The 20-Minute Call

Here’s an insight into productivity that takes many of us too long to learn: if you do creative work, the best gift you can possibly give your schedule is to create large, open blocks of time. In these open blocks, you can do the work of thinking, writing, drawing, composing, etc., without constantly watching the clock. You can focus on a problem without switching gears to think about your next task.

But how do you create these blocks of open time?

First, for every interruption that appears in your schedule, ask “Do I need to do this?” Skipping one 2-hour meeting or call frees up plenty of time for thinking right there.

Second, though, if you do need to do a fair number of meetings or phone calls, don’t be a slave to the idea that meetings need to start at times that end in :00 or :30. A meeting that starts at 9 will likely run to 10, but so could a meeting that starts at 9:20. If a phone call will move your thinking forward, spend as much time on it as you want. But if not, stacking calls seeking basic info closer together will free up time — 6 20-minute calls takes 2 hours; 6 30-minute calls takes 3.

When we give low-priority things less time, they tend to take less time. So start scheduling 20, or even 15-minute calls, stacked together, and start protecting open time. You’ll probably get more thinking done.

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