A Meaningful Delta
“When more is the goal, we never fully arrive. It is insatiable. And that is the problem with always wanting more.”Joshua Becker
I was once invited to attend a meeting to plan a meeting to schedule meetings. This was a real request from a Deloitte consultant to me while on a project in New York. I declined that invite and every single other meeting invite he sent. I wish I could say that was the last wasteful meeting invite I ever received but anyone who has worked in Corporate America knows that meetings, whether meaningful or not, are all too common. They are death by a thousand paper cuts. The deluge of meetings on my calendar eventually got me to think, how do you define a reasonable cadence between meetings? This thought lead me further down to how do you define a meaningful delta between occurrences for anything done repeatedly?
The frequency of how often to participate in an activity, to meet with people, to run a race, or anything else has always been an analytical enigma for me. For example, how often should you have 1:1s with a manager, how often should you talk with family, when should you take a break from work outs, etc? I came up with a term that specifies the measure of defining frequency: A Meaningful Delta. I have not, however, been very good at explaining this to anyone other than myself. So this post will try to do that and hopefully help you find a better cadence at everything.
The core of the question is what is the right time time lag between events, what changes in that time, can enough change to warrant greater or less frequency. A layman’s equation that like the one below comes out of these questions.
mDelta = (^measurable factor/ time) * influence on factor (direct, indirect, combination)
Example, company wide changes need a significant time to collect all the data and measure the results. The sum of all employee and customer actions comes together to form the influence on the changes in this measurement. The minimum time to look at this data is one month. Hence, an all hands that occurs once a month is more than enough. But too long like quarterly meetings, may mean the delta, changes, are too great to cover in a single meeting. So what are some examples of how to apply a meaningful delta in life?
It’s at work where I strive the hardest to maintain some reasonable gap between sessions. Meeting overload is all too common and violates all laws of productivity. My mantra is to get more out of meetings and not have more meetings. So I constrain myself to bi-weekly 1:1’s and once a month team meetings. To make this spacing work between meetings I had to live up to the “more out of meetings” part. So I dissected every meeting and the outcomes and goals for each one.
I settled on 1-hour one-on-one meetings. I created a templated guide for each meeting. Broken down into three 15-minute blocks, the extra 15 minutes allows for buffer. In the first third we focus on the employee and the top of mind items for them. In the second third we work on skills development. In the final third we focus on the business and the processes they are supposed to be following. To date all of my 1-on-1 meetings have been super productive and used every minute wisely. The response from my team has also been very positive. I extrapolated the one-on-one template to a macro level for the team meetings that follow a similar approach. I also augmented both with scheduled asynchronous communications via emails on Fridays.
I still leave plenty of room on my calendar for ad-hoc meetings but even those are better focused with clearer agendas and flow because of how our regular meetings run. The goal now is to bubble up these practices up to the broader management level and get adoption from our collective teams and organization. Additionally, I have a quarterly 1:1 with my career mentor, monthly meetings with my manager peers. The goal in each of these meetings is to take actionable items from each, give room and time to test them out or complete the asks and then come back with updates. I have found that the bigger or more demanding the tasks, the greater the delta should be in between meetings to allow time for implementing and coming back with updates.
There are the family get togethers and wanting to hang out with friends. People you should want to see and spend time with everyday but in reality we know that it won’t work for many reasons. Location constraints, money, and aligning calendars are just some of the ways we are constrained from seeing people all the time. Also, we all naturally have an inclination to wanting to have some time to ourselves; as the adage goes, absence makes the heart grow fonder. If we can lean into the separation from our friends and family we can become more mindful of appreciating the time you do have together and hopefully create better experiences that form lasting memories. Instead of occupying the same space out of obligation.
Within my own nexus of control I try to manage the cadence of my workouts, diet, and travel in a way that allows for consistency but with the flexibility to pivot. For example, we target at least a one-week vacation for every quarter, plan them a year out, but book as much refundable travel as possible in case plans change. We also try to time trips to align to major holidays so that they flow nicely into opportunities to catch up with friends and family since these days are likely to be shared holidays for all of us. Every three months keeps the vacation bug itching but not long enough that you reach desperation for an escape in the time between.
My workout schedule has become chemistry formula. I first adapted it to align with my work travel. Specifically, I focused activities for the middle of the week that I could do from anywhere since I was likely to be on the road Monday through Thursday. This meant mostly strength training, yoga, and running would be done during this part of the week. These activities were also timed to start early and run about 45 minutes since I had less time when needing to get to client sites. I reserved longer runs as well as cycling and swimming workouts to the time of the week I was likely to be home and have access to those facilities and equipment. Honestly, the pandemic has changed those requirements and I am still analyzing if this cadence and routine serves my new normal.
The impermanence of something often adds to the mystique and admiration of it. That may be the reason why memories of pop-up experiences often outlast those of permanent establishments. Knowing you may never get to do a thing again or that you were one of the few to get to try it is a constraint we all welcome. Traditions have their place but the rarity of something naturally stokes our fear of missing out.
Some of the best yoga classes I attended were one-time events. The best theater performances I have seen were those limited run engagements set up on temporary stages by Piedmont Park’s lake or in Central Parkin New York. The thrill of an all day experience of a music festival lasts long after the music stops. The holiday temporary ice rink makes you brave the weather to put on painful boots just for a brief skate around with the family.
The constraint of availability gives the creators more freedom to experiment and offer something truly unique. They are not so concerned about the build up and infrastructure of something meant to last indefinitely. The consumer is free to enjoy once and not worry about the experience becoming yet another thing that needs to be scheduled and planned around. We should all consider filtering our lives through constraints, whether out of necessity or arbitrarily applied.
The key take away is to not default into a cadence that forms a time consuming routine. At the very least, ask the question, is there a meaningful delta between this occurrence and the next? Is a singular experience enough and will it prompt me to put better planning into it. No matter what, don’t schedule a meeting to schedule a meeting to schedule meetings. This is evil and will land you on everybody’s shit list .