2 sure fire ways to stop meetings from sucking your time

The dreaded coffee meeting. The lunch meeting. The "quick call." The "just need to pick your brain." Here's how you put an end to endless meetings.

Join the club: you  spend too much time in meetings. The research is backing you up. Some studies show the average U.S. employee has a load of almost 70 meetings a month, adding up to some 31 hours of time they feel they wasted. Ouch.

Doing your own meetings math

Of course, you can’t ditch command performances like team huddles, staff meetings, and meetings with your managers. So what do you do? You build yourself two simple rules to use before you say yes to your next meeting.

1.    You: responsive vs accessible for meetings?

You may have heard the project management trope that you can build something fast, or you can build something cheap, but you can’t do both.

There’s a similar dilemma facing your calendar. You’re supposed to be responsive.  But you also have to accessible.  However, if you think about being responsive versus being accessible, you quickly realize you can’t actually maximize both.

The basic question to ask yourself in order to trim the meeting mayhem is, whom do you want to responsive to? Or, what do you want to be accessible for?

If you write down those answers–your own real answers–you start to put fences around the types of meetings you need to say yes to and still stay aligned with your own goals.

For example, I want to be accessible to software startup founders in the Southeast. To do that, I have to make sure I don’t say yes to too many other types of meetings or I lose my opportunity at being accessible.  Just today, I said no to to a wonderful speaking opportunity in Dubai, because it wasn’t going to help me be more accessible to the founders I want to meet.  I am not going to build a network in the Middle East–but it sure would have been a fun trip.  I’m energized by a weekend hiking around Asheville–so I hardly have to burn two days flying to and from Dubai for stimulation. What are you saying yes to that doesn’t really help you get where you’re going? If you don’t run your calendar, it will definitely run you.

2.    Finding your clear reason for yes to meetings

You can’t avoid the command performance meetings, but you can have a tremendous amount of control over meetings outside of that. Just because someone says they need to, or want to, meet you doesn’t mean you should say yes. In fact,  if you add the simple discipline of making yourself have a firm reason for why you will allow yourself to say yes, then you’ll find many meetings don’t make your cut. In other words, make your default setting for new meetings saying no.

Everyone hates the “I’d like to pick your brain” meetings

More subtle requests, like “I’m new and just want to get to know you” or “can you teach me about this” are harder to reject outright. You want to still feel like the good professional citizen you are. In those situations, one way to put a fence around your time is to determine ahead of time how much of your weekly schedule is open formentoring. Set a weekly block–it could be one hour or 10 hours, it’s up to you–and stick with it.

You might also use blogging to share some of your knowledge so that meeting you is not the only way to get your perspective. That way, if a person genuinely wants to know some of what you know, you can point them at your blog or other social feed.

By using these two guidelines–knowing your goals around what you want to be accessible for, and knowing your commitment to giving back at this stage of your career–you can learn which meetings you truly need to say yes to. And most of the rest will fall blissfully into that space called  freed time to do what you really crave.

Originally published in my column in Inc. Magazine.

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