Protecting Your Time
The most important thing to true time control is to guard your time from the unimportant things, in order to allow yourself to focus on the important. It’s that easy. However, in practice, it can be hard. Every now and again, it will cause you to come across as a jerk. Or as a minimum, coming across like one to those who enjoy time-wasting games as it’s the best way they know how to work.
We’ve got a phrase at Microsoft we use when our time is wasted: randomize. I was randomized by way of him. Please don’t randomize me. This meeting goes to be randomizing, we are able to try this over email. What a randomization! I’m not precisely sure where it got here from – likely from the contrast of losing time to a random number generator – however the simple concept is if something is randomizing, it’s to be prevented at any cost. I think it’s nicer than saying “you’re costing me valuable time,” especially for folks who didn’t recognize what the phrase meant in context.
Don’t be randomized!
The single largest time-waster in the company is the all-too-generic meeting. Most one-hour conferences are 50 minutes of people’s listening to themselves speak and 10 minutes of useful dialog or verbal exchange. You can no longer keep away from them completely; however, you can sure as hell try. More important stuff happens outside of conferences than in them.
As you most have read in My Day: The way I Work, Rest, and Play, my workday can effortlessly be crammed from 9-6 if I’m not careful. This definitely isn’t unique to my scenario; it applies to masses of humans. Many people end up using evenings and weekends to “catch up” instead of for much-needed downtime. Not fun!
Worse, they’ve satisfied themselves that their process is to go to meetings. I don’t understand people whose job is simply to attend conferences – or simply respond to email for that matter – irrespective of what function they’re in… and for folks who think it’s their activity, my wager is they’re packed with guilt because their contributions are significantly restrained. They’re not simply doing whatever. Also not fun!
No matter what you do, you need to maximize your contribution. You need to spend greater time creating and generating than eating. You need great output. You want to be someone who pushes the boulder another foot up the hill each and every day. You don’t need to run in circles like everyone around you! Unless you’re a full-time hole puncher with 30 years of experience, you’ve got something particular and huge to make a contribution to. Useless conferences put you off from that. If they’re no longer wasting so much time, they’re nevertheless breaking up valuable opportunities to get more work done. Conferences aren’t where you’ll make your mark.
It’s critical to examine conferences – along with telephone calls – in terms of their opportunity value. An example opportunity cost from Wikipedia: someone who has $15 can either purchase a CD or a shirt. If he buys the shirt, the opportunity cost is the CD and if he buys the CD the opportunity cost is the shirt. Identical logic applies to meetings. If you attend that 60-minute meeting, what else might you have accomplished in that 60-minute, uninterrupted time period? That output is the opportunity value of attending the meeting. You need to decide if it’s worth it. Every so often, it is. Most of the time, it’s not.
What I’ve discovered is that most 30-minute conferences can be handled over email if you can count on the outcome of the meeting beforehand of time. Most 60-minute meetings can be done in 20 minutes or less. Much like work, meetings will fill the time allocated. If a conference room is booked for 60 minutes, the general public does not begin standing up until their 60 minutes have been used up. It’s an extraordinary territorial factor, like a pride of lions protecting their turf. “I’m not going to get up, it’s my time!”
Of course, the same may be stated in the inverse – once in a while, a 15-minute verbal exchange can save 60 minutes of back-and-forth through email. It takes practice to determine the right approach.
Before stepping into these suggestions, begin with a basic “what if” exercise. When you look at a meeting on your calendar, ask yourself, “What if I didn’t attend this? What’s the worst that could take place if I delegated, cancelled, or declined the meeting?” Are you comfortable with the expected outcome? If so, don’t move – ask for the notes or a brief verbal précis as soon as the meeting is over. In case you still sense you need to be there, ask yourself, “What could I do to decrease the impact of not attending?” On occasion, this includes writing a brief paragraph to outline your angle and what you hope to get out of the time. Give people time to respond over email first, and you can avoid the meeting altogether. If you still want to meet, you may at least be capable of shortening the time you need to spend.
Here are a few established ways to save some time:
1. Ask for a schedule before agreeing to meet with everybody. Entering a room to outline an agenda is a waste of time.
Conferences need to be about problem-solving, not figuring out what’s wrong – that ought to take place in advance of the meeting. There are plenty of instances where you can test the timetable and convey the same final results without the meeting. I’ve started to use a handy template for meetings (apologies in advance in case you’ve been one of the recipients):
“Will you send over an agenda for the meeting so we are able to make the most of the time? I want to make sure I’m organized, so please let me know want you’d like to cover and how I’m able to assist.”
Word of caution: on occasion people take offense to this. However, it’s perfectly appropriate to invite people to reflect on how they’re going to use their time before they do. You have other matters you could be doing, as I’m certain they do too. When they send the schedule over, you can decide if the time is really required.
2. Advocate a new time for all conferences which might be set for an hour
An hour is a long time. It can ruin your workday, take up your lunch, other meetings, and break up your time so much that you only get two or three hours a day to get stuff done.
