In a recent coaching call with a client, I came across one of the most common issues at senior management level. A case of too many meetings, and no time left over for important priorities. I see this time and time again with my clients. Every patch of empty calendar seen as available real estate to build another meeting on.
I like to recommend a 70:30 split for someone who has a very meeting-driven role. Make 70% of your core working hours available for meetings, but protect at least 30% of your time for important priorities that you need to work on alone. This includes preparation for some of those meetings, thinking time, writing time and of course time to keep on top of emails and calls.
My coaching client heard what I was saying, and was keen, but looking forward over the coming month, just had no space left to protect. When I suggested cancelling or declining some of those meetings, she felt she could lose a few, but with most she felt compelled to attend. I felt she was not being ruthless enough. So, I tried something a bit different.
I asked her to review all the meetings that she attended over the last month. With her hindsight about the quality and the outcomes achieved in these meetings, I asked her to identify any meetings which:
- Should not have gone ahead because they did not achieve a worthwhile outcome or could have been dealt with in another way, or
- She should not have attended because they were not a good use of her time or she was the wrong person, or
- Could have been shortened as they were poorly organised and unfocused.
She printed her calendar for the previous month off, and lo and behold, identified many hours that she could have freed up over the month. Unfortunately, that boat had sailed, but when she looked forward at the coming month again, I could see a more ruthless glint in her eye. I left her to make some decisions about which meetings she should cancel, decline, delegate or shorten. If she could not do any of those things, hopefully she at least took measures to ensure the meetings she attended were well organised and focused.
Time is our most precious resource. Be ruthless with it otherwise other people will inadvertently squander it.