I have been out of the regular daily office scene for over a decade now, and there are a few new things in today’s workplaces that I would probably have a hard time with – one of them is open office space. As someone who values my quiet time to think through an issue, and who also likes my privacy, I know I would have to really work at adjusting to that type of environment.

The other trend that I would have trouble with is the open calendar – having your calendar online so that people can add meetings to your schedule. I have had many a client show me their calendar and the back-to-back and overlapping meeting requests they juggle.  They complain about the lack of time to do actual work, to think, to plan – all because of the amount of time they spend in meetings.

So, the next time you find yourself with a slew of meeting requests chunking away your time, consider these five questions before responding – they will help you determine if you really need to be there:

  • What is the purpose of the meeting? – It seems like a simple question, but often it is unclear why a meeting is needed and why it is being called. If you don’t know, ask. Is it to make decisions? Generate ideas? Inform? You can’t discern whether your attendance makes sense without knowing the purpose of the meeting.
  • What is my role, and what will I contribute? – If you are taking valuable time out of your day to attend a meeting, it is important to know why you need to be there and what you are bringing to the meeting table. Are you needed to give input? To make the final decision? To ask questions? You may find that you can delegate the role and contribution for a particular meeting. Or you may realize that your role is unclear or not necessary.
  • What is the agenda? – It surprises me how often I hear that meetings take place without an agenda. Maybe it’s that people assume everyone knows what the agenda is, or maybe people are just too busy attending meetings to take the time to develop an agenda for their own meetings. Without knowing what is on the agenda, it’s hard to know whether it makes sense for you to attend. Ask for an agenda and if none exists, decline the meeting.
  • Is there another way (other than a meeting) to achieve the purpose and agenda? – Listening to other people give an endless stream of presentations is rarely a good use of meeting time. Yet, often that is what meetings end up being. Way too much presentation and not enough discussion and deeper dives. There may be other ways to inform people – like sharing presentations and getting feedback electronically via email or one of the many online collaboration tools. Maybe two meetings can be combined?
  • Is this meeting the best and most effective use of my time? – Again, your time is precious. If the answer is yes, great! If it is not, then it’s important to think about why it may still be best for you to attend or why it is best to say no. Remember the Urgent-Important Matrix, which is a great tool to clarify your priorities. This tool helps you to be more aware of the danger of focusing on things that are urgent but not important (many meetings fall into this category), while neglecting those important but not urgent tasks (such as people development, long-term planning, personal growth, etc.).

Once you have the answers to these five questions, then you can decide your response. Will you attend, designate someone else, have no representation at the meeting, have a colleague update you later, or have representation for a specific portion of the meeting? Taking control of your calendar and being thoughtful and intentional with your time will lead to better results. Delegating meetings are a great way to develop your employees, push down responsibility, and get out of the weeds. Questioning and being more intentional about attending meetings helps you to practice and model Thoughtful Leadership, encourage fewer meetings, increase accountability and productivity, and leading positive change within your organization.

What steps have you taken to manage your meeting calendar?
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If you enjoyed this post, you can read more like it in our book, The Power of Thoughtful Leadership: 101 Minutes To Being the Leader You Want To Be, available on Amazon.

For more ideas for making the best use of your time at work, contact Robyn at rmcleod@chatsworthconsulting.com.

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