Coach’s Corner Blog

“Chunking” Your Time – A Simple Model for Increased Impact

March 21, 2014 by 3 Comments

Hour Glasses

A foundational element of my coaching work is to have clients review how they spend their time as leaders so they can make choices that will allow them to focus on what is truly important, rather than get sucked in to the “busyness vortex” of our current work world. Since many of my clients can see their time be consumed by days of back to back meetings, I often suggest they schedule blocks of time for them to plan, build relationships and other key leadership duties that cannot be done in a hurry.

A client of mine recently gave me a book entitled Give and Take by Adam Grant. It is a richly researched book by the youngest tenured professor at the Wharton Business School. Professor Grant was trying to discern what are the different styles of interacting with others that lead to the greatest level of success in business and life. I’d like to describe his theory in brief detail and let you know what he says about a key choice for managing our time that will help anyone, but especially leaders, greatly enhance their impact, effectiveness and satisfaction in their current roles.

Givers, Matchers and Takers

Prof. Grant divides people into three categories. The first is Givers, who tend to focus on helping others selflessly, without any strings attached. The second group is called Matchers and they look at human interactions with a quid pro quo mentality. Matchers are willing to help but they’ve got a keen eye for what’s in it for them before they will engage. Takers are individuals who are pretty much in it just for themselves. They see the world with a focus on scarcity and that they need to ensure that they get theirs regardless of the impact on others. Takers may or may not be effective Machiavellians, but they are very frequently narcissists.

I am sure I got your attention at this point as you consider which of the three you might be. I’m sorry, but I have no diagnostic for that. What’s interesting about this book is how well Prof. Grant can take a sociological / psychological perspective about behavior and demonstrates both the impact and the effectiveness of each style. For instance, his studies show that Givers perform about 68% better than Matchers or Takers over time.

The Downsides of being a Giver

Prof. Grant is very clear that like all strengths carried to an extreme, there are potential downsides to being a Giver. Selfless Givers can actually give too much over a period of time and suffer burnout and exhaustion. Selfless givers are constantly helping their colleagues solve problems and they do it in a way that Prof. Grant refers to as “sprinkling“.

In other words, they are very reactive and give their time at the expense of their own needs and work. For instance, sprinklers can often find much of their day taken up with reacting to issues or responding to requests so that the only time they have for their own work is after hours.

Sound familiar?

This is okay from time to time but it reaches diminishing results quickly if it becomes the norm of these selfless givers lives. In my work with a group of senior technical leaders in a major national cable company, I saw this pattern play out on a regular basis. These fellows did not have the time to plan, think, and prepare like they needed and it is also a fairly ineffective to try to build relationships, influence others and follow-up after hours when your days are filled with meeting after meeting.

Chunking Your Time

Prof. Grant contrasts the “sprinklers” with “chunkers“. A chunker creates dedicated windows of time for interactions, planning and just plain old pondering. He uses the example of a group of engineers charged with a radical new design for a printer. These were highly talented engineers, but they had never delivered a new design on time or at or under budget. The group made a commitment to chunking their time during this product development cycle. During this quiet time, other technical folks knew that they should avoid interrupting these individuals and to respect these windows.

In one study, two thirds of engineers who adapted a chunking time model reported above average productivity. Instead of just reacting to whatever comes their way whenever it came, they could be focused and free to give because they knew they had the time baked into their schedule to do their own work. They also delivered a new printer that was 10% less expensive and did it on time and on budget.

At this point you may wonder if this is all just some sociological BS. But what Prof. Grant was able to demonstrate is that givers, what he refers to as “otherish” givers, are incredibly more impactful and satisfied in their work than selfless givers, matchers or takers. The difference between selfless and otherish givers is that the otherish givers are helpful to others but not at an expense to themselves. They find a balanced method to accomplish their own goals and help others as well.

Putting it into Action

The biggest challenge in shifting away from being a selfless giver is the willingness to ask for help in becoming better at chunking their time. There are often organizational and cultural norms that prevent this from happening right now. How much time each week do you have for planning, preparing, communicating proactively with those you want to influence, and ensuring that each member of your team is as engaged as they should be?

I believe that a modest modification to the expectations of infinite availability can actually end up with greater overall productivity and much greater levels of satisfaction for any leader.

You have to find ways to block off time on your calendar and have others adhere to this new boundary. If you are going to try it, you must consider how you will communicate it to your team, your boss and other folks who you interact with on a regular basis. Many folks will admire your courage in making this choice and the grumbling will abate when others see improved results and a more satisfied you.

Please make a commitment to trying this for yourself, your team and the organization and don’t forget to tell people what you are doing and why.

Ask yourself:

  • Do you feel like you are caught in the “Busyness Vortex” at work?
  • If you feel you are a giver, are you swept up in the current infinite availability mindset that requires you to respond to any issue that arises almost immediately?
  • Have you considered blocking off some time for you to get some key, higher level work done during regular business hours?
  • Are you willing to try and allocate some “ME” time on your calendar and see how that works for a month?
  • If so, consider how you will inform others of your new practice and ask them to respect this boundary you are setting.

I look forward to your thoughts on this.

Filed Under Time Choices


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    Zack March 22, 2014, 12:15 am

    Great post, Willy.

    I’ve found that turning off my phone, email, and other common interrupters is absolutely crucial to making this “chunked” time valuable.

    I’m adding “Give and Take” to my list of books to read – thanks for the recommendation!


    Doug Hilficker March 27, 2014, 4:10 pm


    Thanks for sharing this. It makes a lot of sense and will be one of those things that will take
    work to initiate. I guess that is the challenge. Stepping into something new is always the challenge and opportunity.


      Willy April 16, 2014, 1:07 am

      Doug: Thanks for the comments. Hope all is well.


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