Monday, February 4, 2008

My Top 10 rules for Schedule triage

In previous posts, I've described my approach to email triage.

Here's my approach to triage of my daily schedule.

My meetings are typically scheduled from 7a to 6p, followed by dinner with my family until 8p, followed by email, reading and writing until 1am. My assistant and I schedule each day using the following rules:

1. Leave 50% of the schedule available for the events of each day - in a complex organization, many operational issues arise each day that are easier to resolve 'just in time' than via meetings scheduled a week later. I try to reserve 50% of my time for real time response to strategic issues, ad hoc meetings, phone calls, and opportunities, doing today's work today.

2. Manage vendor relationships - I receive a hundred requests for vendor meetings each day. My assistant triages these. My approach to vendors is that I select a few close vendor partners through exhaustive research and then really cultivate those relationships. If my selected vendor partners need me to alpha test products, speak to their staff about our needs, or comment on their strategy, I'm available to do so. If new vendors cold call me, I cannot take their calls, although I will review their products if they email me information to read asynchronously. My message to new vendors is that I'll contact them when I'm ready to discuss their products based on my review of electronic briefing materials.

3. Evaluate the impact factor - Every day I receive numerous requests to speak, travel and write. I evaluate the impact factor of each of these requests. How many people will I reach? Based on the audience, what positive change might result? Will there be an opportunity to discuss issues with detractors? As I've said in previous posts, I embrace debate and controversy, since resolving conflict can have great impact.

4. Serve those who serve you - In the course of my jobs at HMS, CareGroup, NEHEN, MA-Share and HITSP I depend upon hundreds of people. These people often work long hours, endure inconvenient travel, and sacrifice their personal time to work on projects I lead. I do whatever I can to support them whenever they ask me to speak, attend specialty society meetings, or write articles.

5. Leverage travel - Travel is miserable today. Each year, I fly 400,000 miles and I leverage every minute of that travel. I try to cluster many meetings, speaking engagements, and events around each trip. If I'm on the West Coast, I group all my San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego meetings together into a 2 day cluster.

6. Use the interstitial time - Each day is filled with gaps between meetings, walking from place to place, and driving. I use this time as much as possible by filling it with hallway conversations, wireless email, and calls from the hands free bluetooth microphone in my Prius.

7. Keep focused on the important issues - The tyranny of the urgent creates distractions every day, but I stay focused on our yearly operating plan and 5 year plan. When I look at each week's schedule on Sunday night, I make sure that all the important issues are pre-scheduled into my week.

8. Debrief after every day - At the end of every day, I review my important issues list and review the progress and next steps on each issue. By doing this, I minimize the number of forgotten followups and dropped balls.

9. Respond to each email each day - I do not know the answer to every question that I'm asked via email, but I respond to each one with a description of the process I've initiated to get an accurate answer. This ensures that every person who emails me knows that I've acknowledged their question, even if an answer may take a few days to determine.

10. Never be the rate limiting step - In my schedule there is always time to resolve open issues, settle a political conflict, or answer an operational question. I close every day with an empty desk, an empty voice mailbox and an empty email queue. This enables all my staff to be as efficient and productive as possible since they are not waiting for me.

These 10 triage rules work most of the time to keep my schedule sane and stakeholders happy. Of course there are times when travel cannot be clustered or there are more meetings and urgent issues than hours in a day, but on average, my day is well balanced.

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