7 Calendar Tips for Startups

I once had a pleasure of hearing Lou Gerstner, former CEO of IBM, speak. Something he said stuck in my head: “Never let anyone own your schedule.” Its simple, its obvious, yet its genius.

Over the years, whenever I didn’t follow this advice, I was stressed and unproductive. Gradually I learned that planning and following a routine makes a huge difference in how I feel and what I get done. Here are some of the things that help me manage my schedule that you may find helpful:

1. Create a routine

No matter what you are working on, create a routine. Block times for specific activities, and stick with the plan. Turn your calendar into a bunch of blocks, and put activities into those blocks. Whatever is not planned, you don’t do. If you want free time / exercise time / reading TechCrunch time – plan it all.

Your routine may change through the year, but at any given time its better to have a plan. For example, if you are working on launching a company, and need to do customer discovery, coding, and hiring, then prioritize and block specific times for each activity.

Here is a sample calendar I made that illustrates some of the concepts and ideas from this post.

Sample Calendar

2. Group meetings and calls into blocks

Group meetings and calls into time blocks. For example, if you need to have outside meetings, block two 1/2 days a week for those meetings, and go to the outside meetings only during those times. Do the same thing for in office meetings. This way you are not only creating a chunk of time for meetings, you are also creating other blocks of time that you will be able to important P1 work. Do the same thing with calls, book them all back-to-back.

3. Optimize time for different meeting types

Personally I am now a big fan of 30 minute meetings, and 10 minute calls. I think 10 min calls are great way to initially connect with someone or give someone quick advice. You can do Google Hangout or Skype if you prefer to see the person instead of just hearing them. The reason 10 min calls work is because people skip b.s. and get to the point. Try it, 10 mins is actually a lot of time, if you focus. I prefer to do these calls on Fridays, when I am usually working from home.

I am not a big fan of introductory coffee meetings, lunches and dinners. I am a huge fan of coffee and meals with people I already know. Those meetings are typically productive and fun, but the first time you are meeting someone its more productive to do a call, or an actual 30 min meeting in the office.

Here are the types of meetings you might want to book:

  • 30 min meeting in the office to get to know someone or catch up
  • 45 min meeting outside of the office, allow 15 min travel time
  • 10 min call to help someone who needs advice
  • 15 min daily standup – great for startups / engineering teams
  • 30 min weekly staff meeting

Whatever meetings you do, group them into blocks depending on your particular schedule. If you feel like particular type of meeting needs more or less time, then adjust the block accordingly.

4. Use Appointment Slots

There is a great feature in Google Calendar called Appointment Slots. It allows you to book a chunk of time, and then split it into pieces. For example, I can book 3 hours of outside meetings and then split it into 3 meetings – 1 hour each. Or I can book 1 hour of calls and split it into 6 calls 10 minutes each. There is also a bunch of specific tools, like doodle, that do that too.

The next step is to create bit.ly links for different blocks of time.You can have a link for your outside meetings, another link for 30 min inside meetings and yet another one for 10 min calls. You then share these link with people, and they can book the time with you. I’ve done this with Techstars candidate companies and it was amazingly effective. It minimized the back and forth on the email and saved a ton of time for me and the companies.

This won’t work with everyone, because some people may find this rude. I personally don’t find it rude at all when someone sends me their availability. In any case, if you are not comfortable sending the link to a someone, then you can use your own Appointment Slots, suggest a few meeting times, and then book the specific slot yourself.

Btw, if you are asking someone to meet, always propose several specific alternative times such as Tue at 4:30 pm, or 5:00 pm or Wed at 11:00 am or Fri at 4:30 pm.
David Tisch gave a great talk that covers scheduling meetings and many more basics of communication.

5. Block time for email

This is the most important tip in the whole post. Email will own you unless you own it. To own your email you must avoid doing it all the time. To do that you need to schedule the time to do your email. It is absolutely a must. In fact it is so important that I wrote a whole entire blog post just about managing your email. Go read Inbox 0.

6. Plan your exercise and family time

Unless you put it on the calendar, it won’t get done. Well, that applies to your exercise and time with your family. Whether you go in the morning, afternoon or evening; whether you do it 3 times a week or every day, put the exercise time on the calendar. My friend and mentor Nicole Glaros, makes it very clear that her mornings, until 10 am, belong to her. She hits the pavement or the gym, depending on the weather, and rarely deviates from her routine.

I have been guilty of not having regular exercise routine because I am adjusting to my new in-program schedule, but I am jamming exercise in whenever I can, 4 times a week, and actively working on locking in my specific exercise schedule. Without regular exercise I can’t be productive at running the fast-paced 13 week marathon called Techstars NYC program.

Same thing goes about planning time with your family and significant others. If you are a workaholic like me, you will end up stealing time from your family, unless you book it in advance and train yourself to promptly unplug. Many people in the industry have talked about planning family time. My favorite is Brad Feld, who talks about it a lot.

7. Actually manage your time

I think about my time a lot. I think about where it goes. I think about where can I get more of it, and how to optimize it. When I was running GetGlue, I had an assistant who was managing my time. She was awesome, she really was. But when I joined Techstars, I decided that I will manage my calendar myself. I have to confess that I am super happy about this decision.

I find myself thinking about what I am doing, who am I meeting with and why a lot more. I meet with HUGE amount of people every week. My schedule is particularly insane during the selection process. Yet, because I manage my calendar, follow a routine, plan meetings in blocks and use Appointment slots, I find myself less overwhelmed and less stressed.

Taking ownership of my calendar and planning my days and weeks, made me a happier and more productive human. I hope this post helps you get there too.

And of course, would love to hear your productivity tips. How do you manage your time? How do you handle your calendar? What tools do you use? Please share in the comments below.

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3 comments

  1. […] feedback on this. Today’s tip is from Alex Iskold, the Techstars NY Managing Director and is 7 Calendar Tips for Startups. If you struggle with your calendar, it’s highly […]

  2. Great tips, most challenging for me is sticking to the schedule as things come up all the time. Spot on with shorter meetings/calls, so much more effective specially for non-design related topics. On email I used to have an app called Goldmine that helped me link emails to specific contact with action items so I did not lose the important info often contained in email but they moved up the chain so looking for something else. Having an empty inbox is a beautiful sight I have not seen in a while.

  3. […] etc. You will be able to focus. For more on how to manage your calendar and allocate time, see my 7 Calendar Tips for Startups […]

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