'Blocks of nothing' vital to productivity

Block out time to help clear your head.
Block out time to help clear your head. Photo: iStock

Last year LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner wrote a post on LinkedIn explaining why he schedules 30- to 90-minute blocks of "nothing" into his schedule for personal time, coaching, and reflection.

"If you were to see my calendar, you'd probably notice a host of time slots greyed out but with no indication of what's going on," he writes. "There is no problem with my Outlook or printer. The grey sections reflect 'buffers,' or time periods I've purposely kept clear of meetings."

Weiner developed this system in response to a schedule that was becoming "so jammed with back-to-back meetings that I had little time left to process what was going on around me or just think".

LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner.
LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner. Photo: Louise Kennerley

'Absolutely necessary'

At first, he explains, these periods of nothing felt like indulgences — but over time he realised "not only were these breaks important, they were absolutely necessary in order for me to do my job".

During his blocks of "free" time, Weiner focuses on getting to know his team and coaching them to solve problems on their own (rather than just telling them what to do, which seems easier, but would actually cost him more time in the long run); strategic thinking; and reflecting on his company's mission.

"Thinking proactively and thinking strategically and starting to revise or refine your vision, your mission, your strategic objectives, that takes a lot of time. So that's where a lot of my buffer time goes," he said in a recent interview with Business Insider CEO Henry Blodget.

Other things he suggests you do with your buffer time: "Think big, catch up on the latest industry news, get out from under that pile of unread emails, or just take a walk."

Make time for yourself

Whatever you do, he says, "just make sure you make that time for yourself — every day and in a systematic way — and don't leave unscheduled moments to chance. The buffer is the best investment you can make in yourself and the single most important productivity tool I use."

But he says the most important reason to schedule nothing time is to "just catch your breath".

"There is no faster way to feel as though your day is not your own, and that you are no longer in control, than scheduling meetings back to back from the minute you arrive at the office until the moment you leave," Weiner explains. "I've felt the effects of this and seen it with colleagues. Not only is it not fun to feel this way, it's not sustainable."

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