“Flow Thursdays” – a day of liberation with no standing meetings

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In the course of all this scheduling turmoil, another amazing thing happened. We took a look at these meetings and asked the hard question: “Is this meeting really worth having?”

Last week I had the pleasure of my fourth “Flow Thursday” at Tasktop, a day where we have no standing meetings. I cannot tell you the joy that such a simple concept can bring.

Tasktop has been built on the concept of “Less is More” and on improving individual and company efficiency by eliminating unnecessary work. From Tasktop Dev, to Tasktop Sync, and now with Tasktop Integration Hub, we have poured our heart and soul into preventing context switching for our customers and removing the headache of mind-numbing administrivia.

It’s not an easy job – but it is a noble one. The irony of this is that as a company we (like many of you) have calendars packed with meetings. The number of standing meetings we have is astounding. And yes, we use our own product to help prevent the need for standing meetings for status updates and so on. So, I can only imagine what other people’s calendars must look like…

My calendar pre-Flow Thursday

We know that context switching is a productivity killer – as Dominica DeGrandis, our Director of Digital Transformation, writes in her book Making Work Visible, “just like computers, humans incur overhead when context switching between different tasks.” And yet, here we are, scheduling six 30-minute meetings back to back to back. Or worse, four 30-minute meetings all separated by 30 minutes.

Click image to buy Dominica DeGrandis’ hugely popular book on helping you and your team to dramatically increase your productivity.

And then an amazing thing happened. Our CEO, Mik Kersten, announced during a company “All-Hands” meeting that there would be “no more standing meetings on Thursdays”.

I messaged someone afterwards and asked “did that really happen?” I have to admit, I was a bit skeptical at first. And then the changes came. Meetings were moved! The blue boxes on my Thursdays started disappearing!

And in the course of moving Thursday meetings, we had to move around other standing meetings on the other days of the week to make room. In the course of all this scheduling turmoil, another amazing thing happened. We took a look at these meetings and asked the hard question: “Is this meeting really worth having?”

Turns out we didn’t need some of the meetings…so even more time was freed up. So now, when I look at my calendar a few weeks in advance, there’s a big blank spot on Thursdays. I get to fill it with what I want to do.

Liberation! My calendar now.

And since I know other people have open calendars, it’s so much easier to have design or brainstorming sessions to push high-priority work forward. Or it gives me time to write a blog post. Or I can block off time to do some in-depth planning for the future of our product. So even though my day may still consist of meetings, they feel more empowering.

It reminds me of the saying that work is what you have to do, and fun is what you want to do. You could argue that people are able to actually work harder during Flow Thursdays because they have the time to really dig in on deep work they want to do instead of bouncing back and forth to meetings they have to attend.

In some ways, this is a formalization of our “Thinking Days” which I wrote about a few years ago. When we initiated these, it took some explaining to other departments. We had to tell people “nope, I can’t meet that day”. It was amazing to clear our calendar for a day and go do the things we didn’t have time for otherwise. It’s wonderful that the rest of the company is now empowered by the CEO to do the same.

And in case you’re thinking “we could never do this”, watch this video of Bill Gates talking about what he learned from Warren Buffet about scheduling his calendar.

Now, I’d argue that Bill Gates and Warren Buffet have more autonomy to decide how to plan their time, but I also know they have more demands on them that just about anyone else reading this post. But if these titans are able to let their companies (and people) work without meeting with them, perhaps you can too?

If you’re an individual contributor, take one day a month, clear your calendar and go ‘have a think’. Do the important, but not urgent tasks that you can’t fit into a 30-minute slot. Or better yet, see if you can set a policy of no standing meetings one day a week. That may be harder to pull off if the rest of your company doesn’t follow suit, but you can definitely find one day a month. Just do it. Don’t ask permission. But if you want to keep doing it, you’ll want to document what you get done during these times. You can use this to defend your actions and maybe even convince others to follow in your footsteps.

If you’re running a company or a department, can you implement a Flow Day for your people? I think you’ll find the results are well worth the effort. After Mik’s announcement at the All-hands, he sent out a follow-up email that sums up this point very well. He said, “While each knowledge worker fundamentally owns finding their own flow, the point of management and leadership is to get obstacles to that flow out of the way.”

And I’ll leave you with this: some companies like this one and this one are doing something similar, but with email. They’re instituting a “No Email” policy. For one day a week, or one day a month, they’re not allowed to use emails except in case of emergency. They’re finding they’re more productive, more creative and more focused. I’ll admit that this idea scares me, but that’s probably a good indication that I should embrace it.

Just think, what would your day be like if you didn’t have meetings or emails?

You may actually get something done!

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