Chunks and Sprinkles

Since I left the WCH Pharmacy Department in 2011 my work has been almost entirely self-directed. That has made time and attention management really important considerations. Sometimes I’m better at it than others. This week I haven’t been so good. I have tended to think that it’s about routine, but today it occurred to me that one of the factors influencing this may be meetings. I find that when I have a meeting, it often throws off my whole day, or half the day at least.

I didn’t reach this epiphany by myself, it came about as I was listening to this podcast episode yesterday. Adam Grant was talking to Tim Ferriss about the concept of chunking vs sprinkling. He cited some study that looked at people giving random acts of kindness – either by sprinkling them throughout the week or having a dedicated chunk of time set aside each week. Apparently the chunkers were happier and more energised than the sprinklers, which was a surprising finding.

Paul Graham wrote an essay on a similar theme around ten years ago. He talked about managers and makers schedules. How managers days are made up of one hour units to be allocated as necessary. Makers deal in half day units because the nature of their work requires bigger units of time (e.g. writing). Taking a short meeting is no big deal for someone who has a manager schedule – they just slot it in. But if you have a maker schedule that meeting can disrupt your whole day.

It was at this moment that the lightbulb went off for me. Not just regarding my own schedule, but that of colleagues. I don’t have a manager schedule anymore, I’ve got a maker schedule. I work in half day units now. Grabbing a coffee with someone, taking a phone call, or attending a meeting has a different sort of opportunity cost associated with it these days.

If there’s one thing I’m grateful to the coronavirus for, it’s that there might be less meetings occurring in the world. Don’t get me wrong, the one yesterday was speculative and very enjoyable. But there’s also a lot that aren’t. More mindful meetings perhaps.