Introduction: An Updated Perspective on Time Management
In a continuous quest to boost workplace effectiveness, it’s useful to revisit our approaches. Ten years ago, while working as CTO at The New York Times, I advocated the 50/25 Meeting Format. The premise was straightforward: shave off a few minutes from each meeting to enhance focus and productivity. While the core tenets of that earlier blog post still hold, experience, research, and advice of coworkers have led me to update the concept with a nuanced twist.
A Quick Recap: The Original 50/25 Model
The original model revolved around shortening meetings by 10 or 5 minutes depending on their initial length. This approach created sharper focus and better use of time during meetings.
The New Approach: Why Starting Late Can Be More Effective
The spirit of the 50/25 model endures, but with a key update: instead of ending meetings early, the revision recommends starting them 5 to 10 minutes after the hour or half-hour mark. Here’s why this matters.
Built-In Buffer Time: A Necessity for Seamless Transitions
Back-to-back meetings are an enduring puzzle: where do you find time for anything else? Starting meetings slightly later offers a built-in buffer time for transitions.
Cognitive Transition: Science-Backed Benefits
A brief window between meetings allows the brain to reset, setting the stage for a more focused and fruitful subsequent engagement.
On Pausing: Insights from Thomas Friedman’s book “Thank You for Being Late”
In the age where “busy” is the new normal, Thomas Friedman’s book “Thank You for Being Late” offers a relevant perspective. Friedman argues that we live in an age of accelerations where technology, globalization, and climate change are shifting our realities at an unprecedented rate. These swift changes often result in a sense of overwhelm, making the need for “pauses” more crucial than ever.
The principle of starting meetings late, as discussed in this blog post, aligns well with Friedman’s emphasis on the need for pauses. These intentional gaps provide an opportunity to regroup, consider the tasks at hand, and effectively engage in the rapidly evolving corporate and global landscapes. By coupling Friedman’s wisdom with the updated 50/25 meeting format, not only are we achieving higher focus and productivity in meetings, but we’re also fostering an environment that encourages thoughtfulness, reflection, and adaptability.
Reduced Stress: Brief Breaks Make a Big Difference
The American Psychological Association confirms that taking brief, regular breaks significantly reduces stress and improves overall performance.
Synchronous and Asynchronous: Best of Both Worlds
The digital age offers multiple channels for communication—emails, Slack, video calls. This window offers a designated time slot to manage these various asynchronous communications. Though that’s not the best use of this buffer time. It is better to think about and mentally prepare for the upcoming meeting instead.
Implementing the Change: Practical Steps
Customize Your Calendar
Consider modifying the default meeting lengths in your scheduling software.
Conclude When Goals Are Met
Should a meeting reach its objectives early, wrap it up. No need to fill time just for the sake of it.
Guard the Buffer: A Scheduling Tip
When setting up the meeting, book the full original time slot to safeguard your newly minted buffer time.
Further Reading and Resources
- Google’s approach to optimizing meetings
- The American Psychological Association’s in-depth perspective on the benefits of brief breaks
While the initial idea of the 50/25 model inspired by Larry Page at Google had compelling results, credit is due to those who inspired its evolution in my work. William Lewis, then CEO of Dow Jones & Publisher of the Wall Street Journal, implemented the practice of starting meetings 5 minutes after the hour or half-hour mark. His leadership style was an inspiring blend of creativity and efficiency, and I found this specific practice quite effective during my role there.
At Hearst, after implementing the 50/25 model within the Product, Design, and Engineering teams, my coworker Jen Burkhardt along with Cybele Grandjean, and Rebecca Cruz suggested switching to starting meetings 5 minutes past the designated start time, while maintaining the 50/25 rule. This change has since shown itself to be an improvement over the original model.
I also want to extend my gratitude to Thomas Friedman, with who I got to know when we worked at The New York Times. Thomas’ work has been a guiding force in navigating the complexities of the modern world. His insights into the importance of “pauses” echo profoundly in this adapted 50/25 Meeting Format.
Fine-tuning our approach to time management is a never-ending journey. By continually iterating on established practices like the 50/25 Meeting Format, we pave the way for a more effective, and employee-friendly work environment.