On May 24th, I wrote a post titled Shifting To Maker Mode For The Summer. I had full intentions of making this shift around Memorial Day and sustaining it until Labor Day.
I have completely failed at this. While I’m managed to stay off social media and read a lot more than watch TV, I massively underestimated the amount of transactional activity I’d have this summer. On Monday mornings, when I’d look at my schedule for the week, I’d see a wall of blue through Friday, starting early in the morning and going until dinner time. My goal was to have nothing scheduled until 1 pm with an upper bound at 5 pm, but this ended up being an epic fail. And, as a bonus, I’ve had a dinner almost every night between Monday and Thursday so far this summer (that’s not a good thing.) I’ve had a few days that weren’t completely full, but they’ve ended up being catch-up days.
The next few of weeks are more of the same. So, I’ve accepted that Maker Mode is not happening this summer.
I’ve got two books in process: Give First and Startup Communities 2. I wrote 15,000 words on Give First in March but haven’t opened my Scrivener file since. I have a co-author (Ian Hathaway) work is hard at work on the first draft of Startup Communities 2, so at least he’s making progress, but I haven’t even started holding up my part of that particular bargain.
I’m am running and have committed to do the Run Crazy Horse marathon in South Dakota in October. The running has been great for my body and even better for my mental health, so that’s good.
I feel deep equanimity around this. In the past, I’d be frustrated with myself for not getting in gear. But in hindsight, it’s clear that maker mode wasn’t realistic given the other work commitments I have along with all of the episodic stuff that regularly comes up in my work life. Snoopy continues to be my guide on this particular journey.
My favorite and most productive time of the year is from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Basically, summertime.
Normally I’d declare this the Tuesday after the Memorial Day weekend but I’m just getting over a cold so fuck it, summertime starts today.
During maker mode, I try to only do meetings and phone calls in the afternoons between 1 and 5. There are some exceptions – mostly board meetings – but I try to give myself lots of space to work on the longer term stuff. While this is mostly writing, it also includes deeper work for specific companies, especially around product and product strategy. Essentially, things that take more than 30 minutes of concentration.
Last weekend Amy and I shifted into reading mode over the weekend (we were both sick so couldn’t do much other than lay on the couch, read, fall asleep, and complain about feeling crappy.) It continued into the week – the TV hasn’t been on for a while and evenings are spent on our couches with the dogs and our Kindles. Heaven.
In addition to turning off the TV, I’ve turned off all the continuous interrupts. I’m not looking at social media (although I am still broadcasting.) I’m not looking at news (I figure anything I really need to know will find its way to me) other than my continuous stream of tech news in my a Slack channel. My Sunday New York times habit will be banished until after Labor Day. Podcasts – forget it – for a while.
While I fantasize that I can be in maker mode all the time, I’ve found it incredibly difficult to sustain throughout the year. For some reason, the tempo of the summer makes it easy. Maybe it’s because the days are longer. Or it’s warmer and more people melt away. Or after 40+ years of behaving a certain way, summer is just different for me than the rest of the year.
Have you ever finished something and thought to yourself, “That didn’t need to take an hour?”
In my world, I have an endless stream of requests to do something for an hour. I just looked at my calendar for the next two weeks and almost everything that someone else scheduled and invited me to is for an hour.
In contrast, all of the things I (or my assistant) have scheduled are for 30 minutes. And many of them will take five minutes.
If you schedule a meeting for an hour, it’s remarkable to me how often it takes an hour, even when it doesn’t need to. Three hour board meetings, especially when board members have traveled to them, take – wait for the drum roll – three hours.
During the day, between Monday and Friday, I generally have a very scheduled life. I go through phases where I shift into Maker Mode, now no longer schedule anything before 11am my time (with occasional exceptions), and try to have a very unscheduled weekend. But Monday to Friday looks like the following:
Over time, I’ve come up with some approaches to deal with this massively over-scheduled life in order to stay sane. Here are a few of them.
30 minute schedule slots: I’ve tried it all. 60 minutes. 15 minutes. 5 minutes. 45 minutes. 37 minutes. The only thing that I’ve found that works is 30 minutes. If I schedule for 15 minutes, I inevitably have too many things in a day and get completely exhausted. If I schedule for more than 30 minutes, I find myself twiddling my thumbs and trying to get finished with the meeting. 30 minutes seems to be the ideal amount to get any type of meeting done.
A walk: If I have a longer, more thoughtful discussion I want to have with someone, I go for a walk. I have four routes around downtown Boulder – 15, 30, 45, and 60 minute walks. All of these walks have the same loop so even when I schedule for a 60 minute walk, I have an easy way to turn it into a 30 minute walk if it’s clear that’s all it’s going to take. Or, if I’m into the first 15 minutes and realize it needs to be an hour, I just extend to the 30 minute segment. My worst case on a walk that goes too long is that I get some steps for my daily Fitbit habit.
Phone calls: I schedule almost all phone calls, except for ones with high priority people. This high priority ones interrupt whatever I’m doing or get done on a drive to and from the office. If you hang around me, you’ll see that my phone rarely rings (except for Amy) and I rarely make calls outbound as most of my world runs on email or real-time messaging.
