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On Time Management, A Non-Traditional View

by David Brock on June 13th, 2022

Time management is, more than ever, an issue for each of us. While so many of us have been working from home, our travel and F2F meetings have been restricted, somehow it seems our challenges with managing time has become a much bigger challenge.

We can understand this, in the last two years, it’s been difficult to separate our work and personal lives. They are, literally, intertwined. We spend our days in a few rooms, with our families restricted to the same rooms, moving from task to task. Just the mindless task of grabbing a cup of coffee and having a casual conversation–a short conversation–with a colleague, if only for a few minutes, no longer exists.

Without a doubt, the pandemic has introduced different time/priority management pressures on us.

But, time management, prioritizing where we invest our time has always been an issue.

There are dozens of books and hundreds of articles that, probably, provide better insight than this post. Having said that, I thought I’d provide ideas and thoughts. These are, perhaps, non traditional, even heretical recommendations, but they might be helpful in figuring out how to better control over your time. These aren’t prioritized.

  1. Stop focusing on how busy you are, but what you accomplish. There seems to be a mentality that says, “Look at my calendar, I’m booked in back to back meetings, that must mean I’m important…..” What you achieve has little to do with how busy you are. The most effective executives schedule lots of “think time,” “learning time,” into their schedules.
  2. So much of how we allocate our time and priorities is based on history. “We’ve always had these meetings.” But, as trite as it sounds, the world and work have changed. We need to rethink the meetings we have always had, eliminating those that no longer make sense. Personally, I find starting with a blank slate easiest. If we look at meetings we may want to stop, it’s human nature to rationalize a reason for virtually every present meeting. We do that, because that’s just the way we’ve always done things, so we don’t end up simplifying or eliminating. So consider starting with a clean slate. Eliminate everything (particularly standing meetings) from your calendar. Start from scratch, ask yourselves, “What is the purpose of this meeting, why do we need to have it, what would we lose by not having it, what alternatives do we have?” If your reason is, “We’ve just always had these meetings,” that’s a sure reason to eliminate the meeting. (BTW, students of lean/agile will recognize this as an application of lean/agile principles. You will notice this theme throughout the post.)
  3. Prioritize how you want to spend your time. Don’t prioritize meetings, but categorize your time. For example, I was just talking about this issue with a group of managers. They started thinking, “We’ll prioritize working with/coaching our people first, then customers, then partners, then other internal meetings. The one thing they might have added is personal “think time.” They went back to look at their weekly calendars, re prioritizing meetings, particularly possible conflicts. This started helping them spend their time doing the things they thought most important.
  4. While this is a common time management hack, it’s really helpful: Color code your meetings based on the prioritization in the previous section. For instance meetings with your people might be green, customers might be blue, and so forth. It’s a simple visual tool to look at where you are spending your time and assessing whether you are spending your time on the things that are aligned with your priorities. The aforementioned group of managers were astounded to see how much time they were spending on lower priority activities, and started shifting their time to align with where they thought they should best invest their time.
  5. Blow off meetings in the lower priorities. We over think time management, as a result we fail. While this sounds like heresy, just blow off meetings in your lowest priorities. Even if they are with your manager or senior executives. Do it politely, but be clear where it’s important to spend your time and why you are making your choice. Some years/jobs ago, I was EVP of Sales for a technology company. I was scheduled to do a presentation at a BOD meeting. However, my priorities were my people and customers. A critical situation arose, a sales person needed me to attend a meeting with a customer. I sent my deck to the CEO and apologized to the Board. They weren’t happy, but they were OK with it. I later did a conference call with the BOD to walk through deck. Asking for forgiveness to focus on your highest priorities is generally a workable strategy–more later.
  6. Usually, when we talk about meetings and which are important, it’s hard to choose. We tend to think all of them are important, so we can’t eliminate them. Sometimes we even have meetings to figure out what is important. Try an experiment. Make all meeting attendance optional. Tell people they aren’t required to attend if they have a higher priority and something more important. Generally, people will participate in meetings that are important to them/their priorities/the business. If people choose not to attend a meeting, ask them to provide the reason, possibly what was more a more important use of their time (and it may be scheduling some “think time.”) What happens is you start to see what’s really important and what we may be doing just out of habit. The important things and issues will arise and you will get greater clarity on what/when we need to meet. Think about some of the implications of this:
    1. What if your people opt out of coaching/review meetings? We know these are important, but if your people opt out of them, then something’s off. They may not be getting value out of the meetings, they may not understand the importance of coaching and reviews. We/they need these, but if they are wastes of time, we need to correct these.
    2. What if your management team starts opting out of “important business reviews?” Again, they are telling you something is wrong about the meetings, you think they are important, but others don’t.
    3. We may find out who the critical participants in a meeting are, by those that choose to attend.
