This is the first in a series we're calling Calendar Heroes: profiles of busy product leaders who manage to somehow make time when there is none. We're aiming to showcase the methods and tools that the most effective leaders use to balance their priorities and get things done. If you're interested in being featured as a Calendar Hero, let us know!
Without further ado, let's dive right in.
This week, we're featuring a Q&A with Zachary Smith. Zachary founded Packet in 2014 with his twin brother, Jacob. Packet provided enterprises with the ability to automate and deploy bare metal hardware anywhere, closing the gap for companies who were transitioning to cloud and enabling organizations to get to a cloud-like environment seamlessly.
Packet was acquired by Equinix this year, and Zachary now leads their bare metal and edge computing business as Managing Director.
Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?
My name is Zachary Smith. I was, until recently, the CEO of a bare metal cloud startup called Packet. We were acquired in March by Equinix, the world’s largest provider of datacenters and interconnection.
I am now the Managing Director of the bare metal and edge compute business at Equinix, where I set product strategy, enable go-to-market for our 10,000 customers, and support engineering, marketing and operational teams.
What does a typical workweek look like for you?
Equinix is a global company, with 10,000 employees in about 50 markets around the world. Packet’s team was also pretty distributed, with team members in the US, South America, Asia and Europe.
Currently, my work week starts on Sunday evenings, when I clean up my inbox and prepare presentations, materials or other stuff for the week. M-F I start calls at either 8:30 or 9AM EST and pretty much go back to back until 6 or 7PM. I do a ton of presenting, customer meetings, and cross-functional team meetings -- which are even more intense these days due to the 100% work-from-home situation.
What techniques do you use to manage your time?
I have a lot of demands on my time, so I employ a few different strategies to ensure I get what I need done while ensuring I have a bit of mental room to keep me in a good working headspace.
I have an amazing executive assistant, Silvia, who I leverage to help work through scheduling, moves and complex calendar matters. She knows what is important to me and what is not, and helps me turn inbound “meeting request chaos” into order.
I’m a ferocious list maker of todos, which helps me keep track of takeaways, ideas and other tasks. I then go back to them during quiet times and organize into items in my schedule.
I’m also an Inbox Zero guy, and aim to wrap the work day with few-to-no emails in my inbox. I convert longstanding emails into todos or set time on my calendar to address the substance of the email appropriately.
What tools do you use to make you more productive?
Reclaim helps bring over items from my personal calendar (e.g., kids stuff, outside work appointments, etc.) and block off time in my work calendar. Reclaim is also set to find 30 minute email breaks and a lunch hour. I don’t always get them, but the magic in Reclaim is that it works to find slots, blocks them out and reschedules them as needed.
I use Lattice for my 1:1 scheduling and to keep tight todos, feedback loops and reminders of what’s topical for my direct report meetings. This helps me and my direct reports keep focused during our time together.
Oh! I also use OneNote for my lists and note taking. It's super helpful because -- most of the time -- I remember things I want to do or tackle when I’m up and about, and the iPhone app is super handy to make sure it gets captured.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
That’s hard! I have to give three.
First, one of my closest family friends gave me some advice when I started my first business in 2001. He said "When building products or businesses, find ways to get to recurring revenue." Sell your customer once and if you keep them happy, they should pay you every month!
If you can do that, you can invest more and more in your platform, product, service, and so forth. These types of products or businesses take longer to get started, but are so much more rewarding.
Second, I was introduced to the Eisenhower Principle around 2008 or 2009. I simplified it a bit and now just call it the “bullseye” of managing time.
The idea is that all tasks and things you spend your time on can be classified into 3 buckets:
- Things that are urgent and not important
- Things that are urgent and important
- Things that are not urgent, but very important
That last bucket is the "bullseye", but we spend most of our time on the first bucket -- basically stuff coming at us that feels or is urgent, but in the grand scheme of things, really isn’t material.
My simple take on this model was to make sure that I spend at least 30 minutes each day on something in the bullseye. This has 100% changed my career. It’s amazing what progress you can make on a big idea or future product problem in just 30 minutes.
Finally, when I started Packet, a mentor of mine reminded me of the one thing that startups have that big companies don’t: they are unencumbered by their past and, as such, spend all their mental energy thinking of the future. As you have more customers, more revenue, more issues, etc you become mired in “today” and what happened in the past.
Never forget to think about the future as if you had no past. What an amazing piece of advice!