February 13, 2022

My calendar, then and now

Tuesday, May 9, 2017. Today looks like a full day in Gurgaon, India, where I will be for 2 days. Then, I head to Jaipur to visit a BPO and finish my trip in Mumbai to tour new facilities. The entire week’s schedule was reflective of a typical precovid travel, one that I felt was imperative to the success of my role. A week in the home office in Manila was often worse, addressing local issues and meeting with colleagues. Reviewing the schedules now, I must have been crazy. Here’s why.

The day starts with a 5:30am IST (Indian Standard Time) 1on1 with my manager based in the US, followed by breakfast (masala dosa with tomato chutney…yummy!). My Uber takes me to the office at Horizon Center for a Zoom meeting at 7:30am. I ready myself with a Coffee Day latte from the self-serve machine. The day goes by in a blur as I have six more 30 minute 1on1s and five business reviews. There wasn’t even time scheduled for lunch so I switched one of the 1on1s to a lunch meeting.

Though it is 5:30pm, I am not done yet. A happy hour followed by a team dinner. Before the late dinner, I had to step out for an hour-long team call with my boss and his global leadership team. Yes, I am the lucky person he sees last at night and first in the morning. I end the night with a healthy (or unhealthy, depending on you look at it) dose of “large” drinks before retreating to the hotel to prepare for a 7:30am meeting the next day. In all, on Tuesday, May 9, 2017, I had 13 meetings (seven 1on1s, five reviews, and one team meeting) and one team dinner.

What the hell was I thinking?

The typical days did not have individual work and thinking time, as that was reserved for evenings when I was least alert. Not a great overall approach to time management. The Covid lockdowns gave me time to reflect on my approach. From flipping through my calendar over the past five years, the biggest consistent investment of my time comes from 1on1s, interviews, and business check-in’s/ reviews.

1on1s. Training on management teaches that 1on1s with direct reports are crucial to people management. Somehow, I fell into the practice of having 1on1s with my direct reports every week, with skip levels every quarter, and with stakeholders monthly or quarterly. With nine direct reports and 45 to 60 minutes per 1on1, I literally spend one full day each week on 1on1s. I spent more time with most of my colleagues than my siblings, parents, and close friends. While certain weeks we have plenty to chat about, for the most part, we do not need that much time. I have switched my live 1on1s to every other week and switched a formulaic cadence for an as-needed one for others.

Interviews. Before, I wanted to be part of the interview process for every manager role, but that turned out to be too much of a time drain. These days, I rely on people who I know are good interviewers who have hired great people. We have also reduced our steps in the process and constantly tweak the process to improve the results. The interview load has reduced by over 70% without impact to great hires.

Business related check-in’s. Too many times, I joined reviews to discuss issues where the presenter presented data that should have been read offline. Reading it by ourselves would take only a fraction of the time and yields more understanding and retention. These days, I've moved most reviews to email only. We hop on a Zoom if there are discussions needed. Four out of five previous live meetings can be read-only these days.

Overall, my calendar today is foreign to what it was before, with the focus less on 1on1s and meetings. I strategically reserve my alert moments for thinking and doing, plan in a short nap to recharge, and conduct meetings only as needed. My days are much more productive and impactful than ever before.

What calendar hacks or lessons do you have?

#DeliverbyWenSzuLin #TheUntaughtLessons