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The "Meetings Exercise" Lesson is part of the full, Engineering Management Fundamentals 101 course featured in this preview video. Here's what you'd learn in this lesson:

Jem highlights the importance of balancing time and responsibilities as an engineering manager and encourages participants to reflect on where their time goes and what their responsibilities are in their role. Jem also shares personal insights and tips on time management, delegation, and making space for creative work. This lesson emphasizes the need to align where one should be spending their time with where they spend their time to avoid frustration and burnout.

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Transcript from the "Meetings Exercise" Lesson

[00:00:00]
>> I have an exercise. It won't take a full 15 minutes, but I want you to think critically about the meetings you're in, cuz I promise you're in some, probably not as many as me, but you're probably in more than you think. And the purpose of the exercise is to figure out what should you be focused on when it comes to these meetings.

[00:00:18] It's something I hadn't given a lot of thought until I became a manager. So we'll jump right over here. Where does your time go? I ask that all the time. I close my laptop, and what did I do? I looked back on my weekend, what did I do?

[00:00:40] My calendar was full, where do I spend my time? And this is something you have to be good at. If you're becoming an engineering manager, you have to be good at balancing your time. You can't spend all of your time in one-on-ones. You can't spend all your time doing one thing or the other.

[00:00:52] You have to balance it, and what that ratio looks like totally varies. So, we'll say take two minutes right now, five minutes. What are your responsibilities for your role? I know as software engineers you're gonna say delivering code, but try to be a little more specific. A good place to look is career framework, if your job has one.

[00:01:19] The company's job page is really helpful. If you've hired recently, look at what the job description says and be like, do I do these things that the job description says? Your team charter is a good place to be like, what should I be doing? The roadmap is another place.

[00:01:34] So take five minutes now, fill up your responsibilities, and then, This one's a little bit easier. Look at where you spend your time in a week. Is it, like me, a lot of meetings? Is it Slack? Is it reviewing pull requests? I'm curious to see where you spend your time.

[00:01:56] So for those of you who filled out the table for task responsibilities and where you should be spending your time. Any insights there? Anything surprising? Anything shared on where you should be spending your time? Is it writing code? Anybody have that down? What percent of times are you supposed to spend writing code?

[00:02:18]
>> What am I supposed to spend? I have no idea what I should suppose to spend. I spent 65, probably 70% of my time writing code, or I guess in code related activity, so code review too, I guess I would throw in that. So that's writing and reading.

[00:02:34] That's a lot.
>> What did you put for the rest of your time?
>> Design discussions and then working with other engineers, charting architecture, those kind of things.
>> So I was one of those kinda accidental managers where the opportunity happened. And so I've kind of had this mental image of like, I should be coding 50% of the time, roughly.

[00:03:04] It kind of added up, and I was like, okay, meetings 50ish percent. Management, I'm worth 15. Coding, I put down what I had left, but I also had Slack which is 15%, so just left 20. And I'm like, what I mentally thought-
>> [LAUGH]
>> Versus reality, so far off.

[00:03:21]
>> Mm-hm [LAUGH].
>> So definitely some things to think about [LAUGH].
>> When I ran this exercise too, it's always surprising about, in my mind, what I should be spending my time. Even where I think I spend my time and where I actually spend my time are always two different things.

[00:03:40] And trying to reconcile them is, it's challenging. So what about you'll, in reality, where you should spend your time versus where you do spend your time, where do you end up spending most of your time? Is it actually coding? Is it projects?
>> For me, it's a lot of meetings [LAUGH].

[00:04:09]
>> For me, because I can pull up Google Calendar, and Google Calendar breaks down meetings if you tag them appropriately. And maybe in between a break I'll show you all how to do that, it's very helpful, but I average, I don't know, 16 to 20 hours of meetings a week.

[00:04:27] But you're like, Jem, you work a 40-hour workweek, right? But that doesn't count for Slack and things where I'm responding to people. It doesn't count for reading docs. It doesn't count for just generally communicating with people or being informed. So I'm like, where does the time always go?

[00:04:45] I have 40 hours to get stuff done. I usually don't get everything I wanna get done. And sometimes it's very frustrating. So it's good to take a look at this list on where I'm spending my time and figure out, okay, maybe I don't need to be in Slack as much.

[00:04:58] You know what, maybe these fires will put themselves out or other people can do it. It's not critical for me to be informed in every single decision that is being made right now. So, a good tip, something I didn't realize becoming a manager, block off time on your calendar for lunch [LAUGH].

[00:05:18] People will schedule noon to 1 or whenever your lunch is. People will schedule right over that, so you have to block off time to eat lunch. That's something I learned very early on. I was very hungry in my early weeks of management. Another one is don't schedule back to back meetings where you can.

[00:05:32] Schedule a break in there to get water, a snack, use the restroom. If you don't, your calendar will fill up very, very quickly. Another lesson I learned as a manager is people, they don't care how many other meetings you have cuz they're not looking at your calendar. They're just like, here's a slot right there.

[00:05:46] So you gotta look after yourself and you have to align about where you should be spending your time, and where you are spending your time. And it's gonna vary a lot from week to week. But overall, you should have strong themes. Otherwise, what happens is you get frustrated.

[00:06:02] And you get burnt out. Cuz you're like, the things I wanna do and the things I should be doing are not lining up the things that I am doing today. So something's wrong there. An important takeaway from this exercise is, what can you do to make space for yourself?

[00:06:18] Like I said, I like creative time. Software engineering is a creative business. You don't get through as much of it as manager. How can I make time to do that for myself? Maybe it's writing, maybe it's designing a new team logo. Just being creative in general. Planning a interesting off site.

[00:06:34] I don't know. But you have to make space for yourself, that's really important. And more importantly, what do you need to be involved in, what can your team do? Are you in a bunch of project meetings? Do you need to be in those project meetings? Are you adding anything or can someone from your team take that on?

[00:06:52] That's really important. And we talked about scaling yourself and delegating. This is a skill. And if you don't do it, you're gonna spend all of your time project meetings, one-on-one, status updates, etc. That really don't require your presence, but you're doing it anyways. Yeah.
>> And Jake in the chat mentions that I oftentimes block off periods of time throughout the day to work on technical items and items that are blocking the team.

[00:07:20]
>> I'm blocking the team. Then, that's time you can't account for. If you've over programmed your week, something comes up. There's, on-call, production's out. You need to jump in on something. You don't have time to do that, and you gotta rearrange your calendar. So I really don't encourage people to fill up their calendars.

[00:07:35] No one's judging you, [LAUGH] no one's gonna think you're like, wow, look at this person. They're in 30 hours of meetings a week. When I see that, I see someone who doesn't know how to manage their time. Sometimes it's required, but you don't wanna get there. You're not effective at certain point.