Being thoughtful about your time posted on 09 May 2024

As you become more senior, you will likely find yourself in more and more meetings (roadmap planning, teams/orgs alignments, 1-1 etc.). If you are not careful, your calendar will be full of meetings. This is what eventually happened to me at Google right before leaving. The rare time slots without meetings were dedicated to code reviews and docs.

While attending a meeting can be a productive use of your time, you should be thoughtful of the scarcity of your time. While I can’t say I was always successful at keeping time allocated for direct contributions, I was fairly successful overall – my peak productivity in terms of problems fixed with code I wrote was right after being promoted to staff software engineer at Google and right now at Databricks.

There are a few things that has helped me keep time allocated for personal contributions:

  • Use lunch/coffee breaks for social catch up and to flesh out minor problems that don’t require a formal meeting. This is where being in an office is very valuable – in my experience it’s hard to do a 15 minutes only VC but a 2 min hallway chat is easy
  • Hold a high bar for 30 min meetings – make sure there is a clear agenda, expected outcome and that attendees can come prepared to discuss (send the document/presentation to read before hand)
  • Block time on your calendar – while you can set “focus time”, what I found to work well is to just set private blocks that automatically reject conflicts. If people really need to talk with you, they will reach out to find time
  • Make sure others can cover for you – one way to prevent meetings from creeping your calendar is to have them creep someone else’s calendar. Joke aside, this is something you should aim for in general such that your team still functions well when you are out of office
  • Make sure the problems you have to discuss won’t have to be discussed moving forward. Invest time and effort in building rock solid infrastructure that is easy to use/evolve and in documentation
  • Be comfortable to say “no” to meetings where you are not needed – in my case this became a bit easier as I moved to Amsterdam and still works with folks in US time zones (though I wouldn’t recommend moving across oceans just to have less meetings😅).
  • Cancel recurring meetings if there isn’t much/nothing urgent on the agenda (e.g. because people were on PTO, not much progress etc.)
  • Set recurring meetings only when truly needed – not only will this free your time, I personally found doing ad-hoc 1-1 much more enjoyable than recurring ones since these happen when there are interesting topics to discuss.

What tips/suggestions work well for you to keep your calendar free to focus on personal contributions?

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