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How to tame your PM calendar chaos
Let’s face it: a PM’s calendar sucks. It truly does. And no, we are not “celebrating busy looking”. Think how you can fit:
- Stakeholder meetings, customer calls and debrief sessions
- “Dailies”, standups and ad-hoc “Do you have 5 min for a few questions?”
- Plannings, retros and groomings
- All hands, squad syncs and 1-1s
- Product reviews, design critiques and roll-out preps
And these are only the predictable ones. Imagine all other “keeping the (process) lights on” we need to tackle. Now multiple that by the amount of teams and products you are PMng. No wonder people say we run double-shifts, and “real work” starts when everyone’s gone.
Every PM I know, no matter how organised they are, falls in the calendar vortex. And one of the worst second order effects of this situation is your loss of thinking time. Thinking takes a back seat. “I’ll think in bed” I used to say.
There’s no silver bullet, but I did a few things that helped me get more clarity and time back:
1. Audit your calendar. Mark unproductive meetings and be straight with everyone: this ain’t working so either eliminate the meeting or shorten it.
2. Change 30 min defaults on Calendar to 25 minutes, and 60 minutes to 50 minutes. Add 5 min buffer in between. You’re earning 1-hour-a-day back for every 6 long-form meetings. That really adds up.
3. Rearrange the slots so you fill up holes. Having 30 min in between calls is dead time. Back-to-backs with small buffers is actually better.
4. Instead of blocking small “BUSY” blocks every other day (I know you’re doing it), rearrange everything so you have at least one clear afternoon (or ideally full clear day). Uninterrupted working/thinking time. And instead of adding a massive BUSY block, just say NO to whoever tries to block.
5. Try to schedule all stakeholder meetings to the same day. This way you “get in the zone”, and handling requests and discussions is easier.
A bonus part on this post - how to make a PM Manager’s calendar less chaotic. As a leader you’re dealing with different situations, but you also have more leverage. So beyond all I added☝️, I also recommend:
1. Re-distribute some of the meetings between your own team (PMs, PMMs, QAs, Researchers). Don’t underestimate them. If you’re creating a product-first culture, they will be amazing proxies.
2. Bring the product-first mentality to engineering, and get tech leads going into stakeholder meetings. You actually get a compound effect as communication flows much faster.
3. Make sure meeting pre-reads are written and shared. Often you’ll see meetings cancelled because the pre-read came out empty (you get time back).
And really really important for both PMs and PM Managers: a big part of calendar chaos is the stress of not feeling you’re progressing, so be at peace if it's a "not gonna do any work" day (air quotes because you’re actually working).
Less stress = mental clarity = better decisions.