Marc Andreessen is a genius

Let’s start with a bang: don’t keep a schedule.

He’s crazy, you say!

I’m totally serious. If you pull it off — and in many structured jobs, you simply can’t — this simple tip alone can make a huge difference in productivity.

By not keeping a schedule, I mean: refuse to commit to meetings, appointments, or activities at any set time in any future day.

As a result, you can always work on whatever is most important or most interesting, at any time.

Want to spend all day writing a research report? Do it!

Want to spend all day coding? Do it!

Want to spend all day at the cafe down the street reading a book on personal productivity? Do it!

When someone emails or calls to say, "Let’s meet on Tuesday at 3", the appropriate response is: "I’m not keeping a schedule for 2007, so I can’t commit to that, but give me a call on Tuesday at 2:45 and if I’m available, I’ll meet with you."

Or, if it’s important, say, "You know what, let’s meet right now."

Clearly this only works if you can get away with it. If you have a structured job, a structured job environment, or you’re a CEO, it will be hard to pull off.

But if you can do it, it’s really liberating, and will lead to far higher productivity than almost any other tactic you can try.

Here is more, all valuable, the pointer is from Michael Blowhard.  Here is Marc’s new blog.


That sounds dangerously like a technique. Sometimes people develop a certain rythym and an ability to juggle tasks or simply live well, and then they try to translate their groove into simple advice and it often simply doesn't translate. Making committments can also help productivity. Caveat emptor. Beware of the flotsam in the self-help aisle.

You have to be completely independent (meaning not interactive with humanity) or simply have no regard for others to do this.

Tia is ahead of me on posting - I agree, you'd be a pretty inconsiderate person to act that way. What about someone who has to make an effort to meet with you, a walk across the campus, or a flight from another city?

But those arguments are unlikely to appeal to someone as self-centered as Andreessen comes across, so instead I'll add that you would end up being cut out of any really interesting discussions and work pretty quickly by people who would realize you're just not very reliable, particularly useful, and generally unpleasant to work with.

You also can have limited commitments, but keep most of your time free. I used to work from home as a consultant, and most of my time was mine to schedule. It really does make a difference that when you're in the right mental place to write, you can write all that day, maybe with a couple interruptions to answer emails or something. Or that when you're in the wrong mental place to do any work, you can just shift your day around--I have a headache and need to go lie down for a couple hours, so I'll just do this work later. Or maybe I'm just not in the right mood to do a lot of writing right now, so I'll go do something else instead.

You may increase your own productivity but will decreases the productivity of others. Coordination failure. Other people will start losing time by trying to find a period when you are available.

In other words, be a ... grad student?? As one who's finishing his thesis, I agree, it's great for productivity (think of productivity as function of time that's initially convex, and then concave past a singularity).

But other than thesis writers and researchers with only minor teaching/admin commitments, who can pull it off?

Being on the same Outlook calendar is one of those transaction costs that the firm minimizes (h.t. to Coase).

Jack, I'm also writing a thesis, but I have an opposite perspective. I've had to curtail my free-wheeling ways and go on a disciplined schedule to get it done. I don't much like it. Problem is, in my heart of hearts, writing the actual thesis is mostly a chore that stands in the way of working on more important things (like more research).

There are lots of caveats, but the basic advice, "work on whatever is most important or most interesting," is golden. And I think you can pull it off in lots of different environments -- but the productivity record has to stand for itself.

Tyler -- thanks for the kind words!

Dan and Tia -- the intention is actually the exact opposite -- the point is to be completely available for the things and people that truly matter. If I do a proper job of implementing this technique, then the people I work closest with and who depend on me the most are able to grab me on a moment's notice to make forward progress on anything they need.

I think Grant nails it -- it's probably impossible to do this in the absolute. And yes, if someone has to come in from out of town to meet with me, then obviously I'll schedule the meeting. But day to day life is lived in the margin...

Thanks for all the comments,

Gee, it sounds EXACTLY like my life as a grad student. Which, coincidentally, was my least productive period of my life.

Everyone else already hit how this "plan" is a rotten thing for the others around you, but really, for most people, having no schedule means their life falls apart. The main reason is because they must keep everything in their head waiting until the time that they deicde to deal with it. Eventually, the list of projects that you have to swap between gets too high, and you spend all of your time swapping and none finishing the task. Or, you drop that list to a small number, and life falls apart as parking tickets go unpaid, dinner is unmade, etc.

Seems like Andreesen's got hte Paul Erdos plan down, though. Maybe he has enough money to make everyone else pick up after him. Does he have a wife?

I read this article and very much enjoyed it. I decided to try to give the "3 lists" idea a try to keep track of my active, pending and old tasks/projects. I started out with Notepad, but it was getting annoying cutting and pasting text around. I wrote a small application that handles the management of the 3 lists and lets you make notes on each task/project. It runs on Windows and is free to download and use (it's completely free, as in no money is required). Here's the link:

If anyone has any questions, comments or suggestions feel free to send me an email.


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