The Most Misunderstood Tool of Our Time (and How to Better Use It)

Near the end of The Excellence Dividend: Meeting the Tech Tide with Work That Wows and Jobs That Last, author Tom Peters offers a powerful perspective on evaluating time management.

“You = Your Calendar. You are your calendar.

Your calendar never lies.

Your calendar always knows. (Do you?)

The way we spend our time is our priorities.

The way we spend our time is our strategy.

The way we spend our time is what we (really) care about.

The way we spend our time is who we are.”

Does this leave you feeling offended, or inspired?

The reality is that most of our calendars are blank, and when used, it’s only for the purpose of scheduling meetings. We live life mostly by winging it, going with the flow, and giving almost zero respect to our calendar. Yet, we are constantly wondering where all of our time disappears.

A well-managed calendar signals commitment to the things and people you care about most as a professional, business owner, friend, family member, and whatever other roles you play.

So if you’re the loosey-goosey type with your schedule like me, what can we do to get better?

Peters provides ideas to “calendar better,” starting with three of the most time-consuming events in our weekly schedules. He inspires us to ask the right questions.

1) Meetings

Ask Yourself: Am I taking full advantage of the opportunity to connect as a participant, or meeting organizer?

Meetings get a bad rap, because we can’t seem to stop having them, and we can’t stop talking about ways to have more productive ones.

Peters redefines them entirely. It’s not about running better meetings, he argues, it’s about seeing meetings as the “primary platform for leadership excellence.” He even equates them to theater.  

“Every meeting that does not stir the imagination AND curiosity of attendees AND increase bonding AND cooperation AND engagement AND sense of worth AND motivate rapid action AND enhance enthusiasm is a PLO/ Permanently Lost Opportunity.”

When you look at the meetings on your calendar, do you see necessary nuances, or do you feel excited? Let’s be honest, most of us absolutely do NOT feel genuine enthusiasm, so what can we each do to change that?

The answer lies somewhere in the pursuit of organizational excellence, but if that’s not in your company’s culture, a pragmatic thing we can all do is to schedule meetings with colleagues whose work we know very little about. Meet them to learn about their role, their challenges, and their successes.

Takeaway: Schedule meetings with the fierce purpose of generating more imagination, enthusiasm, and cooperation, especially with those you interact with on a normal basis. Try to meet more often with those whose work you know very little about.

2) Deep Work

Ask Yourself: Is my 9-5 schedule structured to allow for deep work?

Are you carving out large blocks of time (2+ hours) to do deep, meaningful work throughout the week on your calendar?

If your schedule is fully loaded with meetings, you might have to bow out of some to make more time to work.

If you only have 1-4 meetings per week, are you taking full advantage of all the open slots on your calendar to engage in deep work?

One excellent way to respect and value your own time is to schedule time for deep work. Otherwise, you’re leaving yourself vulnerable to getting distracted, sidetracked, or tempted to multitask.

Takeaway: Hold a weekly calendar review to reserve large time blocks for deep, meaningful work. Keep experimenting until you have a good mix of small, medium, and large blocks.

3)  Lunch

Ask Yourself: Who are you having lunch with?

From an earlier chapter in the book, We Are Who We Hang Out With, Peters speaks of the immense value of taking the time to regularly eat lunch with individuals whom you have zero obligation to connect with.

If you can’t be convinced to set up meetings with people whose work you know very little about, try setting up lunch with them.

It doesn’t have to be limited to co-workers; have lunch with other acquaintances from a completely different profession, or a completely different background than your own. The basic idea is that you shouldn’t get stuck with people the same as you, because sameness stifles creativity, productivity, and growth.

“Are you going to lunch with pals, or are you going with someone new whose brain you can pick about this, that, or the other? (And who you can add to your network.) Your pals are great and a blessing, but in this new world order, I suggest that 50–75 percent of your lunches should be calculated learning and network development and maintenance opportunities.”

Takeaway: Forget diversity training. There are over 200 working days in a year to have lunch with someone new and different whose brain you can pick.

Final Thoughts

How will others respect your time if you don’t deeply respect, manage, and take control of your own? If we all want to keep our professional career alive in the coming decades when complex algorithms, big data, and artificial intelligence take over, then the fundamental skill of time management is one we must begin mastering today.

Here are some additional, practical tips on getting better at using your calendar.

Post Author: Raj Shah is a senior marketing manager for TakeLessons Live, an EdTech company that offers lifelong learners access to online classes as well as local, private lessons.


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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