Practical Product Management: Calendar Management
I often joke that one of the simplest ways to become a better product manager is sitting in front of a white wall and thinking about product for two hours straight. Unfortunately, in companies of all sizes, time is the rarest resource. Between meetings with stakeholders, customer conversation, engineering & design, product people jump from one meeting to another.
If the description above fits your current work experience, I recommend spending some time reading this article. Over the years, I’ve built a system to cull calendars off of not-so-useful meetings. It’s time to reclaim your time and reclaim your creativity and thinking space.
Meetings naturally accumulate over time. Think how easy it is to get added to recurring meetings versus the awkwardness of reaching out to a meeting owner to ask to be removed from an invite.
To get started the right way, let’s talk goals. Every Product Manager should have at least three two-hour blocks per week of undisturbed product thinking. A 90 minutes per day is an even more ambitious goal I set for myself. I reserve these meetings when I feel the most creative, generally early afternoon.
You can also include other goals as you go over your calendar.
- Removing yourself when you’re not needed Particularly helpful if you’re in a position of leadership. Removing yourself will allow reports to make their own decisions without needing you.
- Reducing the frequency of one-on-ones One-on-ones are some of the most valuable meetings to have, but people tend to have them too often. Except for direct reports, monthly is usually a good cadence.
- Avoiding back-to-back meetings Swinging from one meeting to another without a break creates mental strain and reduces your efficiency. Five to fifteen minutes of buffer between meetings helps to reset your thinking.
- Upping the meeting standards Too many meetings are booked without a clear outcome. They tend to linger and waste people’s time. Ask people to add a clear outcome will save precious hours of your week.
Managing your calendar
Step 1 - Calendar Color Coding
The first step to making your calendar manageable is using a good UX to see how much time you spend in meetings. While some tools give you insights, I’ve found that high-level insights are more valuable than a detailed breakdown of who I spend time with. No amount of “AI” can help you decide how useful a meeting is.
Google Calendar offers an “event color” option which allows you to customize the color of an event. Colors are an easy way to attach value to an event.
Here is the color code I’ve been using. Feel free to add/remove categories.
|Event color||Meaning||Follow-up action|
|Default/Unreviewed event||Review event and color it|
|Event frequency may be adjusted||Talk to the meeting owner and decide if the meeting cadence should be adjusted|
|Meeting reviewed and can be removed from calendar||Cancel meeting if owner, otherwise reach out to the owner to cancel meeting|
|Confirmed event which conflicts with another event should be moved||Change date and/or time of the meeting.|
|Event reviewed and confirmed||Nothing|
|Working/Reserved time||No next action|
Step 2 - Reserving working time.
Book your “working time/focused time” events on your calendar. It’s OK if it overrides other meetings, you’ll be moving these events in the next step.
As stated earlier, I like to book meetings when I feel creative and focused. Early afternoon, before 3 PM.
Step 3 - Thinning and reorganizing your calendar.
Next, it’s time to take action on events that need to be changed. Start with the events that can be canceled or whose cadence can be adjusted.
- If you’re the meeting owner, go ahead and cancel. Send a note to participants to explain the reasoning. You can invite them to create a new event if they believe they’re still needed.
- If you’re not the owner, reach out to the owner and ask them to cancel.
Expect people to feel flustered. People equate being important with you spending time with them, mainly one-on-one if you’re in a leadership position. It’s essential to explain to them that this is not the case. That’s the perfect time to invite them to do the same work of calendar management. When canceling meetings, I remind people that they can always book an impromptu event to discuss anything on their minds if the need arises.
Meetings with scheduling conflicts are easier to deal with. At this stage, if you have canceled enough events, you will have open time on your calendar to reschedule.
Step 4 - Weekly or daily review
Your calendar will naturally degrade over time. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’ll need to do these steps only once. People will continue to add meetings, and existing meetings will become stale over time.
At the start of each week or day, create a recurring event called “Daily defining session” for 15 minutes. During that time, go over your calendar events using the steps above. Triage all incoming meetings, reassess frequency, and if you’re still needed.
Reclaiming time from your calendar is often a critical step for product managers. Free time is the currency of creativity; neglecting to spend time to think about products is not doing anyone a service.