In true entrepreneur fashion, I tend to jam-pack my calendar, accounting for nearly every waking minute of my day. Meticulous scheduling is great for cramming in a lot of “stuff”—15 minutes for meditation in the morning, 10 minutes to get ready, and a five-minute walking commute. But this obsession with efficiency has significant drawbacks. Moving through a rolling schedule of events leaves little room for the kind of deliberate idleness that generates creative thought.
I discovered this habit when I gave everyone in my organization access to my calendar and made any open slot fair game for meetings. When the organization was smaller, this worked fine. But as we grew, my accessibility meant that my calendar quickly filled up with meetings. That left no time for strategic thought.
This came to a head when I was knee-deep in a website redesign. I had several half-hour windows dotted throughout the day for reflecting on the new site’s direction, but an afternoon of them passed without me making any considerable progress. I felt blocked and stymied. And it was clear I’d blow that evening’s deadline.
Here’s how I started to let go of that time management culture and prioritize high-quality work:
1. Create a dialogue around expectations
Be explicit about what you expect and what your teammates can expect of you. This means taking the time to define exactly what you hope to see from a teammate, and being up front about the amount of work you can reasonably complete in a specific time frame. When I worked on the website, I knew it wouldn’t look good for the founder to miss a deadline the entire team had set. However, I recognized that it was equally important for me not to rush to judgments and make a half-baked decision.
As soon as I realized I needed a deadline extension, I should have made that clear and reset expectations with the team. Ultimately, I did finish in a more-or-less acceptable time frame because I distinguished between excellence and perfection when setting my self-expectations. Perfection wasn’t required to move to the next step, but a high-quality output was, and that’s what I aimed to deliver.
2. Don’t make everything urgent
My worst work experience was under a boss who manufactured false priorities nearly daily. At first, I found myself working until the wee hours on the latest “emergency.” Eventually, I stopped treating his requests as urgent. When a real emergency arose, I was slow to act because I had long since stopped trusting that he communicated what was genuinely urgent.
That’s why when I became a boss myself, I didn’t want to create false urgencies. I also knew that it was important for my teammates to do the same. Arbitrary deadlines construct false senses of urgency, and when there are too many of those, people no longer respect the true emergencies that demand all hands on deck.
Every piece of work might be important, but not every problem is time-sensitive. The morning after I busted my deadline in planning the website, I told the team that I’d dropped the ball. I canceled most of my meetings, grabbed my computer, and left the building for a more creative space, letting myself walk and ruminate. By the end of the day, I’d gotten enough done to pass the project off to the design team. And I realized that the urgency I’d created wasn’t real. But it had required me to reject my original time constraints and remake my schedule so I can do my best work.
3. Schedule time for deep creative thinking
Our collective obsession with efficiency encroaches on the space we need for creative thought. That’s why I increasingly set aside specific time blocks for “creative thinking,” “product ideation,” and “long-term vision.” I make myself unavailable for meetings during these calendar blocks, and this ensures that I allocate appropriate time for creative thought while still being present for collaboration.
Yes, you might come across a great idea at an unexpected time (in the shower, at the gym, even in a dream). However, those moments don’t always provide sufficient time to cultivate inspiration and creativity. When you allow time to think without doing, you have the mental space to explore a topic at a deeper level. I’ve personally found that blocking out time for the creative process improves the rest of my work because that brainstorming mindset transfers to other projects and tasks.
It’s tempting to want to maximize every moment for the sake of efficiency, but by doing so, you’re making yourself less productive. When you intentionally set aside time to think, rather than do, you’ll prevent time management pressures from stifling strategic thinking and creativity.
Colin Darretta is a cofounder and partner at DojoMojo and the founder and CEO of WellPath. He is a former Goldman Sachs investment banker, and private equity professional turned entrepreneur and angel investor.