We believe in the value of our team’s professional capacity. As a firm, the team’s capacity is all we have to offer our value to our clients. So we spend a lot of time teaching our team the theory of brain capacity management, the value they have as individuals, and the importance of their commitment to collaboration with each other in fulfilling the scope of our client contracts.
It’s a big deal, and we know capacity management among services companies is hard for everyone. So I want to write a 2 part series on how we approach this important work with our team. This is Part 1.
The value of a team’s capacity is found in the study of the brain. The rational part of how we all think is located in the frontal lobe of the neocortex of the brain called the Prefrontal Cortex, or the PFC for short. This area of the brain performs all rational planning, prioritization, decision-making, and generally all strategic activities that take place in this area of the mind. But the PFC is a very limited area of the mind, and neurologists (especially ones that are focused on leadership as it relates to the mind) know that this area of the mind can’t hold on to much information at any one time. Books like Your Brain at Work by David Rock teach concepts on how a person leveraging their professional capacity manages their PFC at work.
Here are some principles we’ve learned from these books, the patterns we’ve seen from entrepreneurs, and from the study of our team and other teams:
- Having a team plan their work before they do their work is a strategic activity. Planning work while doing work at the same time uses the PFC in inefficient and ineffective ways. It’s generally not best to do these at the same time. So we have our team ‘braindump’ their work week at the beginning of each week.
- Planning is a future activity. This means that you don’t plan the present, you always plan the future. Seems obvious. We found our team to be more strategic when they look into the future, try to make sense of it, and try to predict what it will look like in terms of the scope they are meant to fulfill. Do you want your team to be more strategic? Then have them plan out what work looks like in the future. All effective planning and strategy is always a future-oriented exercise. If you want an ‘intentional’ team (just another way to say ‘strategic’) then have them work on the prediction of the future.
- A calendar is the perfect reflection of the time we all have as humans to state clearly what we can and cannot commit to. So professionals who understand, study, and practice the use of a calendar are generally more effective and valuable than those who keep things on lists or in their PFCs. Lists are fine too since they keep things out of your PFC, but lists inside of calendar blocks are extremely more reflective of the professional life someone has planned to live in advance.
- Entrepreneurial leaders have a right (and we would say a responsibility) to teach their teams how to work effectively to fulfill the scope of their client work. Leaders who leave ‘efficient work habits’ up to each individual team member will generally struggle. People were not generally taught to be strategic with the use of their time, so in a team of 10 people you will find most do not have any practices for future planning and effective organization around their work. Leaders teach this – team don’t generally come with that built-in (though you know some are made that way, and to them we all just go “how do you know how to do that?”).
- We spend a great deal of time training our team on our methodologies for calendar workblocking because of what we believe about their time. We believe their commitment of time is a great value to us, and we honor the team’s commitment and devotion they make of their precious time to our firm’s work. Our team is valuable and so we teach them to manage their capacity with an understanding of that level of value.
- A team’s calendar should reflect the commitment of their time capacity to our firm. That means if we hire someone full-time, we will teach them to block their calendar for 40 hours that week. In a sense, those 40 hours have been given to us by the team member in exchange for their pay. That’s our firm contract with our team. In a sense, the commitment of their valuable time is our firm’s time now after they’ve been hired. Whether they are in an office, a cowork space, or working at home, those are our hours and we honor the use of those with great care in the firm.
There are many more principles to this methodology but I hope these first few principles help to understand the value of a team collaboratively calendar workblocking together. One concept that comes from this future planning of a calendar is the actual comparison of what you planned the future to be versus how the plan actually turned out. The difference matters and it teaches teams so much. This is a secondary stage of calendar workblocking that involves the aftermath of the initial planning like: learning how to move blocks, how to batch (the size of your blocks), the value of rhythms, blocks that should be required on everyone’s calendar, accountability and upkeep, asynchronous calendar blocking effects on other team, and many others.
These concepts are life-changing for our firm, and for the companies that we have taught to implement these methodologies. So why do more companies not do this? Because it is hard to lead teams in this way. Many team feel they have a right to their own personal calendar management techniques (or lack of them for most team), but great leaders want to lead in this way because of how they care for and honor the time of their teams. It’s honestly hard to press into a team in this way. But it’s worth it. Another reason is that most companies want team working, not planning (though they won’t say it that way). But teams who work before they plan are more inefficient and ineffective than teams who spend time planning and then working. It feels counterintuitive to take up a few hours a week to sit down and try to predict on a calendar what your week will look like. But this practice alone will make the ‘doing’ of your work way more valuable and effective than not planning at all.
Effective professionals and entrepreneurs are ones you’ll see committing some portion of their time to planning. We believe in this methodology so much that my partner and I actually plan our whole calendar out each year. The whole year. All 12 months. We spend about 5 days doing this at the turn of each year, and it is life-changing. Most people think we are crazy and that this is impossible – but it’s not. We call this particular methodology SCWB, or Strategic Calendar Workblocking. It allows us to run 2 full-time companies in the time most entrepreneurs run 1 company.
In teaching and learning these methodologies, one key concept to understand is the freedom this brings. That’s right – planning your calendar in advance is your fastest point to provide you the freedom you crave. It frees you from a chaotic mind, undefined parameters within which to do your creative work, and relieves you from the anxiety that can plague so many. Don’t let your misguided addiction to your concept of freedom keep you from leading your team and planning your life to be successful.
Plan your future. Own your future.