LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner On The Value Of Under-Scheduling

Strategic thinking doesn't find itself. It needs time—about 30 to 90 minutes—and space. LinkedIn's Jeff Weiner shows us why.

Jeff Weiner is a busy dude.

As the CEO of LinkedIn, he has a constant pull of to-dos, and as leaders often do, he has days of meeting after meeting after meeting. Realizing he had little time to think, he opted for what first felt like an "indulgence": he started scheduling nothing.

Writing on his LinkedIn page (naturally), Weiner explains that his scheduling nothing are his "buffers," that is, 30- to 90-minute blocks of time without meetings. And rather than a kind of indulgence, Weiner realized the free spaces were "absolutely necessary" for him to do his job—as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett would agree.

Creating the time for strategy

We talk a lot about how busyness gets in the way of good business here at Fast Company: that if we're going to solve any of the problems that are in front of us, it will require actually attending to them (rather than our phones). Echoing what we once learned from Einstein, Weiner explains that one of the responsibilities of leadership is to create the time-space to strategize:

"As the company grows larger ... you will require more time than ever before to just think: Think about what the company will look like in three to five years; think about the best way to improve an already popular product or address an unmet customer need; think about how you can widen a competitive advantage or close a competitive gap, etc."

He then goes on to deconstruct the elements of such horizon-seeking. To
do it well, Weiner says, you require:

  • Uninterrupted focus
  • Thoroughly developing and questioning assumptions
  • Synthesizing all of the data, information, and knowledge that's incessantly coming your way
  • Connecting dots
  • Bouncing ideas off of trusted colleagues
  • Iterating through multiple scenarios

And to do all that conceiving and re-conceiving, Weiner says, you need time, which requires stepping away from tactical execution to make room for strategic planning. This will only happen if you create the situation, he says.

"If you don't take the time to think proactively you will increasingly find yourself reacting to your environment rather than influencing it," Weiner continues. "The resulting situation will inevitably require far more time (and meetings) than thinking strategically would have to begin with."

In other words, if we don't schedule time to think, we start to build up innovation debt. And while the costs of constant busyness are not immediately apparent, from what Weiner says, they most certainly accrue.

[Hat tip: LinkedIn]

[Calendar: Marijus Auruskevicius via Shutterstock]

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11 Comments

  • johnrenesch

    Drake, good point on this practice but there is also a need for NOT thinking, simply being quiet, turning everything "off" for a spell, a point I made in a recent post on "rebooting ourselves" - see  http://thegreatgrowingup.com/f...

  • MANUEL MATA

    Strategic planning is essential to innovate. Besides the leader can prevent lots of problems that the company usually finds because it is not prepared for the future events. "Wasting" time to win time!

  • Mark

    Everyone needs time for reflective thinking - in their life as well as their career. If you hate having meetings with yourself for 60-90mins then find a coach - works even better.

  • Paul H. Burton

    I talk to my audiences about Big Focus time and Little Focus time. Big Focus time is the large chunks we carve out for working on  large, more strategic efforts. These have always been recognized as important. They've also largely been addressed.

    Little Focus time is something most people don't do well. The notion is to carve out ten- to fifteen-minute blocks of time to realign the day, check in with team members, debrief oneself from the last meeting, or prepare for the next meeting. These Little Focus efforts are incredibly important to making the day run more smoothly and keep the train on the tracks.

    The best way to make this  happen is to hard schedule those a small bit of time after each meeting - actually put it on the calendar as "busy." You may lose a number of these Little Focus periods to meetings that run long or people who "convert" them to their meeting time, but if you schedule them after every appointment, you will get SOME of them. And one or two of those periods per day add up to a lot of Little Focus periods per month, per year, well, you get the picture.

  • peteraltschuler

    What's far more interesting about LinkedIn is its executives' strategy to allow violations of the U. S. Constitution -- a policy that does not appear in its terms of use but that permits the owners and managers of LinkedIn groups to block any members' contributions to discussions. What's particularly pernicious is that a block in one group applies to every other group members belong to, and LinkedIn won't identify the owner or manager who imposed the block, making it impossible to understand the reason behind it and the ways to remove it. That part of the policy alone violates two amendments -- the 6th and the 14th -- which guarantee the right to confront an accuser. Because blocked posts must be reviewed before posting, LinkedIn engages in prior restraint, which breaches the First Amendment.

    With all that free time on his hands, it's clear the Jeff Weiner is not thinking of ways to operate within the law but, instead, how to get around it.

  • Shallie Bey

    Thank you for a great post. The message of the need for strategic time is certainly true for leaders of large businesses. What I think is often lost is the need for this in small businesses. People tend to think of thinking as not being work.

    One of the great contributions of this article is not only discussing the fact that thinking is work...but making it clear that thinking is probably a leader's most important work. The most important work must be a priority...not an afterthought.

  • Mary Hackman

    Thank you for writing this!! I would use free time but always felt guilty for having buffers on my packed calendar.  Now that it's endorsed by Jeff, I feel so much better.  The only way I found to do this was something called 'ruthless prioritization'...meaning I was ruthless about what I did and did not spend my time on so I had to get skilled at saying 'No'.  Saying 'No' and having 'think time' go hand in hand.  You can only do this if you are clear on what you want to accomplish.

  • Kathy Mast

    The 20% free time recommendation from Marissa Meyer at Yahoo, but espoused while she worked at Google! Her research showed that about 50% of Google's innovations came from 20% time. It is one of the things people want most but are challenged to implement. Great advice for leaders who want to innovate and hire and retain top talent.  

  • Mary Lynne

    It is easy to focus on day to day tasks and lose sight of the important tasks that are not "time sensitive".  I've found it most helpful to schedule time every other week that is for strategic planning and brainstorming.  I stop my day to day tasks for an hour or two and focus on taking my department to the next level.  This article is a great reminder of how important this is!

  • mycarzs

    He is Simple and great man,He has no Time Spend with Friend and other.Linked in is a Popular Social Networking Sites