In order to become a professional in a given field, you need to start off by working very hard. The reason is that there’s a lot to learn and you’re competing with other people who are further along the learning curve than you are.
However, the more you learn in a field, the less there is left to learn in that specific field. Although learning never ends even in a specific field, the pace of learning declines.
In addition, many people who were further along the learning curve when you started off in the field drop out, and you surpass many others as a result of your hard work.
When this happens, somewhat paradoxically, you work less hard as you gain more experience.
However, this doesn’t mean that your output declines. To the contrary, since you’ve learned which activities contribute to what you’re doing and which don’t, you don’t chase after everything as you used to when you first started off.
So you get to work less hard, but more smartly, while continuing to see increases in your output.
This continues to be the case unless you decide to enter a new field. If you do so, you get to experience the challenge but also the joy of once again learning something new.
I recently read Mike Monteiro‘s piece on scheduling work time in your calendar. It really resonated with me because I started applying a similar strategy about a year ago and the results so far have been great.
I used to only include meetings in my calendar. I soon found out that I was inundated with 4 to 6 meetings each day. This left me with little time to prepare for the meetings and to do the follow up work necessary after the meeting was completed. I was getting many meetings done, but I wasn’t getting much work done.
I then changed my approach to include not only meetings but also spans of time that I dedicate to performing specific pieces of work in my calendar. For example, if I need to research a particular market, I include the number of hours I think I’ll need to do that for in my calendar. If I need to review a term sheet for one of our companies, I include my best estimate of the time that that will take in my calendar. If I need to write an introductory email to help one of our companies pitch their next round to potential investors, I schedule time for that in my calendar.
Scheduling work time in my calendar forces me to dedicate the time necessary to do the work properly rather than to rush through it. As a result I not only get a greater quantity of work done, but the output of my work is also of higher quality.
I also take less meetings each day. For example I’ve taken between 2 and 3 meetings per day during the last week. The lower capacity of meetings that I allow myself to take makes me more selective in accepting meeting requests, and a better contributor in each meeting.
This approach might not work for someone who performs best in the absence of structure. Some people work better in environments where they continually prioritize what they do on a real-time basis. This isn’t me.
If you’re like me and use your calendar as a tool to structure and prioritize what you need to do, scheduling work time could make you much more productive.
My natural tendency in meetings is to dive directly into the work. Work is about solving problems and I like solving problems.
Such an approach can work with someone you’ve known and have been effectively working with for a long time. Since you already know that you can work together, you can focus on doing the actual work.
However, when you’re meeting with someone for the first time, before doing the work, you first need to see whether you can actually work effectively with that person. You need to show that you can work together before actually working together. This means patiently revealing your character and intellect through a hopefully pleasant give and take which is very often about issues outside of work.
How much time you need to spend showing someone that you can work together depends on the person’s character and how long you’ve worked together in the past. The more a person appreciates diving directly into the problems and the longer you’ve been working together, the faster you can get to doing the actual work.
But even people who overwhelmingly prefer to dive directly into the work need to spend time to initially see whether they can work with you. If we have this luxury, it helps us avoid people who we don’t want to work with. And even if not, it hopefully helps us establish at least some common ground with the person which makes it more likely that we’re able to work effectively moving forward.
In addition to its practical benefits, the need is deeply engrained in us through thousands of years of evolution. So it’s unlikely to change any time soon.
Showing that you can work together with someone is a necessary first step to actually working with them.