Take Control Of Your Calendar in 5 Simple Steps

Did you read this article in the Atlantic a few weeks ago? The one that just casually mentioned that meetings are up 250% (!) since the pandemic. The one that said 9pm to 10pm is the new “productivity peak”.

I read it. And I wanted to puke.

Productivity peaking at 9pm means 1 thing: that people don’t have time to get their work done during the work day.

Yes, yes, I know, some people are naturally most productive in the evening. That’s not what we’re talking about here. The whole world didn’t shift chronotypes overnight. This “peak” is a direct result of a phenomena I hear from my client day-in and day-out. Something I literally see in their calendars. The 9–5 now consists of a solid block of wall-to-wall meetings. And “at night” is the only time to get any real work done.

Does this resonate? Have you been feeling this too? Not sure how to break out of this cycle?

Well, I want to share a simple framework you can use to help you take control of your calendar: The 5 Rs of a Meeting Audit

Step 1: Reflect

The first step is to really think about which meetings on your calendar are a good use if your time. But, sometimes it can be hard to know which meetings are worth your time. And when you’re not sure of something, that means it’s time to start tracking!

So, if you look at your calendar, and you just aren’t sure what you can get rid of or move, or it feels like everything is necessary, then I want you to start with a little meeting tracking before you move onto the next steps.

Here’s how: For a couple of weeks, every time you attend a meeting, if you leave that meeting feeling like it wasn’t a good use of your time for any reason (it could have been shorter, most people were multitasking, it could have been an email, etc.) then just change the color of that meeting on your calendar to grey (or whatever color you aren’t using for another purpose).

It’ll be your secret code.

Then, when you look back at your calendar after a couple of weeks, it’ll be easier to see patterns in terms of what meetings don’t feel worthwhile in their current format.

Step 2: Remove

Once you’re clear on which meetings are worth your time in their current format, and which ones aren’t, it’s time to figure out if there’s anything you can remove entirely.

You’re going to get the most impact to your calendar and time by making sure the right recurring meetings are on your calendar as they take up time, week after week.

Look at your recurring meetings and ask yourself:

  • Are there meetings on your calendar you don’t need to attend at all? One way to think about this is if you’re not both getting something and contributing something to the meeting, it might not need to be on your calendar at all.
  • Are there status update meetings, or other “info-only” meetings that could be turned into an email?
  • Are there meetings where you need the info, but you could deputize someone else to go on your behalf? Is there a co-worker, or direct report who could summarize for you, or can you simply rely on the meeting notes?

Once you have a list of meetings that you don’t think should be on your calendar going forward, then it’s time to think through whether you have control of these meetings, or whether you’ll need buy-in from others to make these changes.

  • If you have full control of the meeting, then go ahead and make the changes necessary (with proper communication to others involved, of course).
  • For the rest, make a list of the conversations you need to have and add them to your task system.
  • Don’t remove yourself from the meetings until you have buy-in from others that this will affect. (It’s not a good look to make these decisions without regard for others and, depending on your role, you may need to tread lightly.)

Pro tip: Use the language of experimentation instead of the language of change. No one wants to be the jerk who’s unwilling to experiment, but lots of folks are resistant to change. Try:

“I’m working on up-leveling my productivity, and I’m scrutinizing how I use my time. I’d like to remove myself from the following meetings for [timeframe] because [reason] and see if that works well for everyone. Of course, if it doesn’t work out, we can revert back to the current schedule.”

Step 3: Reduce

After you’ve removed the meetings that don’t need to be on your calendar at all, it’s time to see if you can reduce the time that the other meetings take up on your calendar. In order to reduce meeting time you have 2 primary levers: frequency and length.

  • Of the meetings that do need to stay on your calendar which can be reduced in length?
  • Ask yourself:
  • Could we get through in 45 minutes what we usually cover in an hour?
  • Likewise, could 20 minutes work in place of 30?
  • Of the meetings that do need to stay on your calendar which can be reduced in frequency?
  • Ask yourself :
  • Does this meeting need to be weekly, or could it happen every other week?
  • What about other timeframes?
  • Once you have a list of meetings that could be reduced in length or frequency, then it’s time to think through whether you have control of these meetings, or whether you’ll need buy-in from others to make these changes.
  • Make a list of the conversations you need to have and add them to your task system.
  • Don’t change meetings until you have buy-in from others that this will affect.

Pro tips:

  • Reduce the default meeting lengths in your calendar settings.
  • In Google Calendar, this setting is called “Speedy Meetings” and in Outlook it’s called “End Meetings Early”
  • Use the language of experimentation here as well. Try:

“I’m sure we’re all feeling stressed from back-to-back meetings. Would you be open to turning our 1-hour meetings into 50-minute meetings for the next month to see if we can accomplish what we need to and get a little breathing room in our schedules for a bio-break, or to add action items to our task lists?”

Step 4: Rearrange

Now the right meetings are on your calendar, for the right length and the right frequency and it’s time to “Tetris” your calendar!

If your calendar looks like Swiss cheese, you may want to make more room for deep focus work.

Some considerations:

  • Do back-to-back meetings work for you? If not, how much buffer do you want/need between meetings?
  • Do you want a “no meeting day”? (Not sure, check out my about this.)
  • Block and prioritize the time you need daily for “actual work” (communications, projects) instead of trying to fit the work in between the meetings.
  • If you’re a manager:
  • Try moving all your 1:1s back to back (with whatever buffer you need) on the same day each week.
  • Consider a block for “office hours” where you schedule any ad-hoc requests on your time.

Once you have a list of meetings that you want to move, then it’s time to think through whether you have control of these meetings, or whether you’ll need buy in from others to make these changes.

  • Make a list of the conversations you need to have and add them to your task system.
  • Don’t change meetings until you have buy-in from others that this will affect.

Step 5: Repeat

Due to the nature of meetings being additive over time, just because you’ve done a meeting audit once, doesn’t mean your calendar will stay nice and clean forever. (Sorry to break it to you!)

So, now’s the time to add a recurring task to your task system to run through these steps every 3–6 months to help you keep your calendar in check.

Personally, I do a calendar audit every 3 months, when I’m doing Quarterly Planning.

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Originally published at https://www.alexishaselberger.com on April 25, 2022.

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Helping you do more and stress less — www.alexishaselberger.com | Let’s Talk!: https://calendly.com/domore-stressless/consultation/

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