Recently I was stuck in an airport waiting for a connecting flight that was delayed. I was grateful it was still coming, but I realized that I would now get home much later than I had expected — well after midnight. I was also thinking that I had an early morning meeting the next day. My next thoughts were around how this schedule compression had occurred once again. Who accepts meeting invitations? (I do.) Who keeps/approves my calendar? (I do.) I may have an Executive Assistant who schedules things for me, but little gets on my calendar without my approval.
Calendar discipline is tough. Depending on your employment level, much of your daily work schedule may be determined by your boss and the demands of your job, but you usually have some choice. For example, many corporations have core working hours with flexible start and ending times. These can be used to your advantage when it comes to managing your workload.
Regardless of your start time, try to actually begin your work day as soon as you get to work. You can greet colleagues and get a cup of coffee without getting caught up in the morning chit chat in the kitchen or hall. If you spend 30 minutes a morning catching up with office gossip and talking with colleagues, in a week’s time you will lose over two hours of productivity that you may have to compensate for by working later or taking work home.
Meetings are huge time eaters mainly because few people run efficient meetings. In many organizations, there is a routine structure for meetings, and most committee meetings are scheduled for an hour. We know that work will expand to fill the time allotted, so instead of scheduling a meeting for 60 minutes, suggest scheduling it for 45 minutes, or even 30 minutes. If you are hosting the meeting, start– and end–it on time.
If you are in an organization where meetings rarely start on time, be on time yourself, but take some work with you. It’s surprising how many reports or emails you can get done in the five or ten minutes you spend waiting for colleagues to arrive for a meeting.
If you need to interact with a colleague who has trouble ending your discussions, suggest meeting in his office or in a conference room. It’s much easier leaving someone else’s office than it is to politely get someone to leave yours.
If you have external meetings, be sure to build travel time into your schedule. Nothing is more nerve-wracking than sitting in a meeting that your boss is running and knowing that you are going to be late for a client meeting. If at all possible, schedule external meetings early so that you can get the meeting out of the way before you go to the office.
Many meetings are now done by conference calls, and few of them are done well. If you are in charge of the call, be certain everyone has the correct call-in information. Send out a reminder the day of the call. Be sure your own system is working and ready. As with other meetings, start and end on time. If it’s a call with a chatty colleague, schedule something directly following the call so you have a valid reason to stop the call at the agreed upon time.
It’s a useful habit to take a few minutes before you leave for the day to organize your desk and to check your calendar. Review what you have scheduled for the next day and be sure you have necessary items on hand so you are prepared, especially for your first meeting or two.
If you are lucky enough to have an assistant to help you with scheduling, be sure you are clear about what you prefer (for example, amount of time allotted for meetings, amount of travel time required for external meetings, some protected time during the day to return phone calls and check emails).
Finally, keep in mind that you might not have to accept every meeting invitation you receive. Can you send a document or summary report instead? Could one of the team members attend on behalf of the team? Could you attend only part of the meeting that is relevant to you or only attend the first half of a conference call?
As you become more experienced in the workplace, you should also become more expert at managing your calendar. But you may still find yourself sitting in that airport at midnight.