As I’ve progressed through my career, the demand on my time has continually increased. I get a tsunami of sales calls, a blizzard of emails, and a monsoon of meeting requests. Leadership comes with a fair amount of extreme weather analogies. So, there you have it.
I think subconsciously, many of us look at this subject like a debtor trying to pay our bills. We have more bills than money, and we honestly agonize about which ones to pay and which accounts to leave delinquent. There’s an additional pressure because if we pay all of the bills that we can, then we won’t have any money left over to feed our family. All the while, we flinch every time the phone rings because it will likely be an aggressive bill collector trying to get theirs. Some of my readers have been there. It’s a nightmare.
This article isn’t about money. It’s about time and attention.
While we all have different amounts of money, we all have the same amount of time. I’ve written an article about time management. You should definitely read it because I cover some great fundamentals there. In this article, I want to get a little more specific: What do you do with all of those meeting requests?
Are you double-booked? How about triple booked? Do you have a few timeslots that are quadruple-booked? Fantastic. This article is for you. You are drowning in debt, and your debt is time.
Meetings aren’t part of my job. Meetings are my job.
I make Monday-Thursdays available for meetings. I try to reserve Fridays for desk work, catch-up, and follow-up activities. My job Monday through Thursday is to go to meetings. When my kids ask me what I really do at work all day, that’s what I tell them. I spend most of my days sitting down, having collaborative discussions, solving problems, and making strategic decisions in meetings.
I decline a lot of meetings. I declined 11 last week, just as an example. That’s probably typical. Before I get more specific on that, I’d like to categorize the meetings I keep.
Meetings I keep
- Team meeting #1. This is the team I’m on, not the one I lead. This is a weekly meeting with my boss and peers. I move heaven and earth to be there as often as I can. I cannot influence, collaborate, and learn with my first team if I’m not there.
- Team meeting #2. This is the team I lead. This is my direct-report meeting. We also meet weekly. This is where I share relevant items from meeting #1, and keep my team aligned and working well together. We discuss priorities, challenges, and items forward on the horizon.
- 1:1 meetings. I meet regularly and frequently with my direct reports to check-in. I’ll often move these around because they are relatively easy to reschedule, but I try not to cancel them. The frequency is more important than the duration. I want to make sure issues don’t fester or go unsolved for long.
- VIP meetings. Just like you, I get invited to meetings with important people in them. I’m there. It’s more about the people, the relationships, and the roles than the subject matter.
- Strategic meetings. I have several meetings that are strategically significant. They help me achieve my long-term goals. They help me access influence and resources.
- Urgent meetings. Sometimes, but not often, things are on-fire, and I’m specifically required to put out the fire.
- Networking and mentoring. I make time for networking for its own sake. I also pour into people I’m trying to develop and coach. I enjoy this activity, so it’s easy to make time for it.
Outlook has this amazing little button. It’s called “decline.” Most of you have never used it. I’m going to teach you how.
Meetings I decline:
- Unsolicited meetings with salespeople.
- Boring meetings. Here’s how I define that: I try hard not to multi-task in meetings. When I’m in a meeting, I’m mentally present. However, if I am tempted to multi-task because the topic or pacing doesn’t keep me engaged, then that’s a meeting I don’t need to be in.
- Meetings that my team can handle. If someone on my team can effectively participate in a meeting and accurately represent my point of view, then I’m not necessary.
- Status meetings. Some meetings are just a one-way report-out of information and there isn’t much discussion. Those meetings often aren’t necessary.
Some general guidance:
- I recommend actually resolving meeting conflicts. Look at your triple-booked day, accept the meetings you will attend, and decline the meetings you won’t. That’s simply good communication. If people are counting on you, and you don’t show, you might be wasting their time. I try to do this early Monday for the whole week and recheck it each morning.
- Look at the opportunity cost for every meeting. Everything you accept is an implicit decline to something else. Make your choices as wisely as you can.
- Question durations and frequencies. Not every meeting needs to be weekly for an hour. See what you can get done in 30 minutes biweekly. What about those monthly meetings? Can they be quarterly?
- Book your tasks. When you have a something to get done, book time to get it done, and perhaps even a distraction-free place to do it, if you tend to get interrupted at your desk.
This isn’t a perfect science, nor do I always make the right choices myself. Look back at this week. How did you do? What changes should you make today to better make use of meeting times next week? If you are like me, then meetings aren’t in addition to your job, they are your job. It’s worth spending a little time reflecting on what is working and what isn’t.
Many people bemoan meetings. I love them. Meetings are the tool I use to collaborate, lead, make decisions, and move the organization forward. Hopefully this article has given you some ideas for changes you can make that result in you being more effective in your role.
Have ideas of your own? Please share them in the comments below. Also, if you found this article helpful, please share it with your colleagues.