I'm a former self-proclaimed "meeting-aholic." I once had every single hour on my calendar booked with meetings. I found myself able to get work done only during after-hours and weekends. It was exhausting and, honestly, made me less productive.
As an entrepreneur, my time is the only thing I have to give. If I'm spending it on things that aren't making an impact, then something has to change immediately. But if I look at other entrepreneurs or other senior executives, most of them are in the same group that I was: overworked and convinced that they are productive, but the work effort doesn't match the results. If you look at any overworked employee, you will see a calendar full of meetings, which I believe is a big time-waster.
All that considered, here are three ways to get more of your time back to focus on the work you do best.
1. Start every Monday morning with a "Can I cancel this meeting?" mindset.
Every Monday morning, when I'm planning my week, I take another look at the invites I've accepted. I'm already pretty good about saying no to meetings, but sometimes things slip through the cracks and need to be revisited.
I used to have a fear of saying no to meetings, because I thought I owed it to people to give them my time. But what I discovered is that most people who create a meeting don't actually want to set a meeting. So here is how I cancel meetings I don't think are 100 percent necessary.
"Hey, Jonathan, my schedule is really packed this week. I want to spend more time on some key initiatives I'm working on. Do we really need this meeting? Is there anything I can give you an answer on right away? Feel free to send me an email with the info, and I'll take care of it right away. Feel free to text me or call me as well. Thank you!"
I'll take short, impromptu phone calls any day over a scheduled 30-minute meeting. If they call at the wrong time, I'll simply text them back with an autoresponder message saying I'll get back to them as soon as possible.
2. Create a culture of few or no meetings.
Earlier, I realized that I was setting up my employees with the expectation to have a lot of meetings to discuss open tasks, since that was the approach I used to take. Any time I couldn't answer a question, I told them to set up a meeting. So, they did the same thing, mimicking my bad behavior. When I noticed this, I tried something new.
I started to become ruthless with my own time. I turned off all email alert notifications and messenger app notifications, except the main iOS messenger. Using the iOS notification feature, I turned off all phone notifications after 9 p.m. during the week.
I canceled all of my recurring calendar events and moved to an ad hoc basis. If someone needed something from me, they could schedule it on my calendar the same day, or come and grab me. I found that recurring meetings are used too often, and the productivity cost of working around these recurring meetings resulted in too many minutes lost.
I generally need about three hours of locked-in time to create something meaningful. If I have a 30-minute meeting splitting that time, I end up cutting short what I wanted to accomplish, and by the time I get back in the zone, it's too late.
This approach of canceling meetings worked wonders. Once it worked for me, I sent out an email to the team describing our "meeting policy" and gave them permission to cancel all meetings unless they're 100 percent necessary. It was like I gave them the best Christmas gift ever.
When I tell other people that my team and I are "meeting-free," they get jealous and ask me the secret sauce. The secret sauce is to create a company culture of no unnecessary meetings and an ad hoc meeting structure instead of daily or weekly calls.