Yesterday, after enjoying one of the glazed donuts I brought to work in celebration of National Donut Day – and, yes, I do intend to blog about the absurd proliferation of “National Days,” perhaps on “National Blog About National Days Day” – I sat down with the members of my management team to review our calendars for next week. It is a Friday morning ritual during which we confirm we are all ridiculously overscheduled. It’s also one of the few times we talk about non-work topics, and I think I won the debate about underwear drawer maintenance. For the record, I believe it is wasteful to fold your underwear. In general, no one at work is going to see your underwear, and if they do, they are not likely going to comment on how crisply folded they appear.
Once we had finished discussing the week ahead – and our underwear – I pointed out that my boss had scheduled a meeting at 12:30 p.m. I asked if the meeting was really necessary. He thought it was important but told me I could skip it. He knows my lunch hour is sacred, but not for dietary reasons.
I run every day at noon. While I haven’t run in an organized event for several years – aside from a Thanksgiving-day fun run for which my motives are not entirely pure, as it features all-you-can-eat pumpkin pie at the finish – my daily run is a certainty. I leave my office, go to the locker room to put on shorts and a shirt, lace up my shoes, and leave the building to run between two and five miles. Every day.
The daily run is the cornerstone of my fitness routine, which has become even more important as I have gotten older and discovered my body is, in fact, suffering under the second law of thermodynamics. Regular exercise is essential to stave off the worst effects of entropy. I also believe the run is vital for my mental health, providing a break from the cerebral work by engaging in physical exertion.
Recently, though, it occurs to me that, in addition to being important for my mental and physical well being, the daily run is the most sacrosanct time on my calendar. I have dedicated my lunch hour to running for more than fifteen years. It is the one item on my calendar blocked in perpetuity thanks to the recurring meeting feature of Microsoft Outlook. I may choose to run a little early or a little late, but I go out every day, without fail.
The rest of my workdays are filled with meetings. They grow and spread. There is always another one, another urgent matter that demands my schedule be reshuffled yet again. I am not bashing meetings. They are essential to get people talking and achieving mutual understanding. Unfortunately, the culture in which I work demands I be available to attend every meeting and any open space on my calendar is time available to be filled with another meeting. Except from 12 to 1.
Lunchtime meetings do get scheduled, but I don’t participate. I don’t go to “brown bag” meetings or potlucks. If there is a retirement party during the lunch hour, I will more often than not find some other time during the day to say goodbye and good luck.
I recently read an article by Jim Benson on his Personal Kanban website in which he says,
A freeway can operate from 0 to 100 percent capacity. But when a freeway’s capacity gets over about 65%, it starts to slow down. When it reaches 100% capacity – it stops.
I don’t know Mr. Benson’s qualifications as a transportation engineer, but the analogy is appealing. I just looked at my calendar for next week to gather some traffic data and found I am scheduled 77.5% of the time between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. That leaves nine hours open on my calendar. Of course, that’s not counting the eleven hours I am double-booked and the two hours I am triple-booked. That’s right: there are thirteen hours next week during which I am supposed to be in more than one place at the same time. The Pauli exclusion principle makes that impossible, so I will be letting down some meeting organizers. Here’s the troubling part: I consider that to be a good week.
Every Friday, as I consider my over-scheduled week ahead, you might think I would consider skipping the run once in a while to get some work done. But, quite the opposite has occurred to me: I want to find more sacred, inviolable time. I want more time to think, plan, and talk to people about the silliness of folded underwear. We need more of that time. The culture needs to respect the blank spaces on the calendar. We need to get a few cars off the organizational road to keep the traffic flowing.
I am not hopeful, but I am going to talk about this with my colleagues. I think I’ll schedule a meeting to discuss it.