How to avoid wasting all your time in meetings.


It’s not just arteries that get sclerotic. Your calendar can, too.

You know you’re suffering from sclerosis of the calendar when your day is packed so full with meetings that you don’t have time to do any of the work that those meetings generate. But how much of the time you’re irretrievably sinking into the conference room is actually valuable? Probably not as much as you’d like. And while listening to yet another gripping report on market share gains in the all-important organic cereal market for 6-12 year olds is nice and all, it's probably not as much fun as watching 30 Rock from your couch.

It’s surely not a newsflash when I tell you that there’s a lot of muda in meetings. So here are three ways to avoid the giant sucking sound that means your precious time is getting Hoovered up by well-meaning colleagues and their meetings.

1. It’s either you or a direct report. Not both. Unless you’re working in NORAD, you’re probably not dealing with a situation in which you and your direct report have to insert and turn your nuclear warhead keys simultaneously. The vice president of a company I worked with has a rule that she’ll never be in a meeting with a direct report. That’s pure redundancy, and a colossal waste of resources. She (or one of her direct reports) covers anything from the meeting that requires further discussion in a 1:1 meeting later. Bottom line: fewer meetings.

2. Start and end on time. Mind-numbingly obvious, I know, but it bears repeating if only because this rule is seldom observed. For god sakes, insist that people respect each other’s time. I had a boss who locked the conference room door at the designated start time. Sound draconian? Perhaps, but people were only late once. Hell, if people can be there 2 minutes late, they can be there on time. And if you demonstrate respect for people by finishing your meetings on time, you’ll be amazed at how much more focused the meetings will become. Bottom line: shorter meetings.

3. Nature abhors a vacuum. Look, if you don’t fill your calendar with your own priorities, your co-workers will insert theirs. Schedule time for your work by blocking out time in your calendar. If possible, schedule 15-30 minutes after each meeting to process the stuff that you discussed and get yourself prepared for the next fabulous meeting extravaganza. I know, I know: you’re thinking that you don’t have enough slack in your day to carve out that time. That may be, but remember: that work has to get done sometime, and if you don’t make time for it during the day, you’ll be doing it on the weekend. And maybe, just maybe, your co-workers will find that they can get things done without you. Bottom line: fewer meetings.

Nothing revolutionary here. Just some simple points to remember. Consider it Lipitor for your day.

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