The Chokehold of Calendars
Meetings may be toxic, but calendars are the superfund sites that allow that toxicity to thrive. All calendars suck. And they all suck in the same way. Calendars are a record of interruptions. And quite often they’re a battlefield over who owns whose time.
In my experience, most people don’t schedule their work. They schedule the interruptions that prevent their work from happening. In the case of a business like ours, what clients pay us to make and do happens in the cracks between meetings, or worse, after business hours.
I’ve yet to see a résumé—and I hope I never do— that lists “attends meetings well” as a skill. Yet attending meetings ends up being a key component of many jobs. And it’s stupid.
The problem here is two-fold. Part of it is software. Part of it is human behavior. You can’t fix the software without adjusting the human behavior. And there is no point to addressing the human behavior if the software won’t support it.
Let’s start with the premise that you have a 40 hour week. (If you just started crying you need a new job.) That’s 40 hours of time to do your job. Now look at your calendar. If your job is to spend a very large part of those 40 hours in meetings scheduled for you by other people then you’re fine. If your job is to produce things such as code, comps, analyses, flow documents, etc., then why isn’t the time to do that on your calendar?
People rarely schedule working time. And when they do it’s viewed as second-tier time. It’s interruptible. Meetings trump working time. Why? And why so often are the same people who assign deadlines the same ones reassigning all of your time? Crazymaking. They should be securing work time for you and protecting it fiercely.
Why are you letting other people put things on your calendar? The idea of a calendar as a public fire hydrant for colleagues to mark is ludicrous. The time displayed on your calendar belongs to you, not to them. It’s been allocated to you to complete tasks. Why are you taking time away from your coding project to go to a meeting that someone you barely know added you to without asking and without the decency to have submitted an agenda?
Start saying no.
Why do you feel like others have more of a right to your time than you do? The time is yours.
The problem with calendars is that they are additive rather than subtractive. They approach your time as something to add to rather than subtract from. Adding a meeting is innocuous. You’re acting on a calendar. A calendar isn’t a person. It isn’t even a thing. It’s an abstraction. But subtracting an hour from the life of another human being isn’t to be taken lightly. It’s almost violent. It’s certainly invasive. Shared calendars are vessels you fill by taking things away from other people.
“I’m adding a meeting” should really be “I’m subtracting an hour from your life.”
We need a goal-oriented calendar, but first we need to understand why a goal-oriented calendar is necessary.
Imagine that rather than scheduling individual points in time, such as meetings, you were instead scheduling a goal. With all its dependencies with it. A simplified model might look like this:
By handling events as something we work towards and need time to produce things for, rather than as disruptive singularities, and by respecting that work time as something associated with a goal we achieve a calendar that shows both those meetings, now less inane, and the time time necessary to do the work that will make those meetings successful.
Most of these things currently exist. Across multiple applications. And badly. Now it’s time to fix that.
If you enjoyed this article you’ll enjoy my books: Design Is a Job for designers, and You’re My Favorite Client, for clients. You can also hire my company, Mule Design, to do a workshop for you. Which you should totally do.