Does your agenda allow you to THINK?

Since moving into a leads role at Automattic, my responsibilities have changed quite a bit. Where previously I focussed on direct customer interactions (and some quality assurance), my primary concern is now my team and the division. Chat and tickets have become a tool: they help me understand my team’s challenges and opportunities. While at the current team size I can still get involved personally, at some point, I might have to look into alternative options, like quarterly support rotations or more in-depths ticket reviews.

This beckons the question: what am I doing the entire day? And what should I be doing? This very question was part of my most recent coaching conversation:

How can I organize my day to allocate time for both quantitative work (tickets, chats, meetings) as well as analysis and strategic planning?

Deep thinking rarely happens by accident, especially if you are sitting at your computer the entire day. These are some neurological recommendations:

  • Block out a time slot to think: 50 and 90 min works best.
  • Define the scope and the outcome: a proposal? a recommendation? a report?
  • Manage expectation around accessibility (a.k.a. “I might be unresponsive the next hour or so.”).
  • Turn off distractions, if necessary turn on background music (e.g. Focus@Will)
  • Turn on time tracker.
  • Get to work.
  • If necessary, start at a blank page for the first 10 minutes until your brain behaves.

Long story short: You need to PLAN to think. Otherwise, daily chaos takes over – especially if you work in a company that thrives on Slack and online interaction :).

And that’s what I did. I specifically blocked out time on my calendar to work meaningfully on projects. Meaningful means that the outcome can have an impact. Examples are:

  • An analysis that can help us take a decision.
  • Documentation to share knowledge.
  • Process documentation.
  • Recommendations and proposals.
  • Project plans for experiments.

Screen Shot 2017-11-10 at 14.47.00.png

This is what my calendar looks like on a typical week. The time slots with the frazzled line (as shown on the left of this paragraph) are hours as my work desk. I stick to  8 hours daily from Monday to Friday.

Perfect Work Week

My day starts 5:30 or 6 am. On Thursdays, I start late and work at night instead, after the kids are in bed. During those hours I focus on catching up with my colleagues in the US.

  1. Light purple: these are the thinking blocks. I might not always need them, but if I choose to do something else, it is a conscious decision.
  2. Yellow: 8 weekly hours of direct customer interaction.
  3. Dark and light blue: meetings, some of them are bi-weekly.
  4. Dark purple: WooCierge is the customer-facing facing experiment. These slots might be booked or might not be booked.
  5. Rose: a leftover buffer for things that need to get done this week, but fell through the cracks.
  6. Green and grey: breaks.

The white space within my work hours is where the to do list gets slashed. This is also the buffer space for a growing team. Every new team member adds a weekly meeting, regular prep time, performance reviews to my calendar. Looking at my current calendar I know that I can handle the future. And that gives me quite a lot of tranquility.

Do I always leave on time? I wish! I have gotten better though, mostly because I purposely schedule kids stuff directly after work, so I have a hard end. Sometimes you need to be smarter than your brain 😉

[This post is part of my journey with my career coach Stephanie Vora, a perk offered by Automattic. You can find all posts here.]


  1. Hannah Swain
    11th November 2017

    Thanks for sharing how you handle your calendar – I can see the value of planning in thinking blocks.

  2. Liz Swafford
    11th November 2017

    Thank you for mentioning the ‘thinking blocks’. It’s easy to feel guilty to spend time on thinking or planning when you should be working. But, those times are really what makes or breaks your whole week. They’re a total necessity!

    1. Valentina
      12th November 2017

      Isn’t it interesting how we oppose thinking/planning to working?

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