Monday, June 27, 2011

My one hour blocks of life

If you open up your calendar and take a look at it, is your day divided in hours?  Each hour is filled with some activity?  I have wondered about this paradigm.  Why do my days have to be divided up by hours?  Do these activities and meetings really need an hour or multiples of hour to be executed?  I learned this lesson when I returned from the United States to take up an assignment in Singapore.

The team in Singapore had heard of me but I have not met them personally.  So I thought it would be great to get to know them better on my first visit.  Before I left for Singapore, I emailed my assistant to set up time with each of my direct reports.

The first manager came in at the appointed time and we chatted.  I asked her about her work and her interests.  We chatted on other topics and I felt the conversation went well.  It was about the end of the meeting when she asked me if I didn’t want to see her credentials, diplomas and certificates.  I was puzzled by that request and I asked her why.  She thought it was a job interview.  I asked her why she thought so.  She said that all the meetings with the managers were scheduled for an hour each.  It was so structured that she assumed that it was an interview to determine if she kept her job.  I nearly burst out laughing but kept my composure.  I told her that it was not a job interview but my way of getting to know them better.

I thought that it was just her perception about the “job interview.”  When the next manager came to meet with me, he too brought his certificates and diplomas.  I knew I had created a situation that I hadn’t intended.  This formal one-hour schedule seemed to have given them that perception.

I had been very used to setting my meeting and activity schedules in multiples of one hour.  Breakfast meeting from 7 to 8 in the morning; meeting with a client at 9; meeting with a manager at 10; and so forth.  Your calendar may look similar.  It seemed that this is the norm.

Later in my tenure in Singapore, I was struggling to manage my time better and trying to get more things done each day.  There were a lot of situations, issues and problems that needed to be addressed and dealt with.  Even with all the empowerment and participative processes, I am being stressed for time and energy.  I began to challenge my own paradigm on setting my schedules in one-hour time blocks.  I thought to myself that if I had a 10-hour workday, mathematically, I could only have 10 meetings or activities.  If I included lunch and transit time, it will be less than 10. If each meeting or activity addresses an issue or problem, I can only deal with 10 or less.  I had more problems than that.  This system cannot continue to work for me.

Do I always need an hour for each discussion or activities?  Some issues needed more time but some needed less.  For those that needed more time, I have short changed the people helping me solve that issue.  For those that didn’t need the hour, I had created some inefficiency to fill up the hour and thus wasted mine and my people’s time. 

I began experimenting with different time groupings.  I tried out 30 minute slots.  Mathematically, still assuming a 10-hour workday, I now can have as many as 20 meetings or activities.  Some meetings will still require two blocks of 30 minutes.  Working on this paradigm forces me to become more efficient with each meeting or discussion.  If I attended an 8 hour training session, I can still deal with 4 issues before the end of the day.

Personally I like the 15 minute block.  My team quickly got use to this 15 minute slots.  If they needed more time, they can schedule, for example, three 15 minute blocks.  I get productive and my people get productive too.  We are more succinct and precise with our time and focus.

I recently created a poll to find out how people organized their day.  I was pleasantly surprise to find that there were people who had organized their days in 15 minute blocks.  The number of people who responded to the poll was small and statistically not significant.  However, it is interesting that one-quarter of the people organized their day in 15 minute chunks.  Another 25% of the people organized their day by 30 minutes and the rest by the hour.  Another interesting revelation is that those who set their times by 15 and 30 minute slots are from the managerial ranks.  I leave you to ponder on this data.

I use an electronic calendar to manage my schedules.  At best they come in 30 minute slots.  Organizing the day by 15 minutes is challenging.  Still it will be worth a try.  We need to change our paradigm on managing our daily schedule.  Moving it to 15 minute block forces one to be more efficient with one’s time.  There is more to gain by trying.  The worse is that you return to four 15-minute chunks in your time management.  Let me know what you think about this paradigm. More importantly, enjoy your productive day.