End everything early: I try to end everything when it’s done. I jump right in and finish when we are finished. When you give things 30 minutes, you don’t have time to futz around with intros and catch ups. When someone starts this way, I break in and say as politely as I can, “What’s on your mind?” On the phone, I minimize chit chat and just try to get to the point. And, after five minutes when we are done, I revel in the notion that I’ve got 25 minutes to do whatever I want.
I’m always experimenting with new things. What do you do to keep meetings manageable and sane?
I had a great breakfast meeting at the Cambridge Marriott with Michael Schrage, a research fellow at MIT yesterday morning. We had never met before and I loved the conversation – his brain was bubbling with ideas that are relevant to many of the things I’m interested in, he challenged some of my thinking, and we had a deep and awesome conversation about open source hardware, makers, and MakerBot.
This morning Raj Bhargava (who recently co-founded two companies I’ve invested in – Yesware and SkedulMe) sent me a blog post by Michael titled Tip for Getting More Organized: Don’t. In it Michael makes the argument that the notion of spending time each day organizing your tasks, the concept of email folders, and the idea of productively organizing yourself is obsolete. The money quote at the end is:
“The essential takeaway is that the new economics of personal productivity mean that the better organized we try to become, the more wasteful and inefficient we become. We’ll likely get more done better if we give less time and thought to organization and greater reflection and care to desired outcomes. Our job today and tomorrow isn’t to organize ourselves better; it’s to get the right technologies that respond to our personal productivity needs. It’s not that we’re becoming too dependent on our technologies to organize us; it’s that we haven’t become dependent enough.”
I couldn’t agree more. I spent almost no time “organizing my tasks.” In fact, I no longer have a task list. I have outcomes I’m going after. They fit within a daily, weekly, quarterly, and annual tempo. The daily and weekly outcomes are dynamic – I have to think about them regularly and they change and shift around (I have new ones each day and new ones each week.) I call these my Daily P1s and my Weekly P1s (which I wrote about recently in a post titled Managing Priorities)- the daily ones are the three things I want to accomplish before I go to sleep; the weekly ones are the three things I want to accomplish each week before Monday morning.
But that’s it. I have a daily schedule that is highly structured (and managed by my assistant) so I don’t have to spend a millisecond thinking about who I need to meet with, where I need to be, or what I need to schedule for later. If you know me, you know that I just “go where my schedule tells me to.” I process all of my email with one touch, I write what I want when I want, and I have a strong conceptual hierarchy for prioritizing high interrupt things. I also stay off the phone unless scheduled – if you spend time with me for a day it’s likely that the only time I’m on the phone is with Amy to say “hi – I love you” or have a pre-scheduled call.
I love the notion of focusing on outcomes rather than organization. For as long as I’ve been an adult, I’ve been hearing about, reading, thinking about, and experimenting with different technology to be “more organized and productive.” I’m an aggressive user of whatever exists and when I reflect on where I’m at in 2012 I definitely feel like I’ve gotten to the place where I’m spending almost all of my time and energy on outcomes and achieving them, not on organizing myself.
If you are someone who spends 30 minutes or more a day “organizing yourself”, I encourage you to step back and think about what you could change and how that might shift you from focusing on organizing to working toward outcomes. It’s liberating.
I’m at the end of day three of another very intense, but enjoyable and satisfying week. I’ve been in Seattle the past two days and am headed to LA for the next two days before finally making it home after being on the road for the past two weeks.
As I was getting ready to go to bed in order to wake up in time to make my 6:40am flight, I was rolling my one remaining priority for the week around in my head. I was thinking to myself, “two down, one to go.” And I realized I have been using a construct of “three priorities a week max” for a long time.
Now, I do a lot more than three things a week. But, on Monday mornings as I’m going through my daily information routine, I usually carve out a few minutes to make sure I have my priorities for the week firmly lodged in my brain. I limit myself to three as I don’t think you can have more than three “highest priorities” at any given time. When I start the week, I make a clear mental commitment to get these priorities (or P1’s in Zynga speak) done. Each day when I wake up, I think about what I need to do to get closure on these priorities.
Some weeks I have three, others I have one or two. I always have at least one. And they are always important. Occasionally I can’t get one done and it rolls over into the next week, but once something becomes a P1 it stays a P1 until it gets done. And I can never have more than three P1’s. And they should all be able to be completed by the end of the week. But most importantly, they are clearly defined and easily explained (e.g. if you walk up to me and ask me what my P1s are for this week, I should be able to recite them without thinking.)
While I have plenty of things that I’m working on that have a much longer arch than one week, I find this weekly rhythm to be very grounding. I have a clear sense of accomplishment on a weekly basis, I clear the decks of big priorities, and I regularly tackle hard stuff that just needs to get done. I also have many more than three things that I complete each week, including things that regularly come up that are as important (or even more important) that whatever I’ve defined as my P1s for that week. But I don’t shuffle the priorities around – by having the big ones for the week set at the beginning of the week, I have a clear set to focus on whenever I need to re-ground myself.
One more to go. I’ve got two days to get it done. And I’ve got plenty of time on my remaining two plane flights to knock it off.