Don’t Be Afraid of Open Calendar TIme

I realize the topic of meetings is not a new one to talk about.

Sometimes I wonder what is wrong with me that my calendar has some open availability on it. Ask anyone, in any company, how it’s going and inevitably they will say, “I’m super busy.” A glance at the calendar and you’d likely see the majority of time between 8-5 consumed with meetings.

I think it’s safe to say that knowledge workers today meet a lot. While that’s not always a ‘bad’ thing, I challenge you to think about the following:

If you have a matter to discuss or need a question answered… “setting up a meeting” the only way?

Take my personal experience as a view. Historically speaking, scheduling a meeting (or series of) was the default response in follow up to most of my interactions with people. I felt like I couldn’t get my head above water. I was accepting every meeting request—no matter what. The impact was back-to-back meetings, with no breaks, very little desk time and no time for informal interactions with my team. In fact, I’d have to read my calendar right before a meeting and try to remember what it was about. As I got better about really trying to understand which meetings were the right meetings for me to attend, and asking better questions about the purpose of the meetings, I started noticing that I would (politely) decline a few meetings, or have a delegate attend (instead of both of us). This resulted in a little more discretionary time. Time which has allowed me to explore other ways to connect with people on a more ad-hoc basis, and overall… to be more responsive than I had been while doing things the ‘old’ way.

When I talk to folks about their calendars, and why they are feeling “so busy”, here is a Q and A I go through to help get to the “why”:

Q1: Why are you so busy?

A1: I’m booked from 8-5

Q2: Why are you booked from 8-5?

A2: I have to meet with so many people

Q3: Why do you have meet with so many people?

A3: To collaborate on a wide variety of topics

Q4: Why does your initial collaboration on a topic require a calendar meeting?

A4: Getting people in a room helps people focus on the topic at hand–setting up a meeting is how I’ve always collaborated with people, and I can ensure answers to my questions.

Q5: I would agree that at times, that is the most appropriate tool in your collaboration tool box. Have you ever tried using ad-hoc collaboration or asking a couple questions prior to just accepting or setting up a meeting?

A5: I’m not sure, tell me more…

Meetings are expensive. People in a room for an hour adds up. Some extreme companies track this, and there are calculators to compute the “cost of a meeting”. I’m not suggesting we do this—at all—(I think my Dad used to refer to ideas like that as “lead balloons”) but rather just acknowledge the fact that this collaboration technique—getting people in a room—may be more expensive than collaborating on an ad-hoc basis. And, it’s a choice we make. But my focus has been on asking the question:

Do we need to meet on this yet?

Today’s technology collaboration tools like IM and social communities, now more than ever, allow for more efficient ad-hoc collaboration that may allow you to avoid taking the step requiring you to setup a physical meeting to collaborate on a topic. And while our children can’t relate, there is always the technique of picking up the phone.

These ad-hoc collaboration tools are all effective ways to either a) get an answer to the question without meeting or b) confirm that a meeting is the next logical tool to use. Perhaps the answer to a clarifying question, just by asking, would eliminate the need to meet at all.

I’ve had 2 examples—this week—where simply collaborating ad-hoc to clarify something eliminated the need for folks to meet. And everyone was satisfied with that. Are you changing the way you work to open up some calendar time? If so, would love to hear your story.

2 thoughts on “Don’t Be Afraid of Open Calendar TIme

  1. Pratip

    I would say that I was scared of leaving the calendar open before. Had the impression of perception of thinking that others will feel you are not busy enough. I am over it now and use the open time to startegize and plan. This helped me a lot. Also avoids death by meetings. We tend to lean towards being part of everything and end up with running out of time to deliver. I do agree with you Omar on the need to ‘see more free spots on the calendar’. Thanks for sharing this.


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