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6 Ways to Reclaim Work Time on Everyone’s Calendars

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It is Monday at 3:00 p.m. and it has already happened. My calendar has been entirely stripped of the whitespace it desperately craves…it desperately needs. Unfortunately, it’s the whitespace that is undoubtedly the most valuable. It’s where I pull out my pen and scribble down thoughts around “What is focus…really?” and “What is it we need to do to share these insights with the masses?”

It’s where I stare out the window and think about that Tim Ferris podcast I listened to three months back and tie it back to the experience I had the day prior in my webinar. It is in the whitespace that I think, create, and solve. I connect, wrestle, and translate things inside my head before strategizing on a path forward.

And yet, by absent-mindedly clicking “Accept” on my calendar invites throughout the day, I pull up my calendar and *poof*, no whitespace. 

How did that happen?!

Sound familiar? I’ve set out to solve this problem—for my own calendar, and hopefully for yours as well. I owe it to myself and to my team. Because even though I’m only looking at my own calendar, my meetings are undoubtedly consuming others’ whitespace as well. I am a firm believer that managing burnout is a social responsibility and calendar management is a critical area to focus on to make a big impact. Here are 6 tactics you can start putting into practice now: 

1. Send material in advance

Reviews don’t require meetings, but discussions and decisions do.

We often find ourselves sitting through meetings as the leader scrolls through a document and pauses to give the audience “a moment to read through and share their thoughts when they are done.” Before we know it, half of the meeting is eaten up by “moments to read through” with only 30 minutes remaining to collaborate, debate, and decide. Send materials in advance for that meeting typically scheduled for 60 minutes and shorten that meeting to 30 minutes!

2. Collect input in advance

Acknowledge where you have agreement and where you don’t.

Meeting prep is critical, and when we do it, we may recognize we don’t need the meeting at all. Before hosting a meeting, request the attendees’ input on discussion topics and decisions (Google forms are great for this). Many times, we may recognize that alignment already exists, and thus, the meeting is not necessary. Instead, send out the important details and communicate that decision alignment has been reached. Cancel that meeting. Alternatively, if there are only two decisions to be made versus the 5 you were anticipating, shorten that meeting length!

3. Get strategic about your agenda

Prioritize decisions and grant permission to some or all participants to exit the meeting once those decisions have been finalized.

Some meetings are critical—but that’s not the case for all meeting attendees. While the meeting may remain on your calendar, examine in advance how you may take it off others’. First, design your agenda in a way that prioritizes decisions that require the highest number of attendees. As you move down your list, give open permission for attendees to drop off a call or return to their workspace. Additionally, it can be helpful to divide your meeting into 2-3 sections so people can decide to join at specific time intervals. Remove meetings for people who are not involved in the weekly decision topics and shorten meetings by letting people drop off after their role in the meeting has been met.

4. Ensure attendees are prepared

There’s no way the meeting will meet its objectives when meeting attendees are not aware of what is expected of them.

There’s no sense in hosting a meeting if attendees haven’t been given the opportunity to prepare, and even worse, when they don’t know what the goal of the meeting is. Send out pre-meeting pulses to see who has vs. who has not reviewed the material, completed their meeting inputs, etc. If the meeting needs to be pushed out to a later date, then encourage a reschedule. It is true, pushing out decisions and missing deadlines is not desirable. However, hosting a meeting without the critical inputs only further strips your organization of the time it needs to get things done. Avoid falling further behind by hosting a meeting without the inputs. Cancel that meeting and see where support is needed for better preparation.

5. Accept cancellations

Time back on the calendar is a gain, not a loss.

Over time, organizational cultures can evolve and take on a series of norms that are detrimental to your team’s productivity habits. One example is an existing stigma against cancelled meetings. We fear that cancelling a meeting shows signs of lack of preparedness or disorganization. Cultivate a culture that accepts cancellations and is able to see this in a positive light. While it’s important to ensure  that projects are not falling behind schedule, roles are aligned, and support is provided where necessary (all important components of meetings), it does not mean that all meetings on the calendar should take place or that all attendees must attend.  

6. Define who is required to attend, and who is optional

If a meeting is absolutely necessary, take a closer look at the attendee list. Who is absolutely essential to the meeting, and who is optional? Mark those as such on the calendar invites you send out, thereby helping attendees better prioritize their own time. Not only is this respectful to others, but it will likely make your meetings more efficient simply by reducing the number of required attendees. Conversations can stay focused on critical topics, and perhaps, the meeting will have a better chance of ending on time or even early. 

Whitespace is sacred

Can we hold ourselves accountable to respecting our own time and the time of our teammates? Here’s a challenge:

  1. Eliminate 2 meetings on your calendar next week and instead, use email or messaging to provide inputs. 
  2. Sort through your own meeting invitations and remove as many people as you can or mark certain stakeholders as optional.
  3. Clearly define and prioritize your agendas and allow teammates exit after their role in the meeting has been met.

Preserve the whitespace. Hold onto it. Label it as sacred (literally, so others can see). Hold the line and take back the time you need to create, think, innovate, and strategize. When we have that whitespace, our meetings become forums for elevated brainstorming, thoughtful strategy, and informed decision-making. Our meetings serve a purpose again, allowing us to be more productive, not less.

About ActivTrak and The Productivity Lab

ActivTrak helps companies unlock productivity potential. Our award-winning workforce productivity and analytics software provides expert insights that empower people, optimize processes, and maximize technology. With data sourced from more than 8,500 customers and 250,000 users, ActivTrak’s Productivity Lab is a global center for ground-breaking workforce productivity research and expertise that helps companies embrace and embody the future of work.