TSB 058: How Blocking Myself In Freed Me Up

efficiency intuitive leadership management nonprofit the saturday boardroom workplace culture Feb 10, 2024
TSB 058: How Blocking Myself In Freed Me Up

Read Time: 3 minutes

This week's tip:  Start your week by blocking off a half-day for uninterrupted work, making it a non-negotiable part of your schedule..


One week, I grappled with an adversary threatening my productivity and peace of mind…

…the relentless onslaught of back-to-back meetings.

Each day, my calendar was like a mosaic of meetings, each color-coded block representing discussions, decision-making sessions, and strategy briefings. Initially, I thrived in this dynamic environment, feeling invigorated by the constant interaction and collaboration. But as time wore on, the charm of these colorful blocks began to wane, revealing a much grimmer picture.

Back-to-back meetings leave me with little room to breathe, let alone focus on my own critical work. The constant context-switching led to a subtle yet pervasive foe: decision fatigue. 

As the day progressed, each decision became more daunting than the last, and the clarity that once defined my leadership style began to blur.

In a bid to reclaim control, I tried everything, i.e., First Things First, Getting Things Done, The 4-Hour Workweek - you name it, I tried it. Each system offered a promise of salvation, a way to squeeze productivity out of every minute. But the fundamental issue persisted: I simply needed fewer meetings and more protected time.

The epiphany came during a particularly chaotic week when feeling utterly depleted, I decided to experiment with something radical - no-meeting half days. A simple yet revolutionary change. I looked as far into the future as I needed to and started blocking off uninterrupted time for deep work.  Using a minimum of two hours, and when I have a presentation or a workshop coming up, blocking off as many as four hours to dive deep into strategic thinking, creative problem-solving, and meaningful work without the looming presence of the next meeting.

The transformation was tangible. With this protected time, my productivity has improved dramatically. Decisions are made with clarity and confidence, not as the byproduct of an exhausted mind. The no-meeting half days not only revitalized my workday but also instilled a renewed sense of balance and purpose in my leadership. 

What’s the Issue…

The primary issue is the potential for meeting overload, which can be a significant problem for leaders like you and your teams. 

Meetings, especially excessive ones, can decrease productivity, burnout, and less time for deep, focused work. For a CEO who needs to balance strategic leadership with managing day-to-day operations, this can be especially challenging.  I imagine it's challenging for your team as well.

How Most People Solve It…

A common approach is to try to simply limit the number of meetings. This might involve setting specific days for meetings, allocating time slots for open-door policies, or using tools to manage and schedule meetings more efficiently. Some organizations try to encourage email or asynchronous communication as an alternative to meetings. 

Why It Doesn’t Work…

These solutions often fall short because they don't address the root cause: the culture of constant collaboration and immediacy. In many organizations, there's an unspoken rule that being available and participating in meetings equates to being productive and engaged. This can create a cycle where employees feel compelled to schedule meetings for issues that could be resolved through other means. Furthermore, simply managing the number of meetings doesn’t necessarily improve the quality of the meetings that do occur.

How You Might Solve It Differently…

  1. Implement a "No Meetings Half-Day": Dedicate one half-day per week where no meetings are scheduled. This day is reserved for deep work, strategic planning, or other tasks that require uninterrupted focus.
  2. Evaluate Meeting Necessity: Regularly review the necessity and frequency of recurring meetings. Ask whether the objectives of the meeting justify the time spent and if the same goals could be achieved through less time-intensive means.
  3. Cultivate a Culture of Asynchronous Communication: Encourage the use of asynchronous communication for updates or decisions that don't require immediate, real-time interaction. This helps in reducing impromptu meetings and allows for thoughtful, well-articulated responses.
  4. Empower Teams with Decision-Making Autonomy: Reduce the bottleneck effect of leadership decision-making by empowering trusted team members or managers to make certain decisions. This can reduce the number of meetings required for executive input.

Recommended Action Steps

  1. Audit Your Calendar: Before implementing a "No Meetings Half-Day," conduct an audit of your weekly schedule. Identify patterns, time-wasters, and meetings that could be emails or quick check-ins.
  2. Communicate Clearly: Clearly communicate the purpose and the rules of the "No Meetings Half-Day" to your team. Ensure everyone understands the value of this time and respects the boundaries set around it.
  3. Equip Your Team: Provide your team with the tools and training they need to communicate effectively asynchronously. This may involve training on how to write clear, concise emails or how to use project management software effectively.
  4. Monitor and Adjust: After implementing the "No Meetings Half-Day," monitor its impact on productivity and work quality. Be open to feedback and ready to make adjustments as needed to ensure that this day is truly beneficial for you and your team.

By thoughtfully addressing the challenge of meeting overload and implementing these strategies, you can create a more productive, focused, and strategic environment for yourself and your team.

Do you plan to create protected time?

That's all for today. I'll see you again next Saturday!

Whenever you're ready, there are three ways we can help you:

  1. Register for one of our upcoming workshops here. 
  2. Learn the strengths and growth areas for your team and its members here.
  3. Get expert advice to help transform the culture of your organization and develop better leaders here. 

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