From running after my tail to calmly kicking ass in 30 minutes a week
Life is full of reactive activities, which fill our days, and don't leave time for the important stuff. It’s exhausting to chase your tail, always feeling you're behind. Flattening the stress curve gives you more energy, and time to focus on the things you want to. I do this by identifying events ahead of time, and preparing for them.
If I'm surprised or not ready for a planned event, it’s a sign I need to change something, this is a chance to grow and improve.
Planning ahead is the key to an intentional, non-reactive life.
“Every battle is won before it's ever fought.”
- Sun Tzu, “The art of war”.
"Every week is won before it starts"
My secret? Weekly Calendar Review
Doing a weekly calendar review transformed me from chasing events, to taking initiative, getting ahead of things and I'm calmer, which is no easy feat...
If your calendar is full of meetings, or if you're not making the impact you wish to have this will help you.
"It's not real in my experience until it's scheduled"
– Tim Ferris
This simple technique done consistently will make you more effective. You'll be on top of things, in control, and calmer. Things won't "happen to you", you'll be in the driver seat.
I run my life using a calendar
It's the pace-maker of my week. I miss items on my to-do list, but there's little-to-no chance I'll miss an appointment.
I don't agree to anything before "consulting" my calendar, so it has to be trustworthy. It also has to be low effort to keep it this way, the calendar works for me, not the other way round.
I spend 30 minutes a week making my calendar trustworthy. As a result I'm more prepared to the coming up events, and meetings.
Low effort, high upside.
Google Calendar is a decent one to start with.
TL;DR - My Calendar Review process
First day of the week (My work week is Sunday-Thursday), so every Sunday morning I do a Weekly Review (the Calendar Review takes ~30 minutes of this hour).
I review my calendar 2 weeks backwards (-2), check if I have any open threads from previous weeks. If I have, I do one of these:
- Create a task for myself.
- Send an email to the person who's keeping the thread open.
- Create an invite to follow up on the open thread. This is the least desired outcome.
Great, look back done.
I look at my calendar 4 weeks forward (+4), and review upcoming events. For each upcoming event I ask what needs to be ready for the event? What's the next step? How much time do I need to prepare for it? Who needs to review or be part of this? Are there any major risks?
I book preparation meetings with myself and others (if needed) to get ready for the event. I name the prep meeting with an explicit name e.g. "Complete slide deck for Product Overview".
By Sunday 11am:
✅ Planned 4 weeks into the future, blocking time to work on important things.
✅ Know open threads will be addressed.
I'll start with a simple example.
In the review I'll see that on Monday after school my son is going on a playdate at a friend, I'll add an event to confirm with the friend's parents they're picking him up. (Had a mishap with a parent that was supposed to pick him up, but forgot to tell me they aren't... Had to rush quickly to school, luckily got there on time, not letting this happen again...).
This was literally child play, let's move to a more complex example, that needs multiple pre-events and a few follow up events, All Hands meeting.
This is a partial example, there's more than that before and after a All Hands meeting.
Too much? Maybe, but I view it as a high-leverage event, so I put more effort into it.
I can't get everything done
There's more work to do than I can fit in a week, also not all work is equal, some needs more effort, some shouldn't be done at all. Seeing my priorities on a calendar forces me to make hard choices. It puts the tradeoff front and center, either find a better way to do things, or skip them for now.
You can keep running like a mouse on cocaine OR you can plan ahead, giving you control and time to focus on the most important things.
Which do you choose?
Applying in your life
I think an easy way to start would be:
- Schedule recurring time to do a calendar review (it can even be 15 minutes).
*Assuming you're already using a calendar, if you're not, start now.
- Look 2 weeks into the future and book prep-sessions for yourself.
- Repeat for 5 weeks.
- Review and see if it has the impact you wanted.
- Adapt to fit your own needs.
Side note - Calendar apps should up their game
I've come to learn that (almost) every event requires preparation and/or follow up. Booking preparation sessions ahead of time has been a game changer for me. This lead me to think that we're approaching calendar apps wrong. Existing calendar apps treat events as Islands, while events are like a links in a chain. There's a preparation meeting, follow up, etc. Calendar apps don't take this into account, and don't make it easy to execute. (moving a meeting requires moving the prep and follow up sessions 🤦🏻♂️).
Example: When booking a 1 hour meeting, offer the person to book a preparation session, or a follow up session. These are linked, so if you move 1 of them you'll be able to move the other pieces in the chain.
Something along the like if a Notion checklist had a child with a calendar app, creating some sort of "Sequence", around an "Anchor".
Anchor - "The main event" we're building towards (e.g. All Hands meeting), the rest of the sequence comes before or after the anchor.
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