by Jeff Weiner, CEO at Linkedin
If you were to see my calendar, you'd probably notice a host of time slots
greyed out but with no indication of what's going on.
There is no
problem with my Outlook or printer.
The grey sections reflect "buffers,"
or time periods I've purposely kept clear of meetings.
aggregate, I schedule between 90 minutes and two hours of these buffers
every day (broken down into 30- to 90-minute blocks).
It's a system I
developed over the last several years in response to a schedule that was
becoming so jammed with back-to-back meetings that I had little time
left to process what was going on around me or just think.
first, these buffers felt like indulgences. I could have been using the
time to catch up on meetings I had pushed out or said "no" to. But over
time I realized not only were these breaks important, they were
absolutely necessary in order for me to do my job.
an organization scales, the role of its leadership needs to evolve and
scale along with it. I've seen this evolution take place along at least
two continuum: from problem solving to coaching and from tactical
execution to thinking strategically.
What both of these transitions
require is time, and lots of it. Endlessly scheduling meeting on top of
meeting and your time to get these things right evaporates.
coaching, for example. It's often quicker for senior leaders to solve
people's problems for them. You've amassed years of experience solving
the issues being brought to you. But doing so provides short-term relief
at a longer time cost.
As the organization gets larger, so too will the
frequency of those issues, yet there remains only one of you.
you can coach others to address challenges directly, you will quickly
find yourself in a position where that's all you're doing (adding even
more meetings to your day). That's no way to run a team or a company.
what makes people tick - their unique perspectives, fears,
motivations, team dynamics, etc. - and properly coaching them to the
point that they can not only solve the issue on their own the next time
around, but successfully coach their own team takes far more
time than telling them what to do.
The only way to sustainably make that
investment in people is by not jumping from one meeting to the next but
rather carving out the time to properly coach those who stand to
benefit from it the most.
Equally if not more importantly is taking time
in between those meetings to recharge. I want to ensure I'm at my best
when coaching the next person who needs it.
The same can be said
of the transition from tactical execution to thinking strategically.
There will always be a need to get things done and knock another To Do
item off the list.
However, as the company grows larger, as the breadth
and depth of your initiatives expand - and as the competitive and
technological landscape continues to shift at an accelerating rate -
you will require more time than ever before to just think:
about what the company will look like in three to five years; think
about the best way to improve an already popular product or address an
unmet customer need; think about how you can widen a competitive
advantage or close a competitive gap, etc.
That thinking, if done
properly, requires uninterrupted focus; thoroughly developing and
questioning assumptions; synthesizing all of the data, information and
knowledge that's incessantly coming your way; connecting dots, bouncing
ideas off of trusted colleagues; and iterating through multiple
In other words, it takes time. And that time will only be
available if you carve it out for yourself.
Conversely, if you don't
take the time to think proactively you will increasingly find yourself
reacting to your environment rather than influencing it. The resulting
situation will inevitably require far more time (and meetings) than
thinking strategically would have to begin with.
Above all else,
the most important reason to schedule buffers is to just catch your
There is no faster way to feel as though your day is not your
own, and that you are no longer in control, than scheduling meetings
back to back from the minute you arrive at the office until the moment
I've felt the effects of this and seen it with colleagues.
Not only is it not fun to feel this way, it's not sustainable.
solution, as simple as it sounds, is to periodically schedule nothing.
Use that buffer time to think big, catch up on the latest industry news,
get out from under that pile of unread emails, or just take a walk.
What ever you do, just make sure you make that time for yourself -
everyday and in a systematic way - and don't leave unscheduled moments
to chance. The buffer is the best investment you can make in yourself
and the single most important productivity tool I use.