Thinking in terms of time-density

Time is your principal input metric

If you’ve put in the effort to staff and equip your team, the most important factor in your success will be the space you leave them to work. How well a team is shielded from time sinks is one of the best indicators of their ability to focus on their mission. Density gives you the measure you need to track that input.

Time is your most expensive asset

Rent, compute, and marketing are all key line items, but the salary cost of your team dwarfs them. You’ve been entrusted to spend the time your organization has bought, so track it’s use. How much of that time are you putting towards producing value, and how much is wasted in overhead? Are you really getting all the hours you’re paying for? How can you monitor and make improvements without tracking?

Thinking about time

When you see a block of time in your calendar, say of 4 hours, you might think that booking a one hour meeting at the end of the block means you’ll still have 75% of your time. In truth, we know that time becomes more productive the larger the block of time you leave for it.

1 .0 0. 62

We use circles here to illustrate the idea, but 75% of your original time is a .62 density score. That’s because time compounds, and you’re able to do deeper and more productive work the more time you spend in the problem.

0. 32 0. 20

Two hours, or 50% of your time, becomes a density of .32—you can see the problem. If you’re not used to thinking of uninterrupted blocks of time as the key to effectiveness it can become too easy to loose track of how you let time fly away from you.

What about the difference between a 2 hour meeting at the end of the block and one in the middle? From a pure time perspective, that’s still 50% of your time, but the already low .32 density score drops down even further to .20 if you split the block up, because continuous blocks of time are what matter

Density in your day-to-day

Let’s apply this thinking to some common scheduling patterns.

To start with, consider a fairly open day, with a 30 minute morning standup at 10 to give everyone time to settle in.

Already we see that we’re eating into the morning block by delaying the start of any serious work until 10:30

Moving the standup to 9:30, and getting disciplined about a 15 minute meeting can bump up your day’s density score to .88

0. 80
0. 88

Planning a meeting

Not every day can be so meeting free. We still need to plan, sync, and hold our 1:1s. Let’s say we need to have a 1-hour meeting, where would be the natural place to slot it?

It can be tempting to slot something in the middle of the afternoon, say at 2; we all naturally like to space things out. One misplaced meeting has nearly cut our score in half

0. 44

What if we had tried right after lunch? Better, at .57 we're able to keep a larger part of the afternoon block free for focused work.

0. 57

What if we had tried in the morning? Best, at .70 a morning meeting slot keeps the entire afternoon open for focus work and is the best choice.

0. 70

Planning our week

But what if we need to figure out where to put all the rest of our meetings? When we design our cadence we have a lot of things to schedule. What works best, a few meeting heavy days with reserved focus days, or more evenly spread out meetings? Let’s see!

A typical calendar lets meetings fall where they may, relying on individuals to make them line up to best suit their needs. This means meetings placed all over the calendar, often seemingly in the middle of the day.

0. 37

Using Monday and Tuesday to get most of our recurring meetings out of the way, holding Wednesday, Thursday, and most of Friday for work, we end up with a density score of .52 A more typical calendar where the meetings are spread out will drop that down to .37 It’s more work to be so intentional about your calendar, but clearly it pays off. With Density it’s easy to see why.

0. 52

Now that you know the scale of your problem, you can put in the appropriate effort to fix it. Using schedule management tools, setting corporate standards and guidelines, advocating for more efficient communication channels—all of this becomes more urgent once you see how damaging doing nothing is to your team.

What about you?

We're betting you've already thought of all the extra meetings you've seen pop up in your calendar.

Are you having meetings about meetings? Trying to have meetings to improve productivity?

We're here to help; you wouldn't let you most expensive asset spending go untracked if it were on a vendor invoice, so why aren't you watching how you're allocating your team's time?