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3 tips for maintaining good calendar etiquette during COVID

Cathy Reisenwitz

by Cathy Reisenwitz on September 8, 2020

Before the pandemic, the average employee attended 62 meetings per month. Just three tasks consumes 51% of the average worker’s time at work: commuting, meetings, and emails. In fact, the average employee spent 4.8 hours every week just scheduling meetings!

While WFH has certainly cut down on commuting, workers are busier than ever. By the fifth week of March, we saw the average worker had spent:

  • 29% more time in team sync meetings
  • 24% more time in one-on-ones
  • 11% more Fragmented Time compared with pre-pandemic levels

Nobody got into their calendar mess alone. Calendaring is a team and company exercise. Therefore, no one is going to be able to get out of it alone. We’re going to have to work together to get more Focus Time for us and our team, spend less time scheduling meetings, and attend fewer unnecessary meetings.

In the spirit of socially adept scheduling, here are three tips to better calendar etiquette in a pandemic.

1. Factor in Focus Time

Most people look at their calendar and pick the slot that’s best for them, then make sure their coworkers are free at that time. They don’t consider the cost of a particular meeting to their colleague’s productivity.

When it comes to team productivity, it’s not just the meeting you have to consider, but also the cost of context switching. Harvard Business Review recommends busy workers take stock of what they call time fragmentation. “Making any real progress on thoughtful work requires more than a 30-minute increment of time, and it takes 15 minutes to return to a productive state after an interruption.” In their analysis, they found context switching cost one large software company more than 450 hours per year, per manager.

Focus Time is an underappreciated, but important, requirement for productivity. At Clockwise, we define it as two-hour (or more) blocks of uninterrupted time you can use to dive deep into a project and make real progress.

The more uninterrupted time teams have, the higher their productivity, speed, and revenue. When we conducted a survey we found that:

  • 90% of Engineering Managers agreed that they’re more productive when they have more Focus Time
  • 80% said Focus Time helps them finish projects faster
  • 76% said Focus Time helps their company bring in more revenue

The best way to get more Focus Time when you’re WFH is to schedule with Focus Time in mind.

Schedule your meetings back-to-back, so you have longer stretches of time to really dig into a task. Schedule Focus Time on your calendar like any other appointment. This tells you, and others, that you’re not available for meetings, snacks, or laundry. Proactively setting aside time for deeply focused, proactive work prevents you from saying yes to too many reactive requests from others.

The challenge here is that even if you find Focus Time for yourself, it’s difficult to schedule meetings that don’t negatively impact others’ Focus Time.

Clockwise is specifically built to find and block off Focus Time for you and your team, automatically. missing file, or syncing with co-workers.

2. Schedule faster

It takes the average employee eight emails to schedule a single meeting.

You can use a number of strategies to schedule meetings faster, saving you and your colleagues time.

One we like is to use a little-known option in Google Calendar that saved Nathan Feger, Director of Engineering at Schoology, a lot of time and hassle.

“When you book a meeting in Google, click the button to allow other users to modify the event,” Nathan told me. It’s in the More options screen, on the right side under Guest permissions. It’s unchecked by default.

How to let attendees modify an event in Google Calendar

How to let attendees modify an event in Google Calendar

Checking that box “unlocked a ton of value for me,” Nathan said. It allows his reports to reschedule their one-on-ones with him to fit their schedule.

Not only does allowing his reports to reschedule their one-on-ones without his input mean they both spend less time scheduling, but they can also use it to open up blocks of Focus Time for themselves by moving them directly before or after other meetings or at the beginning or end of their day.

To create the most flexibility, make this option default for your company. Ad-hoc meetings take up much more of the average Engineer’s time than one-on-ones. Here’s how the average individual contributor in Engineering’s meetings break down:

How the average Engineer's calendar breaks down

How the average Engineer's calendar breaks down

(Get your stats and compare your results with Calendar Insights)

3. Ditch unnecessary meetings

One last thing to consider when trying to schedule politely is whether you need to meet at all. Research shows that a full third of meetings are unnecessary. The average worker spends seven years of their lives in meetings that should have been emails, totaling about 16% of their total work time.

Managers should evaluate each meeting prior to scheduling it in order to keep teams focused and on track, and not bombarded with lengthy live meetings. For a status update or info sharing, you can connect with your team by sending a five-minute recorded video that your team can watch whenever they have time. Tools like Loom and Prezi Video make it easy to create pre-recorded videos that can substitute for meetings.

Another strategy for cutting unnecessary meetings is to lightly audit your calendar. Start by choosing a representative week on your calendar and printing that week (or saving it as a PDF you can mark up). Then, rate each of your meetings 1-5 in order of importance.

  1. Mission-critical events you absolutely have to attend
  2. Events you need to attend to do your job and no one else can attend for you
  3. Someone needs to attend these, but with enough lead time and training, someone else could attend these for you
  4. Events that straddle the line between necessary and nice-to-have
  5. Events that have no real impact on your job

Type 5 meetings are easy wins. Cancel them or push them off. They should never be recurring. Scrutinize type 4 meetings very closely. This is a good area to push back in a nice way to see if you're truly needed. These should almost never be recurring. Type 3 takes some work, but can really pay off. This isn't just how you open up more time for yourself now, but on an ongoing basis. By learning how to better train your team and delegate, you open up more opportunities for your team to grow while giving you more tools on how to juggle expanding responsibilities. You can evaluate type 2 meetings for frequency and timing. For example, maybe not all one-on-ones need to be weekly.

Calendar audit example

Calendar audit example

While the lightweight calendar audit shouldn’t take you long, we built a Calendar Insights tool for this purpose. Feel free to check it out!

Going forward

Scheduling is a group activity. By observing a bit of calendar etiquette we can get more Focus Time for us and our team, spend less time scheduling meetings, and attend fewer unnecessary meetings.

Cathy Reisenwitz

Cathy Reisenwitz

Cathy Reisenwitz is Head of Content at Clockwise where she oversees the Clockwise Blog and The Minutes Newsletter. She has covered business software for six years and has been published in Newsweek, Forbes, the Daily Beast, VICE Motherboard, Reason magazine, Talking Points Memo and other publications.

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