Want to add one-to-ones to your management practice, but your calendar is a nightmare? This quick start guide will help you clear your calendar and make space for what matters: one-to-ones with your team, your peers, and your cross-functional colleagues.
Not sure what one-to-ones are or how they’ll help you? Check out the lessons I’ve learned from 1,000+ one-to-ones.
Ready to remake your calendar? Here are the supplies you need:
- Your calendar
- A scratch pad (digital or paper) for making notes
- A shareable spreadsheet (no worries, I made one for you: one-to-ones calendar)
Clear your calendar
Choose a starting date
Just like a messy desk is a tough space for working, a messy calendar is a difficult spot to wedge in one-to-ones. Choose a start date a couple of weeks away, when your calendar is clearer.
Make a bucket list
Before erasing everything off of your calendar, swipe through a few weeks without changing anything. Does the time allocated reflect your priorities? What’s important? Unnecessary? I realized that most of my calendar fit into 4 buckets:
- Unmoveables (one-to-ones with my manager, larger team meetings, All-Hands meetings)
- Easy-to-reschedule (one-to-ones with my team and with peers, my own office hours)
- Time for myself (time set aside for lunch at 12pm, week-end reflection, no-meetings Fridays)
- Calendar junk – stuff I’ve been invited to ‘for awareness’ or events that I probably won’t attend
Knowing what entries fit into which bucket makes it easier to make decisions about what to keep and what to let go.
Clear out the impersonal stuff that you don’t need to reschedule. Here’s what I deleted.
- Office hours from expert groups in our org. Teams across our organization invite everyone to their office hours. These office hours are invaluable, but they don’t belong on my calendar.
- FYI meetings. The stuff people invite me to because maybe I should be there, or at least they want me to know about it.
Calendar clear? Now it’s time to figure out what’s important.
Note the meetings that matter
Now use your scratch pad to note the “reschedulables” you want to slot in after making time for your team. Here’s what my list looks like:
As you note each reschedulable, ask yourself “Am I meeting with this person at the right cadence?” Maybe they’re a close ally you should be meeting with more often. Maybe they’re a former report who you met with monthly when they first departed, but they need less support now. Note these changes.
Once you have a list, delete those from your calendar. You’re ready to move to the next step.
I made connected mistakes on my first list-making run-through:
Mistake 1 – not relying on my co-manager: I ranked meetings w/indirect reports too high. I needed to put more trust in the manager reporting to me and let them do their job, no matter how much I care about or enjoy spending time with my indirect reports.
Mistake 2 – not prioritizing my work: I ranked meetings with cross-functional peers (for me that’s Product Managers and Engineering Managers) too low. Understanding what’s happening across our company is part of my job. I need to make time for it. The remedy was easy: I moved them higher up my to-meet-with list.
Got your ranked list? Now you’re ready to make a schedule.
Set aside time that works for you and your team
Now that you have an idea of where the clear spots are in your month, it’s time to set aside time for one-to-ones and get colleagues on your calendar.
- Create the calendar entries
- Invite team members to choose meeting times
- Confirm the schedule
Create calendar entries
Are you meeting for 30 minutes, 1x a week? Schedule placeholders.
Make individual recurring 30 minute meetings to hold space for one-to-ones. Include at least 50% more slots than you have team members. If you have 10 team members, set up at least 15 available slots. That way the person who checks their email first doesn’t gobble up the one ‘good’ spot.
Other considerations when making your one-to-ones calendar:
- Context switching – Are you squeezing one-to-ones between other meetings? Reduce context-switching and group one-to-ones in back-to-back blocks.
- Choose times when you actually want to meet with people. Not a morning person? Don’t set up 8AM one-to-ones. Be your best self with your team and your peers.
- Too-many one-to-ones – if you can’t fit all of your one-to-ones in a week, you might have too many direct reports. Make your one-to-ones biweekly (or for just 15 minutes 1x a week) and then start a conversation with your manager about emerging leaders and succession options.
- Beginning of the week vs. End of the week – Beginning of the week one-to-ones are great for planning, but might be light on content. End of the week one-to-ones are great for reflecting and wrapping up, but a tough spot to use for making new plans.
- Preparation and follow-up: One-to-ones with my manager require more prep than one-to-ones with team members working consistently on the same projects with the same people. Know which of your one-to-ones require headspace and make time for your own prep and follow-up.
Sending & confirming invites
Invite your team to choose meeting times. I transfer one-to-one spots to a spreadsheet and share that with my team, inviting them to choose the times that work for them. Not sure what to say when you invite folks to schedule? Since my team is familiar with one-to-ones, I was able to send a short, simple email. If one-to-ones are new to your team, use the second option. (Try to write it yourself. Your team knows your voice, even via email.)
Already doing one-to-ones:
Starting the week of Jan 25th we’ll get back to a weekly 1:1’s cadence. Please head over to this spreadsheet and sign up for two 1:1’s spots by EOD today (Friday, Jan 15). If none of the times on the spreadsheet work for you, please let me know.
I’m kicking off the new year with a new practice: weekly 1:1’s. Each week we’ll spend 30 minutes together 1:1 so that can get to know each other better, have a regular space to communicate, and figure out work challenges. During 1:1’s we’ll spend time discussing what’s important to you first, and then I’ll have time for feedback, coaching, and larger org questions. We’ll also set aside time for career conversations and growth.
I’ve set aside 14 slots for 1:1’s, starting on Week 4 (January 25). Please take a look at your calendar and then sign up for your preferred 1:1’s spot by EOD. If none of the times on this spreadsheet work for you, let me know.
Add people to the meetings you pre-set.
Once your entire team lets you know their preferred slots, review preferences to create a one-to-ones schedule that works for them and for you. My preference is grouping one-to-ones, but not holding more than 3 one-to-ones in a row. Since you already have the times reserved all you need to do is add each team member to the prescheduled invite. Once the schedule is complete, send an announcement email to your team letting them know that one-to-ones are ready.
Making time for one-to-ones might feel overwhelming at first, but once you have them on your calendar they’ll be a welcome part of your weekly management cadence, helping you develop stronger relationships with team members and peers and establish common goals.