Few things can sap productivity like a day filled with meetings and conference calls. Conventional wisdom says to work on eliminating them, but sometimes, the organizational culture or nature of the work just lends itself to having a lot of meetings.
If you work in a meeting-heavy environment, take heart. It’s still possible to get stuff done. Here’s an 8-point attack plan:
Sometimes, we say yes to meetings as a knee-jerk response. But just because they hold it, doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be there, says Edith Onderick-Harvey, founder of Andover, Massachusetts-based Factor In Talent, a performance and productivity consultancy. If you can’t skip the meeting entirely, check the agenda and see if you can show up for the first or second half when the projects you’re involved in will be discussed.
Instead of slicing up your day into half-hour increments like many calendars do, opt for 15-minute increments, says Kimberly Medlock, founder of Charlotte, North Carolina-based productivity training firm Smarter Training Matters. When you start to be more precise with your time–scheduling 15 minutes instead of 30, for example–you’ll be able to visualize the pockets of time on which you can capitalize throughout your day, she says.
If you’re going to make the most of 15 minutes here and there, then you need to be prepared, Onderick-Harvey says. Take a few minutes at the start of every day to create your to-do list and estimate how much time each item will take, and who or what you’ll need to complete the task. That way, if you find yourself with a quarter- or half-hour to spare, you can easily pinpoint the best way to make the most of that time and get something done.
It might seem like a good idea to try to get other things done while you’re sitting in a meeting or on a call, but you’re probably making the meeting last longer and making a bad impression on colleagues, Onderick-Harvey says. When people have to wait for you to catch up or repeat themselves, you’re wasting everyone’s time. Focus and get through the meeting agenda efficiently, then move on to other tasks.
“There is so much research that trying to do more than one thing at once just doesn’t work well,” she says.
Get as much done within the meeting time as possible, Medlock says. Too many meetings are all talk and no action. Make decisions. Assign responsibility and deadlines. Create a task list for each person at the end of the meeting, and ensure they know the necessary completion dates.
“Too often, meetings end without tasks and deadlines,” Medlock says. “The agenda items are vague and things get pushed back. Work on nailing down as much as you can in the actual meeting so you’re not creating more work and more meetings.”
It’s not easy, but the most productive people typically find an uninterrupted 20% span in the day, Medlock says. That’s 96 minutes in one eight-hour day. This time allows you to focus on one project or power through multiple tasks. Sometimes, that means taking advantage of flextime hours and coming in early or staying late, depending on the rhythms of your office.
Don’t dive under your desk, but if your office is a place where last-minute meetings are a problem because people are there, make yourself scarce, Medlock says. You don’t want to miss critical meetings or have your boss think you’re disappearing on company time. But if you’re being pulled into unnecessary meetings simply because you answered your phone or someone came by your workstation, try taking your project to an empty conference room or office for an hour or two. If leaving the office is a possibility, then head to either a coffee shop or a library.
It’s usually a last resort, but if you can’t meet your performance expectations because you’re in too many meetings, then it might be time to go to your supervisor.
- Explain the situation
- Ask for help prioritizing
- Decide which meetings are essential–and which ones you can skip
- Request guidance for future decision-making