Somehow I Manage | Breaking the Groundhog Day Cycle: Mastering the Art of Efficient Meetings and Time Blocking for Productivity
By Britt Yenser
Phil: What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?
Ralph: That about sums it up for me.
--Groundhog Day (1993)
I used to be frustrated with my job. It started to feel like, "every day was exactly the same." It felt like all I did was run from one meeting to the next. I couldn't find the time to accomplish the tasks being generated by all of those meetings! It started to feel like all talk and no substance, like "nothing that you did mattered." That is, until I learned how to run meetings more efficiently and use time blocking on my calendar. If your work-life is starting to feel like Groundhog Day, here's how I vanquished that feeling--
Running Better Meetings
- I restructured my agendas. Anything that could result in a yes/no answer is now at the top so that people can select "yes" or "no" within the agenda prior to the meeting. When we start the meeting, we only address what needs to be addressed. Every agenda also ends with a grid of action items where we record the action, the due date, who is expected to complete it, and its status (Not Started, In Progress, Complete, or Blocked).
- Agendas are created and shared in advance. People are invited to add to the agenda prior to the meeting. This way, no one is surprised, and they can come to the meeting prepared with what they need to say.
- I give us time to be humans. Especially for 1:1 agendas: it is important to give people space and build community before jumping to the task. If someone walks away feeling heard and appreciated, they are more likely to be motivated.
- I learned to ask better questions. I'm sure you noticed that, "How are you?" will almost always result in an answer like, "Good," or "What have you been working on?" might result in disjointed and nervous answers. This feels so unproductive! I personally worked with leadership coach Dr. William Attaway who helped me tailor my questions to my personality and my team. I can't recommend this enough! But if coaching is not in your budget, you can find some great alternatives online. Before I discovered coaching, I started with this website: 9 One-on-one meeting templates that build trust | Hypercontext. I've also seen resources online like The Unstuck Box | A Career Coach in a Box. At the end of the day, a leader asks more questions than they make statements-- and they ask the right questions.
- I ask for an agenda. If it's not my meeting and I don't see an agenda attached, I ask for one! If I know the person well and I know they won't think I'm stepping on their toes, I will make an agenda for them and ask them to contribute. I am honest with my colleagues and let them know it's difficult for me to feel productive without having an agenda. Sometimes, you have to advocate for yourself and your team-- don't be afraid to do so!
- This is super simple: if you do not structure your time, someone else will structure it for you. When a meeting is added to my calendar, I add 15-30 minutes before and after it so I cannot be scheduled during that time. That gives me time to prepare for the meeting (including the walk to it!) and time to reflect and organize my thoughts after the meeting. It also minimizes the amount of meetings I can attend in a day, since I cannot be scheduled in meetings back-to-back.
- Not only do I block off time before and after my meetings, I block time for all of my tasks. Am I spending 10 minutes on emails? It's on my calendar. Am I spending an hour setting up for an event? It's on my calendar. Am I eating lunch? It's on my calendar. This does two key things: it gives me time to accomplish ALL of my tasks, and it allows me to see how I spent my time that day, week, and month. Did anybody say...DATA?! I used to end my week feeling frustrated and wondering where my time went-- now I don't!
- My tasks are also color coded by category. While this doesn't work for everyone, it helps me see at a glance how I'm spending my time.
Unfortunately, it's easy to feel like a day was not productive. I've even heard people claim, "we need fewer meetings." I argue that we need better meetings and better time management. If you've ever wanted to throw your computer off a cliff like Bill Murray and Punxsutawney Phil, you're not alone! But just like things worked out for Murray, things can work out for you-- if you make a change--with well structured agendas and time blocking!