I have a love-hate relationship with time management in the workplace...

The invitation paradox

It is commonly agreed, that your time during your workday belongs to the company : hence the open-calendar policies in almost every workplace. Everyone can see your calendar and "invite" you to a meeting. And even though it is called an invitation it is often meant as a summon.

Saying "no" to bad invitations and bad meetings

For a long time, I agreed on the premise, but not on the handling. It is normal to be helpful. When someone needs your help to do their job, you need a good reason to say no. That said, saying no should be allowed.

On the flip-side, I always encourage my coworkers to be explicit in their invitations. Write an agenda, with clear goals for the meeting. Name each person you invited in the agenda, and the reason why they should be there. The participants will feel valued. They will know which hat they shall wear. They will have a harder time to say "no". But in some cases, you will also realize that you don't have a reason for inviting this person in the first place.

Say no to meetings without good agendas. Say no to dubious meetings. But is this enough? No it is not.

The multi-calendar problem

Until February 2020, I used to have a single point of truth at any given time. From Monday to Thursday, I was visiting my clients, and thus had only my client-calendar to think about. Thursdays & Fridays I worked for my own company, thus another calendar. My private calendar (occasional medical appointments, kids-activities, and podcasts-recordings) was tailored for early morning, late afternoon, evenings, and weekends. The separation was quite clear.

When I started working 100% remotely, I gained flexibility. I could work for my clients and my company at the same time. I could schedule a podcast recording in the middle of the day and/or leave for one hour to give my wife a hand or take care of one of the kids.

The impossible synchronization

I now have 3 calendars that I cannot automatically synchronize, but which I have to keep in sync anyway. As you can imagine, I add blockers, forward invitations, add myself as an optional participant, and so on.

Except for the eventual mishaps when I get two invitations overnight or when I failed to sync one meeting, it only kind of works. But it sucks, and I feel bad all the way. Multiple times per week, I must admit that I failed to correctly sync my calendars. Each time I hear myself think "a 5-years-old could do this, and I failed miserably... again...".


You could certainly fix this using more/better tooling. But soon you would probably hit the next problem. Thinking deeper about this problem, I realized it all comes back to one key philosophical idea. It all starts when you diverge from the idea that "your time is yours only".

If I need something from you, I need to make you eager to participate (see the mindful agenda part I described above) AND be mindful of your time. This last part means taking only as much of your precious time as needed, not one minute more. And yes, sometimes it means not having a meeting at all. But if I do need a meeting, it means letting you pick the moment in time this meeting shall take place. The best moment for you!

Hours were not created equal

Bob might prefer to have back-to-back meetings for 3 hours in the afternoon, in order for his morning to remain meeting free. Alice might prefer to have at least 30 minutes between two meetings. You don't necessarily know about that. One side deciding for the other will invariably lead to one's need to be overruled.

I offer my time, and you take it

It may sound like a radical idea, but it's your time, you should decide. Thus I prefer to turn the problem on its head: I want something from you, thus I'll offer my time, and it's up to you to take it. Not the other way around. Yes, it means I have to sell you on the idea, I need to make you want to participate. But what is the alternative? You show up at my meeting remorseful because you didn't want to be there in the first place?

In Real Life

Going from this theory to the application is not so easy, unfortunately. Like always, the first 80% is quite easy.

Here's how I do it:

  • I offer a few (2, 3, 5?) time slots that would work for me, and let you pick the one(s) - if any - that would work the best for you. I do it via Email or Chat: "How about Tuesday at 13:30, Wednesday at 17:00 or Thursday at 8:00?"
  • For my podcast, I use Calendly. It knows that I can record everyday between 21:30 and 23:55. But it is also connected to my personal calendar and removes the days where I have something else scheduled. The guests can now pick any of the remaining slots. This works with many other kind of 1-1 meetings.
  • With groups I use Doodle. I add 2-5 slots. The people I invited can add their availability. I parse the results to get a slot that works for everyone.

Of course, there are cases where it will simply not work. When scheduling has to go fast, or when one participant is notoriously busy. But that 20% shouldn't prevent us to be more mindful about each other's time, don't you think?

So what's your strategy going to be like?

Photo by Curtis MacNewton on Unsplash.

Thanks Kerstin for your valuable feedback.