  7. A client shared this meeting “hack” with me. For every meeting she called with her team, at the end of the meeting, she asked everyone to do a “NPS” score on the meeting. She then asked the two lowest scorers what could be done to improve future meetings. She started reshaping both the purpose and frequency of meetings.
  8. It’s a common hack, perhaps difficult to achieve virtually, make every meeting a “standing” meeting. By that, everyone stands up for the meeting. Sitting down, tends to cause us to settle in and get comfortable. A little discomfort helps reduce meeting time.
  9. Stop scheduling for “normal times.” We mindlessly settle into the “on the hour or half hour” cadences. Consider scheduling meetings to start at 10 minutes past, 20 minutes past, or some irregular time. This simple time shift is unusual and causes us to break out of our habitual cadence, perhaps thinking more purposefully for each meeting.
  10. Every 30 minute meeting can really be a 20 minute meeting. Every 60 minute meeting, should really be a 45-50 minute meeting. Block your calendar for 30 or 60 minutes (or whatever time is “normal”) but conduct the meeting in 20 or 45 minutes. Reserve the other time to capture notes, create reminders, prep for the next meeting, grab a cup of coffee or pee.
  11. Leverage technology for what you bought it for!!! We waste so much time in meetings, reviewing reports and data that are available through our technology. For example, we can look at the pipeline before we go into a meeting. So we don’t have to spend the time reviewing the pipeline, we spend the time focusing on what we need to do about it. Likewise, with deal reviews, make sure your people are keeping CRM updated (why they should do this is another post). Spend a few minutes reviewing the opportunity report before the meeting. The focus of the meeting becomes less about “what’s happened,” focusing more on “what do we need to be doing.”
  12. Make sure everyone is clear about the purpose, agenda, and goals of the meeting, in advance. Make sure you and they are prepared to accomplish these. I can’t begin to count the number of meetings I see, where people are unprepared to accomplish the objective of the meeting–some because they don’t know the objective before the meeting. Some because of sloppiness. If someone isn’t prepared, disinvite them, ask them to leave the meeting because they will waste everyone’s time. It will only happen 1-2 time, they will get the message. Make sure you provide notes for the meeting, particularly with agreements and next steps. It’s amazing how much time we waste because we forgot what we agreed to do, as a result of the meeting.
  13. Maintain the integrity of “business hours.” (I feel a little self conscious about this, it’s one of my biggest time management problems). There are some of us that tend to think the number of hours we work each week shows our commitment, work ethic, or some other nonsense. We brag about the 60, 70, 80 hours a week that we work. The pandemic has made this worse, we tend to schedule meetings at all times of the day. Let’s face it, we aren’t accomplishing any more working those excessive hours and forcing others to do the same. If we start focusing on, “We have to get these things accomplished during the normal business day,” we will be forced to prioritize and be much more focused and purposeful in how we spend our time. Extending the hours we work, just enables us to be more sloppy in our prioritization and purposefulness. Pile on to that all the research that says we need to exercise, socialize, have time to ourselves in order to refresh, clear our minds and be more impactful for those hours we do have to work. State differently, workaholism rarely means we are doing more, it may just enable us to do what we should be doing, but less efficiently/effectively. Busyness has little to to with effectiveness or efficiency.
  14. If you are the meeting sponsor, be sensitive to the time you are setting the meeting for. We set up meetings based on our own time zones, workday, and convenience. But the meeting could be the middle of the night for many of the participants. Look at “convenience” for all the participants, not just your convenience. For example, I have many meetings with clients in Europe, or Australia, or the Far East. I start my day a little earlier when I have the European meetings, so that I catch them early-mid afternoon their time. For Australia, my afternoons/early evenings are morning or midday the next day in Australia. Likewise, in the Far East, late afternoon into mid evening are mornings for them. If you have a group in diverse locations, you will inconvenience some, opt to inconvenience yourself. If you have standing meetings with people in various time zones, rotate the time to spread the “pain.”
  15. If you are a senior manager or leader and having F2F meetings, don’t have them in your office. Go to the offices of the people you are meeting with. You learn so much by going to their “turf” rather than making people come to you. (Plus, it helps with your 10K steps…)

Yeah, I know these may seem like heresy. And, to a large degree, I’m writing this for myself, I need to rethink how I am spending my time. Perhaps the pandemic has made bad habits more visible, but I’m seeing too many people suffering “meeting exhaustion,” and not being as thoughtful impactful and effective as they could be. They are wasting hours that can be used much more effectively (whether for business or personal purposes). But we are creatures of habit, and struggle to change.

What unusual time management hacks do you have?

From → Performance

One Comment
  1. Brian MacIver permalink

    Great Topic Dave,
    Office based to WFH to Hybrid, more than ever Managing Time to Manage Performance is VITAL. I wrote a Note on the inside Cover of a book I bought in 1989 still sums it up for me 3 decades later.

    “Time management is NOT “DOING MORE”,
    but doing what’s IMPORTANT.”

    The book was about how to decide what’s Important
    Self, Family & Friends, Work.

    If we focus on what is IMPORTANT,
    then we lead full, Satisfying and Productive life.

    PS one of the topics was ‘Selective Ignoring’, a great Time Management Skill, second only to ‘Saying NO’.

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