific blocks when I am "in class" (usually board meetings or meetings with companies), "office hours" (when I’m on the phone or taking blocks of short meetings such as the random meetings that I do), and "research time" (when I have time to work on exploring new stuff, writing, reading, and thinking.)

I hadn’t ever put it together that a lot of my pacing mirrors what I’d do if I was in an academic setting.  When I was at MIT, I watched my advisor Eric von Hippel have an excellent rhythm for his work.  I think I’ve unconsciously mirrored some of it, albeit with a different tempo.