It is fascinating to observe how people schedule blocks of time. Mentally, we seem to prefer hour and half-hour blocks of time. Our calendaring systems and time logs all adhere to this strict slicing of our day. Before the days of software, it was our appointment books and Filofaxes. It is as if we could not possibly consider any other way of organizing our day into units.
The other thing I have seen over time is how people tend to schedule other people’s time. Most people will opt to send a request for a full hour of time. Even if a half-hour would be sufficient, over many years of scheduling meetings, there seems to be comfort in taking that whole hour block of someone else’s day.
Like many folks I know, I am busy. When I see people blocking off an hour of time, I tend to cringe. It is one thing if it is a plan to catch up with a friend or it is some event. It is entirely different if it is a business context. There are certainly times when an hour or more is necessary, but that is rarely the case. Besides, the human mind really has trouble focusing on any one thing for more than 20 minutes.
The way we tend to slice time also creates some interesting assumptions. For example, the shortest time to come to some resolution or plan is a half hour. It could not be five minutes or 22 minutes. This reasoning carries over to the hour-long block of time. For convenience sake, we just place our imaginary meeting boundaries at these set intervals, and hope that we can get what we need accomplished in that time.
As it happens though, that half hour and hour block of time leads to some problems. There is prep work and mental switching you need to do to be ready for that next meeting. Moreover, what about the travel time to your next destination? Even if in the same office, that office could be massive. I remember meetings with my customer Verizon, and their headquarters in Basking Ridge was so huge, it took 10 minutes just to walk to the other side of the building. I just chalked it up to a good opportunity to exercise.
Still, it seems odd that we should so operate in this rigid mode. When all we had were paper based scheduling systems, this made sense. Units of time had been committed to beforehand. In the age of software, we did not have such strictures. You could pick any unit of time you wish, as long as other software fit.
Some time back, I noticed a quirk in Gmail that allowed me set my calendar for 25-minute intervals. Then after the first hour, it would lop off 10 minutes at the end of each half hour block. While not perfect, it allows me to do a few things:
- Accommodate travel time and prep between back-to-back meetings
- Make meetings shorter and more focused
- Helps determine whether a meeting is even necessary
That last one does not seem very intuitive. Consider that if I am making a meeting 25 minutes, it helps me break out of the default mode of half hour blocks. I can then think whether a meeting should be fifteen minutes or five minutes of if a meeting needs to happen at all. Often times it turns out that a meeting is not even necessary, it is simply a question that can be answered with a short email or quick call.
Therefore, I stick to the 25-minute timeframe for calls and meetings. Not everyone notices or respects that time preference, but I will continue to use this method of scheduling as it has helped me reframe the way I look at and manage time. I am not opposed to meetings, but I definitely believe meetings can be much shorter and more focused.
This article was originally published on Strong Opinions, a blog by Birch Ventures for the NYC tech startup community.
Image Credit: CC by John Benson