To what extent are our tasks and our days predictable, or our decisions clear-cut? The days of police, firefighters or emergency medical personnel are unpredictable, but so is anyone who has their door, phone or email open to their colleagues, students and the rest of campus. As we manage meetings, queries and emails the way a station handles trains, we often crave blocks of time. We seek the moments of immersion in planning, thinking or creating where ideas can flow or at least be worked through without interruption.
Why might these full mornings focused on a project matter? Paul Graham suggests programmers and other “makers” dislike meetings or interruptions because they break those blocks of time into pieces. “A single meeting can blow a whole afternoon, by breaking it into two pieces each too small to do anything hard in. Plus you have to remember to go to the meeting.”
So how can we create blocks of time?
Consider first what length and timing of blocks really work for you. There is no point booking an afternoon block when your brain tends to nap, or a 5-8 a.m. morning block when getting up for 7am is a challenge.
Build in blocks of time in advance into your schedule and when possible place appointments or meetings you can control around it. An empty calendar suggests there is no cost to adding a meeting Wednesday at 9am, when that may be your preferred block of time.
Relocate. Leave a note on your door (if you want) as to when you will be around for questions and then find a spot where others cannot drop by. Libraries outside your discipline, coffee shops with your back to the crowd offer places to work, especially in the summer.
Even the best of plans go off track. Despite efforts to save blocks, there will be those meetings, academic emergencies, chance conversations, or thesis defenses that cannot be otherwise scheduled. Hopefully though, other more flexible meetings can be booked around them retaining a “maker’s” block of time elsewhere or a block can be created outside 9-5.