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How to create time for big, strategic thinking, without working more hours

Updated: Dec 17, 2020

GTD Steps: Organize, Reflect, Engage

I love the holiday season for lots of reasons…time with family, the festive atmosphere, good food. But surprisingly, over the holidays I also like to go to work. Why? Because with everyone out of the office I get more done than any other time of year.

If you've worked over the holidays or during peak summer vacation time, you've probably had a similar experience. You were able to declutter and organize so you can concentrate better. You had the chance to think and strategize. You were able to plan.

When everyone comes back to the office you're cleaned up, organized, and well planned. You're off to the races in terms of getting things done in the new year.

Why were you able to get so much done? Because you had uninterrupted time. Time to organize your stuff and clear the clutter from your desk and mind. Time to think deeply which is where you find your best, most creative, and most impactful ideas. Time to plan so you can execute effectively on those ideas.

These are the things that allow you to do your best work. Finding time for them benefits both you and your employer.

So if taking time for organizing, thinking and planning is so impactful, why don't we do it more often?

In the corporate world you get pulled in a dozen different directions every day. You shift your attention from one email, task, or meeting to another every few minutes. There's rarely time to focus your mind on one thing long enough to really think deeply about it.

Without time to organize, think and plan your work becomes unfocused. You're still busy but not moving forward as quickly. You're spinning your wheels.

So what's the solution? In a hectic work environment, how do you find time on a regular basis for these critical activities that tend to get pushed aside by more urgent, but less important work?

You don't find time, you create it.

Meeting Stacking

The challenge with finding time for deep thinking activities is they require larger blocks of time. In the corporate world where you might spend more than half your time in meetings, it's rare that large blocks of time open up on their own. You have to create them.

Meeting Stacking is a strategy for creating larger blocks of open space in your schedule by grouping meetings together as much as possible.

Look at the three schedules below.

Each of them has ten hours of meetings on it. But the first schedule is more chopped up with lots of smaller blocks of time. The second has several large blocks of open space. And the third has almost three entire days of open space.

In which schedule would it be hardest to find a large block of time for deep thinking? In which would it be easiest? Which schedule looks most like yours?

So how do you make your schedule look less like A and more like C?

Meetings you schedule

Meeting stacking is easy. Each time you go to schedule a meeting, if possible, schedule it right next to another meeting. If there are multiple places on your schedule you could put it, put it next to the biggest block of meetings possible. By creating blocks of meetings, you automatically create blocks of open space as well.

Given schedules and timelines, you might not always be able to schedule a meeting next to another one. But if you do it whenever you possible, you'll have more open space in your schedule. The more meetings your role requires you to schedule, the more you can benefit from meeting stacking.

One of the biggest opportunities for meeting stacking is recurring meetings. If you can group multiple recurring meetings together, you not only get the benefit this week or this month, but every week or every month for as long as the meetings occur.

Meetings other people schedule

If you're required to attend a lot of meetings scheduled by other people, you can't directly determine their timing. But you can influence it. Pick a couple of half day blocks of time in your weekly schedule and mark them as blocked on your calendar. That way when others are deciding when to schedule a meeting, they are more likely to stay away from those times. It won't always work, but even if it works half the time, you'll have at least one half day of open time each week.

Preparing for meetings

As a result of Meeting Stacking some parts of your schedule will be heavy on meetings and others light. That's precisely the goal of meeting stacking. You want your schedule to look more like schedule C above than schedule A.

But having a lot of meetings back to back requires you to prepare for them differently than perhaps you've done in the past. If you're well prepared, you normally won't have any problem going straight from one meeting to the next. But since you won't have time in between meetings to prepare, you'll need to do it in advance.

There are several strategies for preparing for meetings in advance. One approach is blocking time on your calendar to prepare for meetings. For example, you might block out the last hour before going home to plan the next day and prepare for tomorrow's meetings. Another is to add a task to your task management tool called "Prepare for meetings". That way you schedule your meeting preparation time as part of your Daily Plan just like you would any other task.

Regardless of the approach you take for preparing for meetings, it's helpful to have a template to follow. A meeting preparation template, like the Get2Done Meeting Planning Template, reminds you of the important steps of preparing for a meeting. It makes preparing faster and easier.

Meeting stacking is a simple strategy you can begin implementing right now. It will create the time you need for organizing, strategizing, and planning. You'll become more effective in every aspect of your work, enjoy it more and be more successful.

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