Ready to book “focus time” for not doing much?
It was a Wednesday morning and I was very excited by a breakthrough workflow I had conceived for my next product, so I couldn’t wait to have the chance to clear my mind and unleash my creative side, capturing what I proudly had in mind and transforming it into a comprehensive set of requirements for UX and Engineering. In the end, these are the activities that nurture Product Management souls.
A vain hope
I glanced at my calendar and felt frustrated by a back-to-back day with several double bookings, however, I identified a promising time slot for the following day, Thursday, from 3:30 pm to 5:30 pm. After rescheduling a 30 min 1:1 meeting I had in that time frame, I blocked my calendar with a 2-hour long event called “Focus — Epics Creation”.
Thursday went by fast, as always happens when you are busy with high adrenaline levels; I had been jumping from one meeting to another, without a second to have a break or stretch my legs, impatient to get to 3:30pm and have my fulfilling solo time.
The sad reality
The time came, I opened the official Product Management tool, I clicked “create” and the usual blank form opened in front of me; then, I stared at it without moving. After a couple of minutes trying to figure out where to start, I realized I had an acute episode of blank page syndrome. How could it be possible? The previous day I couldn’t stop the storm of thoughts running through my mind; every single product detail was clear, and I had visualized the perfect structure to clearly convey the right hierarchy of requirements.
I was worn out. Although awake, I did not have any energy left to focus on anything that required considerable effort, not even my favorite Product Management task. I had booked 2 hours of my day not to achieve even a fraction of my goal, yet, I was craving for having all the new requirements in writing and see the product taking shape.
In the end, during those 2 hours, I answered messages accumulated throughout the day.
“I’ll have a nice sleep tonight”, I thought, “and tomorrow morning, Friday, I’ll have a well-rested mind to focus on the requirements”.
So, the following day I woke up, went through my daily rituals, got to the office, opened my calendar, looked at the schedule, and blocked 2 hours of focus time from 10:00 am to 12:00 pm.
The firefight of the day
After the usual daily standup and a couple of back-to-back events, at 9:55 am I received a call from the VP of Products with an urgent task. A key customer showed a sudden interest in a new offering we were about to launch. Having a big logo willing to be an early adopter was a fantastic opportunity we couldn’t miss. So, I had been asked to sort out presentation materials and a live demo in record time for a session later in the afternoon.
Needless to say, the urgent Friday task dwarfed my beloved requirements, thus, I ended up working on them the entire Saturday morning, as it was the only convenient option for me to focus and get things done.
Why the solution is working over the weekend
Perhaps, because you are very busy during the day and worn out at night?
Well, I wish it was that simple…
Sticking to the calendar pace is draining
How many times were you in the middle of a back-to-back meeting streak, you had to go to the bathroom but you couldn’t?
How many times could you use some rest, rather than joining the next meeting with 10 people and care for just 30 seconds of it?
The more events you have on your calendar, the more constrained your day is, and constraints make you feel imprisoned in a constant tension to be on time for your next appointment.
How many times were you having lunch, and suddenly felt the compulsive need to check the calendar because you were uncertain of your next meeting start time?
Although you think you are focused on the task at hand, your mind is constantly tracking time in the background, draining energy and attention to make sure you show up on time for your next meeting.
What if you neglect the calendar?
The stakes are high.
Once, I was the host of a virtual meeting with my company executives at 1:00 pm, however, when I went to have a coffee with my team, I was convinced the start time was 1:30 pm. At 1:10 pm, my boss gave me a call wondering where I was. “At Starbucks with my teammates!”, I said… he replied: “we are all waiting for you on the bridge, open it”. That was the loudest “starting pistol” I had heard in a while, followed by the world record for the fastest sprint back to the office. I still think it’s a miracle no coffee was spilled in the rush.
Morale of the story: screw up once and your reputation is on the line.
Inspiration is never planned
Have you ever relaxed in the shower and had a big idea?
Have you ever had an original idea when you were on vacation?
When your mind is not under constant pressure then the magic happens.
After you had early morning calls with the team in India or Europe, and you have been focusing on problem solving for the rest of the morning, a focus time slot booked in the afternoon does not meet the conditions to enable creativity.
The reality is: you can’t plan inspirations. They just happen unpredictably, when our mind is clear and free to associate images, concepts and ideas in original ways, free from constant distractions and constraining routines.
Too many meetings prevent solo work
The more the events in your calendar, the less the solo time at your disposal to do the work that matters.
