Dodging meetings like it’s my job

10 years ago I quit my job to start my own business.

(Yes! It's true. This weekend is the 10-year anniversary of Blanc Media LLC! But I'll save stories about that for another day.)

Back in my old job, I pretty much had complete autonomy of my schedule. And I learned quickly that I had to set priorities and boundaries for my time, and be proactive about choosing how my time needed to be spent. If I didn’t take control then I would literally fail at my job.

Today, I want to share about some of the things I did to protect my time and stay in control when I was in the midst of a very busy office culture.

Next week, I’ll share about some of the things I do now to protect my time as a self-employed, work-from-home dad who runs a small business.

First, an aside about meetings…

What’s the deal with meetings?

Just about everyone I know seems to have a strong dislike of meetings.

Even the word… "meeting"… it sounds like "meatloaf" — another thing that many people have a strong dislike of.

I received an email from a reader saying one of her biggest challenges related to managing her time was dealing with the deluge of meetings:

I work on a team where there are meetings to prep for the meeting, and then meetings that come from meetings with follow-up meetings for action items from the meetings. If you were to look at my outlook calendar you would see I rarely have blocks of time for focused work. It’s more like 30-60 minutes before the next meeting…

When I was the marketing director and leading the in-house design team, I was so afraid of having too many meetings. I treated meetings like fire. I knew they were necessary, but I didn’t want them to get out of control.

I also had to be careful about which meetings I allowed myself to attend. So often I’d spend an hour or two in a meeting with no outcome whatsoever. A literal waste of time. (I quickly learned how to spot time-waster meetings and began avoiding them at all costs.)

But meetings in and of themselves aren’t bad. (Same goes for meatloaf, too, actually. My wife has a meatloaf recipe that’s to die for.)

Meetings can be an invaluable tool for making forward progress. The problem is that most meetings don’t result in progress. Or, the forward progress is disproportionate to the length of the meeting. Or the number of people in the meeting is 5x what it should be.

If you can relate, consider if there is something you can do about it. I’m serious.

What can you do in order to take control of your time at work?

You have a job to do. Are meetings and interruptions standing in the way of doing that job?

As I mentioned yesterday, when I took over as the marketing director, I had to get proactive with my time. That meant doing some crazy things to protect my schedule. And I’ll share those in just a minute.

But the reason it’s so important for you to have control of your schedule is that if you don’t, you’re not doing your job.

If your job is to work on a certain project but you're also in meetings all the time, respectfully and honestly ask your managers which they’d prefer you do. Because you can’t be a maker while working in a manager’s schedule.

Protecting Your Time is Always Applicable After three years working as the marketing director, I quit that job in 2011 to work from my basement as a writer. (And I'm still here! Alive and well.)

I’ve been writing and running my own business full time for 10 years now! And so much of what I learned about protecting my time still applies.

And I've learned A LOT MORE over the past decade as well.

These days, instead of protecting my time from meetings and interruptions, I have to protect it from shiny object syndrome and the incessant tug to mindlessly peruse Twitter, and I have to protect it against the things that may be "good" but aren't actually what's best for my time.

The things I learned also apply to my home life. So much of what I learned about being productive in the midst of a busy job also helped me with being productive once I became a dad.

If you can get hold of a few basic skills for protecting and managing your time then you can use them in all sorts of seasons of life.

A Few Tricks

As promised, here a few of the tricks I used at my previous job as a marketing director and senior department leader to thrive in the midst of that wild and crazy job position.

I would (politely) turn down meeting requests, even with people who were my superiors. When I was invited to a meeting I always tried to find out what it was about. And sometimes I’d ask to be excused if I felt that my presence there wouldn’t be valuable to the group nor to my own job.

I got one of those super-dorky bluetooth earpieces so I could call my mom more often. We had three different campuses. My office was at campus A but most meetings were at campus B. So I drove back and forth several times each day. To make the most of that 15 minute drive, I got a a bluetooth earpiece so I could have conversations while driving. It was an excellent way to "meet" with someone over the phone. It was also great for catching up with my folks on a regular basis.

I’d schedule meetings with nobody. This was a trick I learned from one of my mentors. He would schedule meetings with nobody. What I mean is that he was always getting meeting requests. So, on his weekly schedule were two blocks of open time set aside for meetings. When someone would ask to meet, they would get slotted into the next available time.

I even scheduled meetings with myself. I knew that I needed at least 2 hours every day to work without distraction. So, I scheduled it. Then, if someone wanted to meet with me during that time I could tell them I already had something booked (because I did).

I worked from home on Fridays. Not only did I need 2 hours a day of uninterrupted time, I also needed one whole day of deep work. This was when I would do the sort of tasks such as planning, strategizing, etc. that should take a couple of hours minimum to really make meaningful progress.

It seems like a presumptuous thing to say "I’m taking the whole day on Friday to work from home. Nobody call me." But, it was the right thing to do. It was necessary. Because if I hadn’t taken time to focus on things such as planning and budgeting then my department would have ended up in big trouble and I’d have been out of a job.

I had to take that time so I could focus on the important work and plan for our long-term goals and objectives.

When it comes to office culture and meetings, there’s this sense that if you’re not in the meeting you're missing out. And, sadly, there is some truth to that. Unfortunately, many people think that those who skip out on unnecessary meetings are slacking off. When, for all we know, maybe they’re actually getting real work done. 😳

After I took that role as marketing director, I decided early on that I wanted the results of my work and the culture of my team to speak for my skills rather than my meeting attendance record.

Looking busy is a poor substitute for doing work that matters.

Sadly, it’s what so much of our corporate culture values these days because it’s what’s easiest to quantify in the short term.

Moreover, with remote work quickly on the rise, and knowledge workers being given more and more responsibility with less and less leadership, there is a significant opportunity for individuals to prove themselves reliable in the workplace and to also rise above the challenges of a broken productivity system by learning the skill and strategy of focus.

All that to say, now that I have worked for myself for 10 years, I have new tactics. But the ideas behind my tactics are still the same: protect my time at all costs.

Next Friday I’ll share more with you about what I do nowadays to keep in control of my time.

Talk again soon.

— Shawn

P.S. If you give me 60 minutes on Tuesday, I'll give you some tactics for a better schedule.

Mike Schmitz and I are co-hosting a time-management webinar next week. It's free to attend, but you do need to RSVP here. In-Depth App Training for Power Users

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9 months ago