If you do too many hour-long conferences, you’re going to be one of these people complaining that they don’t have time to do their job. As mentioned earlier, plenty of people will fill the scheduled hour due to the fact they think they must – after all, it’s on the calendar. Use time as a forcing function – schedule it for much less time than you think it ought to take and see if you can do it. Here’s how I typically approach this:
“My day is slammed with conferences and different commitments. Let’s see if we can try this in 20 minutes – I promise to be on time – and if we will not get it completed, we can always follow-up over email or schedule another quick sync. Would 10 to 10:20 am work for you? If not, I’m also free from 3 to 3:20 or 4:40 to five. Thanks!”
The word of caution from above applies here too I recollect the first time a person did this to me years ago, I felt dejected. I got over it the minute I realized I had to do it too. Expect others to as well. Your whole organization can discover ways to work smarter.
3. Batch conferences collectively so that you have time to finish actual work
To do what you need to, you need devoted, non-stop time. Time to get ramped up, and time to complete. Innovative work is hard and isn’t usually executed in 10-minute periods. It can take 30 minutes just to figure out what you’re going to do every now and then.
The solution to this: keep non-stop blocks of time unscheduled each day. This involves providing new times for conferences others have set up and taking a close look at your calendar before putting in place a meeting to start with. Which day do you think would be extra effective?
Consider how much you could get done simply by being proactive about this.
4. Set up short standing conferences as opposed to seated meetings
It’s amazing how fast conferences go when you can’t get relaxed in a seat. On every occasion I can avoid it, I don’t schedule seated conferences. When you’re standing, you’re constantly asking yourself “why am I standing here?” and the inducement to take a seat can assist in pushing the meeting along. It’s funny watching realize this in a meeting.
Along the same lines, you may schedule your status conferences in a small, cramped space in preference to a spacious convention room full of snacks and projectors. Use a person’s office or a shared open space instead of an area where people’s simply “settle in and get comfy”.
I’ll take a 15-minute standing meeting in a small office over a 60-minute seated meeting in a conference room any day.
5. Keep away from routine conferences (without a clear schedule). Routine conferences have 3 states in my experience:
They recur too soon (~50% of them)
They recur too late (~40% of them)
They recur just at the right time (~10% of them)
In general, regular meetings are just ways to book time on people’s calendars so that you can get them collectively. Masses of time, at least at Microsoft. If you try to book an ad-hoc meeting, no one can attend because they have other conferences already scheduled. Routine conferences preserve that point on their calendars booked only for you.
Most of these routine meetings either recur too soon (nothing to talk about) or too late (you have to have already met – and occasionally have). Depending on where you work, you may not be able to get out of all ordinary meetings – however, you can try to ensure there’s an agenda sent ahead of time, or that they’re performed in a small area at the very least, and you may quietly excuse yourself if you don’t find the meeting beneficial.
6. Kill many birds with one stone
I’ve scheduled meetings in the course of time I had scheduled to tidy up my workplace or stroll to the publishing office. I’ve scheduled meetings over lunch and travel times, even picking people up at their house to have a meeting while driving to work. I’ve scheduled conferences in a racquetball court or at other social events. Humans usually recognize that everybody’s busy. What’s the difference when the meeting takes place so long as we’re both dedicated to the final results?
As mentioned previously, I like to combine a minimum of one meeting every day with a short stroll outdoors. We exercise our bodies at the same time as our brains, which results in more engaged, creative communication.
Meetings that serve a dual purpose can clearly make a distinction for your agenda. As an alternative to having 1:1 conferences with folks, get a few people together at a time to keep the hassle of passing the results on among the organization to a minimum.
7. Reduce back-and-forth responses over email.
On occasion 2-word responses to emails can simply invite a back-and-forth exchange. “No” is by no means as suitable as “No” and here’s 2 sentences why not.
E-mail isn’t instant messaging. It’s intended to be “asynchronous”, not real-time. Often someone will ask me a yes/no question through email that I ought to easily just respond with a single word. Of course, if I’m capable of assume their response, or if I know their motivation initially, a bit more written in a single e-mail can help us lower the back-and-forth. As an example:
“Yes, that’s the way the product is designed. We decided to do it this way due to the fact the information we’ve gathered indicates that people use this selection in 0.05% of consumer classes. For extra facts on the precise implementation information and exact justification, you ought to take a look at out the specifications (right here’s the link). After looking at this, if you still have questions, please feel free to email. Thank you!”
This applies to putting in place time to get together as well. Saying “I’m free at four” isn’t as powerful as “I’m free at 4. If you’re not free at four, do you want to give me some alternatives so I can pick out the best time for both people?” You can save at least three emails that way.
8. Get out of the habit of answering your phone when it rings
Reply to all phone calls with an email or text so you can work while you want. A good response to an overlooked voicemail may be something just like the following – concise without wiggle room:
“Hi Bob, I noticed which you called me. Sorry I wasn’t available. If that is about the thing on Friday, I’m currently booked on Alaska flight 416 and plan to get to the airport at 3:30. I’ll look forward to seeing you at the gate and that I’ll have the files we discussed. See then you – pls. email me if you have any questions. Thanks!”
Unless it’s a member of my family or a close friend, I don’t answer my phone if I’m in the middle of something. My voicemail asks people to send me a text or an email as opposed to leaving a voicemail (which takes time to concentrate on). But if they do leave a voicemail, I always follow-up with email or text. It forces people (including me) to be concise, and keeps us from having to be available at the same time.
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