Before the 2020 pandemic hit, on average, managers spent 23 hours/week in meetings. During the pandemic, meeting time soared to 30 hours/week. This is one of the strongest reasons why work hours increased by 10% after the 2020 lockdown: people need more time to perform their own tasks and end up working overtime, sometimes during the weekend.
Distractions, interruptions, changes of plan and priorities
When you book focus time on your calendar, what is the probability you are going to actually focus on a task for the entire duration of the time slot?
Your wife calls, your dog barks, your kid cries, it’s someone’s birthday, people walk to your desk, your teammates are loudly discussing in the open space, and more. All these interruptions and distractions that require your attention disrupt your focus time, preventing you from reaching any flow state. You can dodge some of them, but sooner or later you’ll get hit.
Then, your boss calls you to give you two new short-term goals decided 30 min earlier in an executive meeting, and now your priorities for the day (sometimes days) suddenly change, making the previously planned focus impossible.
The end result is the frustration of seeing your plan crumbling in front of you, along with a new problem to solve: finding another time to focus in the near future. In the meantime, the sense of urgency increases, as your team depends on your input or a deadline gets inexorably closer.
Real life Activities don’t have a fixed duration
When you book a focus time slot, what is the probability you are going to complete the task you blocked your calendar for?
Let’s say you are working from home, kids are at school, wife is at the park with your dog, you have earplugs on, phone is silent with screen down on the desk, notifications are off, Outlook is closed.
Now, you have a good shot at focusing. You booked 2 hours based on your judgment of the level of effort needed to complete your solo tasks.
Have you ever thought about the consequences of your inaccurate prediction?
You might get lucky and pick the exact time you need, which is an optimal scenario. However, more likely, you will need more or less time than predicted.
When you need more time
You get to the end of your 2-hour slot and you aren’t done. Unfortunately, it’s time to join a meeting, or work on something else. So, you’ll have to find more time as soon as possible to keep working. Better earlier than later, not to incur more cognitive cost caused by the forgetting curve.
You find a new focus slot candidate, you book it, the time comes, and now you have to re-fetch in your mind all the variables that matter, meaning you are spending the first 30 min remembering where you were and ramping up to the desired speed.
To summarize: every follow up comes with an extra cost.
When you need less time
Congratulations! You have been faster (hence, more productive) than expected!
Now, you have time to do something else. Then, suddenly, you realize you could have used the extra time to talk to those couple of people who needed you, and ended up scheduling calls for tomorrow, adjacent to your presentation session. You could have used the slots of those scheduled calls to rehearse.
Well, you could chase those people right now and try to talk to them in an impromptu fashion, but that would cost you time to text them back and forth to see whether they are available. And you feel they probably aren’t.
Too bad. If you predicted your focus time more accurately, you could have come across as “more available” to those guys wanting to talk to you (hence, nurture better relationships). You could have facilitated a decision to be made today rather than tomorrow, and tomorrow’s calendar would have had two less events cluttering and constraining your day.
How can you better focus without sacrificing your evenings, weekends, and personal relationships?
Based on what we discussed above, these would be the attributes of the ideal solution to your focus problem:
- It lowers the amount of meetings, so that your day would be less constrained, less stressful and you’ll have: (a) more chances to embrace inspirations as they come; (b) more time to finish work within business hours.
- It minimizes distractions and interruptions, so that you can focus and be more productive for the same amount of time.
- It is flexible enough to support activities for as long as it’s needed, so that you don’t waste time with follow ups scattered over time, you’ll make decisions earlier, and deliver your work faster.
Don’t you agree such a solution would improve your life?
Tweelin has implemented an intelligent assistant that realizes the 3 points above. It declutters your calendar, observes the way you work, and presents the right interactions for you and the person you need to talk to at the right time for both, magically.
It is as simple as making the wish to get in contact with someone, and it just happens at the right moment. Sounds cool, no?
I feel blessed by you reading my article until this point. Now, let me challenge you a bit.
You have 2 choices:
- Walk away, and keep your frustrating work day as it is.
- Sign up for our Beta program and have the chance to contribute to something bigger that will change the way we interact and work, giving you the chance to be more productive, faster.
Considering option 2 is completely free (no credit card needed) and will come with exclusive offers for Beta customers, what are you waiting for?
Click here to Join the Waitlist! Give yourself and everyone else the chance of having more productive days with a better work-life harmony!