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Take Back Time - The Meetings Edition

In my most recent personal newsletter, I shared some strategies I've been using to keep my energy up and to even rebuild energy simply through how I schedule my day.

As a creative entrepreneur, I have about as much control over my time and calendar as one can have. That said, I worked in a heavily scheduled environment for 20+ years, so I know the full spectrum of owning one's time versus not owning one's time. Today, I want to share a mixture of strategies you can try out as mini experiments to see if they help you reclaim more time in your day.

Schedule Your Priorities as Appointments With Yourself

Whether you call this time blocking, appointments with self, or some other name, if your calendar is what you easily follow, then start here. The only way I get myself to work out is if there is an appointment in my calendar for it. And while I love writing and content production, I can get sidetracked easily and go down a research topic rabbit hole. So, this morning's calendar has a 2-hour block on it for content production, with two smaller blocks inside—one to write this article and one to promote my newsletter.

Time blocking can allow you to protect calendar time from people who actually look to see when you're available before they schedule meetings. You can always decide if a meeting they might ask you about is more important, but be cautious. It's a slippery slope to accept a meeting request about a project at face value when you've already blocked your time.

Getting started with this is simple. Look at your calendar and find the next two or three blocks of time when you have at least 1 hour—ideally 2, 3, or 4 hours and block them. My former admin and I tried this. We just labeled them GSD for Get Stuff Done. I was terrible and scheduled over them regularly for meetings, so learn from my mistakes.

Avoid Useless Meetings

Even as I type that, I am twitching a little, thinking back over all the hours of my life I sat in meetings with no agenda and no real purpose. They were on our calendars, and so we all showed up. I think many people feel like they can't question a meeting owner – especially if that person is "above" them in an organizational hierarchy. And in some organizations that is unfortunately true. But, if you are in a relatively psychologically safe workplace, this message may work for you:

Hi <Insert Name>, I reviewed my schedule for next week and see that we have a meeting about <Project/Meeting Schedule>. I would like to come prepared to use our time together well. Do you have an agenda or goal for that meeting you could provide?

If you get a response with a valuable agenda – great. And, if you don't get a response, consider a follow-up to suggest cancelling or postponing the conversation.

My second tip should be used carefully, but that is simply not to go to a meeting you feel might be useless. I think back to an introductory chemistry course I took in college. Several of my friends and I were in the course together. The course was rudimentary enough that it was essentially a watered-down version of our high school chemistry course. We rotated who went to class and took notes for everyone else. That way, I only had to give up one class session out of every six from my time, and then just review notes from friends for the others. [And if you're a college administrator reading this who finds out that students in one of your classes can do this, take a better look at your curriculum and your test out options for students.] This same strategy could be employed for the useless but mandatory meetings that everyone has in their schedule. Buddy up with someone and switch off who attends. Swap notes over coffee.

Be a good meeting convener

Don't schedule a meeting yourself without doing three things:

  • Review the action items set out at the last meeting and ensure you've built time to report out on those that are necessary to report on into the agenda for this meeting.

  • Send an agenda and any pre-work with all meeting invites, or set a date in the invite when people can expect the agenda.

  • Every agenda ends with an opportunity to review action items called out in the meeting and set action items collectively. Set these well. Include who is responsible, when the item will be completed by, and any other useful information for the person doing that task. If you don't have any action items, there is likely not a need to meet again in the near future.

What strategies do you use to protect your time for your most important work? Next up in this series will be The Email Edition. Have questions or challenges you'd like me to explore in that edition? Comment below or drop me an email or a note through the contact form on my website at Monarch Strategies LLC.


🦋 Do you need some one-on-one support as you take back your time? If so, it might be the perfect time for you to work with an executive coach. Schedule a free, no-obligation session to see if working with me as a coach could benefit you. Many organizations will pay for executive coaches as well so your employer might invest in you to take this next step.


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