It’s Monday Morning… and you’re staring at your calendar 4 minutes before your first meeting. You have more to do than you have time for today: 3 important meetings, 2 other internal calls that don’t really fit with your goals, and 1 document you promised a customer that will take much longer than the budgeted time. But what’s actually really important (which is NOT on the calendar) is the complex issue with one of your other clients that you really need some time and space to think about.
So you’ve got to restructure your day. By the way, now it’s 2 min before your next meeting. Think quickly.
Kudos if you spent a few minutes thinking through your day (or week) like this at all. Most of us just roll in, jump into the first meeting, and let the events of the day carry us along. We let the calendar drive us, rather than deciding to use our time and our resources to accomplish what is most important.
But even when you are doing the necessary planning at the beginning of the day or week, if the discrepancy between your calendar and your priorities resembles the above example, it’s probably too late. Canceling meetings left and right, or just not showing up, will not help your reputation for reliability and responsiveness. You want to keep your commitments. And you need to meet internal and external expectations. But you have tied yourself down to committing to good things when you could spend more time on the things that matter most.
So meet your commitments today. But as soon as you can, carve out some time this week to take a step back. Think about the purpose behind each meeting or effort, and then compare that with your medium to long-term priorities. Your goal should be to use your time, network, skills, and other resources to accomplish your most important priorities. Your calendar, and the meetings on them, will be one tool to help get you there. It’s certainly not easy. As you make decisions about what you’re trying to accomplish, consider three structure traps we fall into, and what to do with them.
1. Insufficient structure– Often in organizations, we respond to complex challenges or decisions with insufficient structure. We need to organize ourselves. Think of it this way. If your system for processing emails is prepared to handle 10 emails each day, and you actually receive 500, you’re toast. Similarly, we need to layer in sufficient structure to handle complex decisions or challenges. Maybe you’re dealing with an issue that never really seems to move toward resolution. Take a step back. Ask the right questions. Think through the barriers and opportunities. Decide how to move forward.
2. The Wrong Structure – At other times, we impose the wrong structure altogether. For example, excel spreadsheets and power point slides are adjusted, readjusted, and re-presented to leaders because more sophisticated tools are not used to handle their “what-if” questions or scenarios. Or someone creates a committee that brings in loads of data but never really solves the problem. We need to constantly ask ourselves: What are we trying to accomplish? Is this the right approach? Then we move in the right direction.
3. Too much Structure – As an example, think of 5 different meetings set in place by 5 different people with generally the same participants. Can we consolidate? Hence the recent outcry for too many meetings. In the case of a weekly status meeting, it may be that getting together as a team is not bad. But in some cases the time and costs of gathering may be better used for leveraging expertise to answer tough customer questions, or for knowledge-sharing that team members can immediately apply.