Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Thinking About Scheduling (Some More)

My place of employment is a very meeting-heavy environment. I mean, people love to meet, they meet all day, and when you need to get with key decision makers (or heaven forfend, get a group of key decision makers in one room at the same time) it's often a two to three week wait (or worse) to find a time. Now Stella generally gets to escape some of the madness, because a lot of what I do is actual project work that comes after decisions are made, and I am 2,000 miles away most of the time.

But now that I'm getting into more "strategery" areas, I really need to get time with people, and it turns out to be really tough because they're all booked solid, packed back to back, lined up in stacks, and ready to mack.

Okay, not the last part. But you see the organizational problem here. I maintain that we should embrace the following rules about scheduling:

1. No one's day should ever be back to back meetings all day. Never. Ever. I don't care what kind of high-powered executive you are, you should have 90 minutes in the morning (even if it's broken into three 30-minute chunks) to do actual work, and at least 60 minutes in the afternoon toward the end of the day for processing what you've been handed during the day. Minimum.

2. Organization-wide meeting-free days are a good thing. Even if you're mostly managing other people's work, you still need some time for making. Uninterrupted free time where you can chew on those important-but-not-urgent projects that always fall by the wayside. Of course, this requires discipline, because sometimes those meeting-free afternoons become work-free afternoons, but you can do it. Tag some important-but-not-urgent task for each meeting-free day and you're in business.

3. Block time for "office hours" -- like a college professor who sits in her office during office hours so students can come in and wheedle for better deadlines, or a pediatrician who has "sick kid" appointments that can be doled out as people call with urgent needs to be seen, having time that is targeted for meetings but not booked weeks in advance is critical. It gives everyone some time to play with when genuinely urgent matters come up.

4. Consider carefully what meetings you really need to attend. Could you send a capable deputy and then have part of your regular confabs with your staff be filling you in on this or that project? You can get the skinny on what's talked about and get clued in on what you'd like to be involved in the deciding on when you send your able staff members out into the world. Try it.

5. Also, this sharing thing works both ways: you actively share what you've heard about in the meetings you attend with your staff so everyone knows what's happening now. Spreading the information helps you get the maximum value out of the meetings you simply can't miss.

Look, Stella isn't a business researcher, and I don't have any data or studies that suggest that these things would actually help people feel less harried and get more work done, but it makes sense to me. Maybe I should go get an MBA so I can study the dynamics of meeting scheduling.


Carol Anne said...

Do we work for the same company? ;^) We have meetings to plan meetings. It's crazy. Sending delegates just eats into your subordinates meeting-free time.
We have IM and email. I don't know why those mediums can't be employed in place of face-to-face or telemeetings.

Stella Commute said...

Thanks for writing, Carol Anne. I know what you mean. So often I schedule phone meetings and we churn through what we need to discuss in 35 minutes -- I always make a point of noting that everyone who attended just got a 25 minute gift! Add it up (salaries, etc etc) and you start seeing that time really is money.