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How and why Engineering Managers need a lightweight calendar audit

Cathy Reisenwitz

by Cathy Reisenwitz on January 14, 2020

It’s 10 am, you’re at work, and a calendar invite comes in. If you’re like most Engineering Managers, you probably accept it as long as that time is free. Especially when you’re new to management, you often don’t know which meetings are necessary and it’s hard to say no to your colleagues. How often do you stop to ask whether you need to be in that meeting or whether it will help your organization reach its goals?

While saying yes feels good in the moment, it comes at a high cost in the long-term. If you spend 80% of your time in meetings, you’re only going to be able to put out fires in the time you have left over. The real work happens in the space between meetings. And research shows that the more uninterrupted time you have at a stretch, the more you’ll be able to get done.

If you feel like most of your work is reactive, and your time is constrained, it’s time to take a look at your meetings. A lightweight calendar audit helps you:

  • Understand what percentage of your time you’re spending in meetings
  • Rate how essential your meetings are
  • Identify opportunities to spend your time more effectively

Here’s how to perform a lightweight calendar audit in five simple steps:

Step one: Find a representative week on your calendar

Look at your calendar and find a week that doesn’t have anything out of the ordinary. If you rarely go on business trips, offsites, or conferences, find a week without any of those.

Step two: Print that week

Or, save it as a PDF you can mark up.

Step three: Label your meetings

For every event on your calendar, give it a rating of 1-5 in order of importance.

1. Mission-critical events you absolutely have to attend and have little control over

Examples: Staff meetings, board meetings

2. Events you need to attend to do your job and no one else can attend for you

Examples: One-on-ones

3. Someone needs to attend these, but with enough lead time and training, someone else could attend these for you

Examples: Code reviews, planning team meetings, interviews

4. Events that straddle the line between necessary and nice-to-have

Examples: Cross-functional one-on-ones

5. Events that have no real impact on your job

Examples: Meetings outside your areas of direct responsibility that you attend just to be nice

Step four: Calculate how much time you’re spending in meeting types 3, 4, and 5

This is the amount of time that’s available to you if you’re able to delegate, be more selective, and say no more often.

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 try pushing back (in a nice way) to see if you're truly needed. These should almost never be recurring.

Tackling type-3 meetings takes some work, but can really pay off. Here you can open up more time for yourself now, and on an ongoing basis. Plus, delegating some of these meetings to your team helps them grow in their roles.

Evaluate type-2 meetings for frequency and for timing. For example, maybe not all of your one-on-ones need be weekly. And perhaps you can schedule them more flexibly.

Step five: Start scheduling better

Hired writer Napala Pratini advises Engineering Managers to stop blindly accepting invitations, a temptation that’s especially potent when you’re new to management. “Question whether you’re really the right person to be in the meeting, what you’ll add, and whether there’s something else that deserves more of your time,” Pratini writes. In addition, stop working through meetings. It makes you look bad and should signal to you that you don’t absolutely need to be there. “Be firm about how you allocate your time from the beginning, and others will come to respect those boundaries.” And even if you have to attend them, you can potentially move type-2 meetings to better times.

Going forward

While the lightweight calendar audit shouldn’t take you long, we created Calendar Insights to help make auditing your calendar easier.

And we created Clockwise to help you open up even more time for heads-down, proactive work.

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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