December 24, 2020

This Simple but Brilliant Calendar Hack From Shopify's CEO Will Make Your 2021 Much More Productive

There are a million and one clever calendar hacks out there to help you squeeze more productivity out of every hour of your day. But here's the thing with these systems and rules: They'll only make you more successful if you're scheduling the right things. 

Just as with any productivity advice, it doesn't matter if you run super fast if you're heading in the wrong direction. Getting stuff done only matters if that stuff actually moves you toward your goals. 

So how can you make sure you're not just stuffing the maximum amount of work into your calendar but that you're stuffing in the right work? Shopify CEO Tobias Lütke just shared a smart but simple suggestion on the Observer Effect newsletter

Your priorities are (literally) staring you in the face. 

The newsletter takes the form of a super long interview with startup veteran Sriram Krishnan, and it's well worth reading in full. It's hard to pick just one insight to highlight, but when it comes to instantly actionable yet impactful ideas it's hard to beat Lütke's approach to his calendar. 

Like many CEOs, he batches his days, setting aside specific blocks of time to focus on particular priorities. "I end up trying to insert themes into my days. Like today, for instance, I have a meeting with my small team to begin the week; I reserved my afternoon for product reviews--what we call 'greenpathing exercises'--where, oddly, I'm trying to discern how everyone is thinking about the main things we're working on," he told Krishnan. 

Lütke also employs no-meeting Wednesdays. But he uses another strategy beyond these more common tricks. In essence, it's a color-coding system for his calendar. 

He explained the origins of the idea to Krishnan: "At one point, I started complaining about blue weeks where every single time slot was taken. And someone said, 'Well, if you don't like blue, I can make any color.' And I replied, 'Well, how about we color based on leverage?' And that's just what we did."

Now Lütke and his team label his product-related commitments red, investor and board of director-related activities teal, and so forth. That doesn't just make for a more aesthetically pleasing calendar. It also allows him to review how his time is allocated at a glance.  

"The thing I'm looking for is a balanced week; a week where, ideally, I manage to devote about 30 percent of the time--at least--to the product and then as much as possible to things like recruiting, bigger-picture projects, and one-on-ones," he explained. ​"And so, if my calendar becomes too external or too much of anything, it's the first thing we see when we sit down for our priorities meeting."

The beauty of this approach isn't hard to see (bad pun intended). Literally, every time you open your calendar, what you've chosen to devote your precious time to is staring you in the face. That makes it much harder to ignore if your stated priorities aren't lining up with your actual schedule. 

So if you don't want to just get stuff done next year but you want to get the right stuff done, give Lütke's colored calendar trick a try. It's dead simple to implement and just might reveal that what you say you care about and how you spend your time aren't lining up as closely as you'd think. 

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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