productivity tip: box yourself into back to back meetings

this is a little trick i learned from paul graham’s post: maker’s schedule vs manager’s schedule. i reference this post atdt. it’s been incredibly helpful, though it does have its limits.

the trick is very simple: if you have one meeting already scheduled on a day and another comes up, schedule it the minimum amount of time before the next meeting so that it can’t run long. example: i already have a meeting at 3p, but someone else wants to meet me that same day. if i know that 2nd meeting needs about 60 minutes, i will schedule it for 145p and let the person know that i need to be at 3p meeting.

this works for me for a bunch of reasons:

impromptu meetings are almost never planned well. minimizing the time they take out of my schedule is critical. not being planned well doesn’t mean it won’t go well, but there is a strong correlation in my experience.

stacking meetings also allows me to optimize my “heavy-thinking” time while still doing the meetings i need to. i started doing this in grad school. i would cram my meetings all onto the same days as my classes so that i had long chunks of free time to write my thesis. this can also be thought about through the maker time vs manager time frame. i know that, at least for me, the more maker time (long, uninterrupted blocks of time) i have, the better i feel. making progress makes me feel productive and feeling productive feels great. meetings, for better or worse, rarely feel productive. even the best ones don’t and i think that’s ok. working in meetings is somewhat futile i think because most “work” can’t actually be done in meetings.

so what are the limits?

well, for one, some meetings run long because they actually need to. sometimes a group gets into a flow around something. in that circumstance, breaking the flow can be less net productive than continuing to go and rearranging the commitments the group didn’t deliver on. if you’ve boxed yourself in, you create the danger of not giving something the time it needs.

another limit is that if you need follow up time from the first meeting or prep time for the next meeting, stacked meetings hinder that.

ok. that’s all i got for me. stacking meetings is a great strategy for keep your schedule clear. but only to a point.

ps - over time, i’ve developed a really good intuition of which types of meetings have a tendency to run long or need prep time and so i can stack accordingly.