Three-day no-meeting schedule for engineers

Brian Donohue | Pinterest engineering manager, Product Engineering

About 100 days ago, our product engineering team began experimenting with a three-day no-meeting schedule for individual contributors on our teams.

It’s not a big revelation that software development requires long stretches of uninterrupted time to focus. As Pinterest has grown, we’ve noticed the number of meetings also has increased. Having so many meetings can fragment an engineer’s entire day, eliminating the stretches of uninterrupted time required to build software.

Back in 2009, Paul Graham wrote the following, which speaks to this issue better than I can ever hope to:

When you’re operating on the maker’s schedule, meetings are a disaster. A single meeting can blow a whole afternoon, by breaking it into two pieces each too small to do anything hard in. Plus you have to remember to go to the meeting. That’s no problem for someone on the manager’s schedule. There’s always something coming on the next hour; the only question is what. But when someone on the maker’s schedule has a meeting, they have to think about it.

In the interest of preserving these blocks of uninterrupted time, the product engineering organization at Pinterest experimented with putting 9AM-5PM no meeting blocks on engineers’ calendars from Tuesday–Thursday:

Over the past several months, product engineering managers have gotten very positive feedback about the three-day no-meeting schedule, and we recently sent out a three question survey about it.

The last question was for “other feedback,” and here are some of the positive responses:

  • “I really enjoy having 3 no-meeting days. Wish we could minimize interruptions more but it’s hard with interviews and other company events.”
  • “I love this idea. Get so much done now.”
  • “This switch is great, I feel like the 3 no meeting days are great for just building and getting work done without losing focus. Slack lets us talk and make the same decisions we would have made in meetings anyways. Always open to removing even more meetings!”
  • “I really appreciate the extra days of no meetings, even though it gets violated regularly, I definitely notice fewer meetings and fewer distractions.”

Here are some of the neutral-to-negative responses:

  • “3-day schedule might work well to reduce meetings, but it certainly doesn’t work to kill them because mon/fri conflicts build up and they spill over.”
  • “Mondays and Fridays are usually packed with meetings.”

Obviously there are trade-offs when making a change like this. However, we feel that three focused days with two days of meetings is better than scattered meetings throughout the week. The survey results also indicate that the majority of engineers share that sentiment.

Since sharing the results, several other engineering organizations at Pinterest have adopted the same no-meeting schedule. Here’s a message I received from an engineer on the protect team in response to his team adopting the schedule:

My manager suggested we do what your team did and prolong no meetings from 1 to 3 days. It’s hard for me to thank you enough for this initiative. Funnily enough the Paul Graham essay about manager schedule vs maker schedule was trending last night on HN and re-reading it I was just thinking that I would love to extend no meetings to 3 days, and today I come to the office to my manager bringing up that you guys tried it and we could too… Thanks so much man!

As engineering managers, it’s our job to provide the space and support needed to help our engineers deliver great software. It’s been amazing to see the impact of this seemingly small change on product engineering, and we’re really excited to see other engineering teams adopting it at Pinterest.

PS. We’re hiring!