Photo by Nathan Walls

What Do I Do At Work All Day?

I’m on parental leave right now, which means I’ve got a lot of time at home with my cheeky baby, watching the clock tick by at all hours of the day and thinking about time. In my last article, I wrote the sanctity of time, and tips for managing the calendar. Now it’s time to apply those principles to my own calendar!

Normally, I take things week by week. I set aside half an hour twice a week to review what’s coming up on my calendar and if anything should added, removed, or changed. But I don’t have a great sense of how I spent my time overall. If you asked me What does a normal day look like for you? I’ll probably rattle off some vague answer about spending half my time on product and half of my time on operations (recruiting, 1:1s, etc.)

I have no idea if this is actually true, so I decided to do an audit of my calendar.

When I go back to work, I’m hoping to come in with a more intentional approach to my time.

My audit consisted of picking a random work week each month out of the past six months (February to August 2016). Then, I looked at every half-hour block on my calendar during my normal work hours (usually 9:00am to 6:00pm) for those six weeks and categorized it on a spreadsheet. Was it a 1:1? A product review? An interview? E-mail time?

Along the way, I realized that this method didn’t give me a perfect snapshot of how I spent my time, as meeting series that have since been changed or cancelled no longer appeared on the calendar looking backwards. I filled in the gaps to the best of my memories, but there’s probably still a bit (maybe 10–20%) of over counting in “unstructured time” that should actually be meetings. Also, this doesn’t count time spent on work outside of the office. On weekday evenings, after my children go to bed, I might hop on my computer to finish a few lingering e-mail tasks, which averages to about 3–5 hours a week.

So what it is that I do all day at work? Here is the breakdown of my time:

28% in 1:1s: given that I am a manager, 1:1s are a critical time for me to help provide support for the people on my team as well as get context on what’s happening and how they’re feeling. I have 30 or 45 minute 1:1s with each of my direct reports every week (about 10 people) and also with my manager. I also have regularly scheduled bi-weeklies, tri-weeklies or monthlies with other people on my team who don’t report to me directly but who I work closely with. Beyond that, 25% of my time spent in 1:1s is with folks outside of my team, mostly design, PM and engineering managers that I interact act with regularly, although occasionally there are one-offs to better get to know someone or their specific area of work.

27% in unstructured time: this is time that isn’t blocked off for any specific meetings on my calendar. Most of this time I use to respond to e-mails, group posts (a huge part of how we communicate at Facebook is using the Workplace product), or messages. This also covers ad-hoc “hallway conversations” with people, eating lunch, and writing reviews when it’s review season (which was about 20% of this time!)

18% in product reviews: these are any meetings where the primary goal is to review progress on products. During this time, teams present their goals, product frameworks or design proposals and get feedback on them.

15% in operational meetings: these are meetings focused on how we might improve the way we work. For example, every week I run a meeting for the design managers in my group where we discuss topics like headcount and budget planning, improving our design review process, the biggest hurdles for the designers on our team, and more. Most cross-functional product teams also have regularly scheduled meetings of this variety to discuss what’s going well and what isn’t, how to divide up responsibilities, and what the top team priorities should be. All-Hands meetings also fall into this bucket.

11% in recruiting: this is time I spend meeting with potential candidates over coffee, in interviews, or on the phone. (Time spent sourcing or sending recruiting e-mails isn’t counted here — that’s under “unstructured time.”) About a third of this time is dedicated to external events — attending dinners, participating in a panel, giving a talk at a conference, etc.

So after seeing this, now what?

The point of this exercise was to see if there are things that surprised me and that I’d want to consciously change. Here’s what I’m thinking after looking at this data:

  • My initial breakdown of “half operations, half product” is close but not completely accurate. Adding up the time spent on recruiting, operational meetings, 75% of 1:1s and 50% of the unstructured time, the actual breakdown comes out to about 60% operations and 40% product. I’d like to move this more towards 50–50, which means being clearer about what specific product and operational responsibilities I want to take on.
  • The time I spend on recruiting is lower than I expected. Granted, the 11% undercounts time spent e-mailing and messaging but it’s still short of the 20% I’d like it to be. Though any specific recruiting activity can feel like a waste — for example, I might send an e-mail but get no response; the interview might turn out to be a no-hire; I might set up coffee but the person’s not interested in a new gig — getting to know external product and design leaders and learning more about our industry through them is always useful. Besides, careers are long, and I’ve seen enough examples of people joining Facebook a year or two after we first talk to them that you can’t evaluate time investment in recruiting on a short-term scale. Ultimately, nothing makes our product better, or makes me love my job more, than working with amazing people. The change to make here on my calendar is to set aside more time for initial meetings with interesting candidates.
  • Something’s gotta give. Given the above two conclusions — wanting to spend more time on product, and wanting to spend more time on recruiting, I need to spend less time doing other things. But what? The answer is operational e-mails and meetings, which means I need to let other folks make more of the calls here. I can also be more efficient in how I respond to e-mails and conduct meetings.
  • More than a fourth of my time is spent on 1:1s, which felt surprisingly high, but I’m happy with this. Given their importance and weight, I’d like to solicit more feedback on making sure our regularly scheduled time feels valuable for the people I’m meeting with.
  • It’s hard to see the global time picture from the week-to-week. Given where we are at any given moment in the product and design process, there can be huge variations in what any given week looks like. For example, in February, I was preparing for a big recruiting trip to London so my calendar was filled with video-conference calls. In August, one of my teams just started Lockdown, so there were a ton of product reviews. This is likely why it’s been hard for me to answer, What does an average day look like? Zooming out and looking at things on a larger time horizon was useful, so I’ll try to do this audit once a year to see how things are trending.

Have you done this exercise for yourself? If so, what did you learn? I’m especially curious what a maker’s schedule looks like (or what you think it should ideally look like), so please share in the comments!