Do You Control Your Calendar or Does it Control You?
Are you in back to back to back to back meetings and calls? Does it feel relentless and like you have no time to stretch, use the restroom, or grab a quick bite to eat? You’re not alone on working long hours without breaks. One hundred percent of the clients we are working with are struggling with the same thing.
10 Tips for Managing Your Calendar
Here are some things that might help:
- Don’t automatically default to 60-minute meetings. Start scheduling the meetings that you have control over for 45-50 minutes instead, allowing not just you, but your colleagues to have a short bio break between calls.
- Block out time in your calendar for lunch and breaks. Let people know that they are movable, but not cancellable.
- Decline meeting invites that you don’t need to be in. Send a note thanking the person for inviting you and ask them to let you know you can’t be in their meeting and ask if there’s anything specific they need from you in advance.
- Negotiate early endings to meetings at the beginning. You’re not the only one who needs a break. Saying something like, “I’ve been in back to back meetings for 3 hours, can we end 10 minutes early so I can grab a bite to eat?”
- Schedule “Firefighting Time” in your calendar. We have more urgent and important issues than ever coming up these days. Block time in your calendar for those meetings and that work.
- More of us are working 10- and 12-hour days, every day. Block out one or two half days per week to catch up on work, email, and important, but not urgent projects. Call it something unique to catch people’s attention and communicate the importance of the time. Example: “Strategic Work: No appointments without checking, please.”
- Realize that what you allow, you train. Give people totally honest, totally kind feedback about how they are booking time in your calendar and ask them to do it differently next time.
- You don’t need to make excuses for not being available. If you give people excuses, they will likely argue with you. We’re well trained in the art of negotiation. It starts when we’re two. Don’t provide the opening for people to start negotiating with you about your time. You can just say, “I’m sorry, I’m not available at that time. Can we meet next week?”
- If your schedule gets over full, reschedule (or ask to reschedule) non-urgent meetings and calls. Everyone appreciates the gift of time back in their day.
- We tend to be our own worst enemies. Don’t break your own rules. Don’t be a “bad boss.”
For Managers and Leaders
If you’re in a leadership or management position, it might help for you to set some team-wide or company-wide boundaries or norms for meetings. A few things you might consider:
- Setting a new standard that all meetings are 45-50 minutes to give people a 10- to 15-minute bio break every hour.
- Ban meetings before 8am, from 12pm-1pm, and after 5pm.
- Have one or two periods per week that are “meeting free.”
- Keep an eye on your team’s calendars. Help them to prioritize their time and suggest appropriate boundaries for their schedules.
- Conduct a meeting audit (see below).
- Consider moving to four 10-hour days or giving people a half day off every Friday or every other Friday.
Conduct a Meeting Audit
Many people are using meetings as a way of feeling productive and getting work done. Many of us are spending our entire day in meetings and working late into the night to catch up with “non-meeting” work. We have long been advocates of doing some meeting audits to reduce and eliminate the number of meetings that people are finding themselves in. Look at every meeting you (and your team) are in every month. Here are some things to consider when you conduct a meeting audit:
- What is the purpose of the meeting?
- Who needs to be there? Set everyone else free. Don’t invite unnecessary people just so they feel included or informed. Inform them by email.
- If it is a recurring meeting, how often does it need to happen? Don’t automatically default to weekly or monthly meetings. Determine what is required and schedule accordingly.
- What is the best venue for the meeting: phone, Zoom, in-person–remember in person meetings?
- How long should this meeting go on for? At what point has it outlived its usefulness and should be cancelled?
- Eliminate as many meetings as possible. People are great at starting new meetings, but they never eliminate old ones.
- Combine meetings when possible. Many organizations have the same people in different meetings all day long. Eliminate lost time between meetings and with meeting “niceties” (icebreakers, connection, agenda setting, closing, etc.) by combining or blocking meetings together.
- If it can be handled with an email, don’t have a meeting.
We conduct meeting audits for ourselves regularly (at least once per quarter). Our clients who are best at meeting management generally do it about once a year. If you need help conducting a meeting audit or setting up some personal boundaries, let us know. Our coaches are here to help!