Making Time

At the first Coffee with Cole, we spent time talking about the need to find time to reflect on who we are as individuals, as a group, as members of the UChicago community, and how our work creates impact. The intimacy that a conversation with five people affords seems to give us space to explore things that we might not ordinarily talk about in larger, more formal meetings. I enjoy that. I tend to think about the people that make up an organization so reflecting on growth, pathways, journeys, and behavior is a normal occurrence for me. Often times I am having that conversation in my own head, so getting to spend an hour with colleagues and digging into those topics is a real treat.

One of the main items of focus was the notion of time. More specifically not having enough. I often hear from the people around me that there just isn’t enough time to whatever it is that you want or need to do. A boss of mine many years ago told me something really important on my first day in a demanding new role, “make time to think.” That has honestly been some of the best professional advice I have ever gotten. Hearing that from my boss told me that my time is incredibly important and how I use that time equates to power. I do my best to make time to think every week. In my last three positions I have purposefully reserved Friday for myself — not scheduling any meetings unless they were thrust upon me by people I can’t say no to, or unless I valued the need to meet with someone enough to take time away from myself. I am not yet able to control my calendar to have a full day blocked, but I know over time that I will get close to that. For now, I reserve a couple of small chunks of time here and there so I can do some things I enjoy — write, read, learn, walk, think.

I guess what I am saying is that making time to manage your own growth is an important part of what you do here. There are a lot of strategies that I have used in the past that I want to discuss now that I’ve been here a couple months. I’d be interested in getting your perspective on some of these ideas.

I believe the first step in gaining control of parts of your day is to take a personal inventory of the things you have to do in a given month. What meetings are forced upon you and what meetings do you force on others? Is there a standing managers meeting you have to attend? How about one on ones with your boss or staff? Make a list of those and try to make sense of how much time you are giving to others and how much time you are giving to the projects you are working on. Once you have a personal inventory you can begin to think about how to actually use some of that time. Do yourself a favor and schedule some it to learn, write, read, walk, or think. Having a sense of what your calendar is all about is a really good step toward gaining some control.

There has been an interesting conversation going on in our Slack space about meetings and rethinking them. That is something I couldn’t encourage more. Challenge yourself, when you are setting up a meeting, to default to a shorter time that 30 or 60 minutes. Give a 15 minute standing meeting a try. Something I used to do at both Penn State and Stony Brook were walking meetings … especially when the weather is nice. Stand up and go outside. And speaking of standing, take a minute to stand up in meetings when the audience is alright with it. Sitting for 60 minutes is brutal. I do it all the time and people look at me like I am crazy. I’m not.

Finally, I’ll go back to the simple premise of creating a meeting free time each week. Give yourself the agency to control one small window of time and use that time for productively good things that can help improve your performance in other moments throughout the day.

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