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Unscheduled time

In my five year evolution of diligently planning my weeks, I have moved slowly away from completely filling my schedule to building in a lot of slack and unscheduled time into it. Nowadays, less than 60-70% of my day involves tasks and meetings that are of a predetermined nature and need very specific time commitments. Beyond this threshold, I just don't accept any meetings and move them to a later day instead.

Such scheduled time for meetings and specific tasks involves work in the trenches that is definitely needed and is important. But, at the same time, I've realised that dedicating large portions of my time to such work takes away time that I ought to invest in zooming out and taking the perspective of the bigger picture of how these various tasks come together in meaningful ways and help me drive down towards the goals I've set.

The unscheduled time takes the form of time blocks with open ended pointers to what I ought to be doing with that time block - like figuring out the strategy for taking my product from where it is today to where it should be a year from now, or planning out a path from idea to finishing a book.

This constant revisiting of this picture helps keep in perspective the larger strategy and goals and ensure that the more detail-oriented execution tasks are aligned and contributing to movement in this specific direction.

During one of the management meetings at Pixar, Steve Jobs is reported to have said, “When I’m at my best, 50% of my time is unscheduled. That’s the time I use to think, drop in on the people I want to speak with, and let my curiosity roam. It’s my time to be creative. Without this free time, I would never be able to stay ahead of the company. To lead a company, you’ve always got to be two steps ahead. There’s no way to lead a company from behind.”

Most of us aren't leading companies. But we are leading ourselves, and it certainly helps to be two steps ahead in the march towards the goals we set for ourselves.

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