Author: Sayge Coach, Rachel Garrett
You're exhausted. You've been in back-to-back meetings all day and you finally return to your desk only to get that stomach pang. It's 5:30 and you've done nothing on your to do list. How did this happen? Whether you want to be spending more time with friends, at the gym, or with your family, this productivity fail can result in evenings when you're more connected to your phone than anything else. Not ideal for anyone who wants something resembling a life!
If you want to get your work done during the day and be present for whatever you want to do in the evening, pay attention—I'm talking to you! Here are some strategies that work for my clients who are balancing career and life.
- Take a proactive approach to time. It's time to commune with your calendar. It's not your enemy. It's your solution to accomplishing your priority projects. To take a page from my longtime guru on time and life management, Stephen Covey, put "first things first." I've listened to the cassettes (yes, I said the c-word!) of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People more times than I can count and it's the primary reason I've am able to incorporate a writing practice into my busy life.
Identify your priorities, values, and mission in work and life and make sure your calendar reflects them. I sit down with my calendar a month at a time and schedule in writing time one-to-two times a week. Then—with my laptop at my favorite writing coffee shop—I schedule everything else around those dates.
- Your new mantra: "Do I need to be in this meeting?"
Now that you've identified your priorities, use them as your filter for when you answer this productivity make-or-break question. Be ruthless in protecting your time and say no to meetings when your intuition tells you:
1) It will be a waste of time.
2) Your input is not needed on this topic.
3) You can give an opportunity to someone on your team to lead.
As much as possible, question the need for a meeting.
There are times when a meeting is necessary, but often, we set up time with others simply to hold ourselves accountable to deadlines or doing the work. What other way can you hold yourself and others accountable? If you're a leader, set the tone that questioning the need for a meeting is OK. It can become part of the culture. As a team, you can help each other protect your collective time.
- Kill the meeting to prep for the meeting. This may be controversial. (Caveat: If you're rehearsing for a presentation or pitch, there is a need for practice.) That said, we have gone completely overboard in our abundance of ‘meetings for the meetings.’ More often than not, it can prompt employees to experience everything from disengagement to outrage.
Instead, how can you use tools like Slack or email to assign roles and get feedback from colleagues? In my experience, the ‘meeting for the meeting’ occurs when there is a gap in leadership on a project, assignments are organized by committee, and time is spent hemming and hawing over who does what and how to proceed. If you're experiencing a gap in leadership, consider this an opportunity to step up and run the show. While it may seem like you're taking on more work, you're actually saving time by providing clear direction and structure— cutting down on hours of hesitation and second-guessing.
- Run meetings with military precision. Meetings should have rules. Whenever possible, they should be 30 or 45 minutes, max. Everyone should arrive on time. If they don't arrive on time, you don't restart the meeting when they arrive. In addition to everyone knowing what the meeting is about (I wish this was a joke), there should be an agenda and pre-work that must be read prior to the meeting.
Everyone should show up with a pen and notebook. Personally, I find laptops in a meeting distracting, but I know this is becoming standard. If you're trying to create a culture where there are fewer meetings, I think pen and paper facilitates better team interactions and dynamics than a room full of laptops—but that may be a matter of style. There should be a clear leader to keep the discussion aligned with the agenda and someone to capture interesting topics to revisit at another time.
- Delegate like a boss. You don't have to do it all yourself—especially when you have employees reporting to you. I see many leaders with teams who struggle to delegate, and the costs are clear: feeling overwhelmed and suffering from a lack of growth. When you stay focused on the junior tasks that could be growth opportunities for your direct reports, you cut off your own opportunities to expand your skills and expertise, not to mention your chance of being promoted.
Even if you don't have a team, (with the support of senior leaders) gain some leadership experience by mentoring a more junior employee on a project you're working on together. You can practice training employees, handing off tasks, and letting go of control. These are all necessary skills to both protect your own time and move to the next level in your career.
- Leaders: Create office hours. If you're in charge of a team and you all sit together in a small space, you may be the one who can always answer questions or give advice at any moment of the day. It's exhausting and you can end up feeling like your time is not your own.
One way my clients are able to protect their time is by creating office hours two or three times a week and communicating that this is the time to discuss something in person. If they come over for a quick chat at other times, it's up to you to kick them out of your cube—in the most respectful way—and redirect them to your office hours. You may want to post your hours somewhere to give your team a visual cue.
While I don't recommend implementing all of these strategies at one time, pick one or two to experiment with and see how much time you can create in your day! Begin the dialogue with leadership around the way meetings impact productivity and engagement for the team. These habits are deeply ingrained in corporate cultures and buy-in at a senior level is necessary to make a change.
Most importantly, practice disconnecting from work during the evening. I know I'm not alone when I say that it’s hard. I'm not always good at it (and I do this stuff for a living)! Keep at it, re-focus every day, and when your second job—otherwise known as trying to have a life—is as ridiculous as it usually is, try laughing. It truly gets me through.