Escape Meeting Hell Using a Simple Scheduling Hack
5 min read

Escape Meeting Hell Using a Simple Scheduling Hack

How a simple change to the timing of meetings can greatly enhance the productivity of your team and company.
Escape Meeting Hell Using a Simple Scheduling Hack

Meetings can suck.

Meetings suck two precious resources - time and energy - right out of each attendee. Some meetings are boring, inefficient and pointless. Worst of all, there are others that are a total waste of time.

This is because every meeting involves a trade-off. They trade time and energy with the hope of achieving a specific goal or agenda. They take from other activities that could be completed and put them towards this purpose.

For this reason, it is important that the trade-off required for each meeting to take place is the best possible investment available out of all competing options at that point in time.

Most people think about improving meetings in terms of whether or not to have them in the first place, how to prepare for them, or how to run them. There are best practises in each of these areas that should be adopted everywhere.

What is most overlooked is optimising when to have meetings.

Introducing Paul Graham

Paul Graham co-founded the start-up accelerator Y Combinator and has a huge following in the startup world. In 2010 he wrote an excellent essay called Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule.

You should read it.

The idea is sound and impossible to improve upon. The problem is, sometimes ideas don’t cross pollinate the way they should.

People in the startup world read Paul Graham. Accountants, lawyers, bankers, consultants and other professionals have their own heroes. For its sheer ability to reduce frustration for certain professionals, the concept at the centre of this essay deserves more airtime to explore how it can be applied across disciplines.

This idea boils down to this: The unit of time required for a manager to get something done is one hour, and the unit of time required for a maker to get something done is four hours. As Graham explains:

“One reason programmers dislike meetings so much is that they're on a different type of schedule from other people. Meetings cost them more.”

A badly timed meeting can ruin the productivity of a maker, blowing out an entire morning, afternoon or even day:

“When you're operating on the maker's schedule, meetings are a disaster. A single meeting can blow a whole afternoon, by breaking it into two pieces each too small to do anything hard in.”

Think about the last time you had a big chunk of work to do and now imagine a mid-morning or mid-afternoon meeting was plonked right in the middle of the time you had available to get it done.

At a minimum most people will stop doing deep work 10 to 15 minutes before a meeting, start preparing for it, worrying about it, or using it as an excuse to procrastinate. This can last for much longer after the meeting. They will take 15 to 30 minutes to rest afterwards, and even more to reset.

Simply put, meetings are the enemy of flow.

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Paul Graham, Expanded

Makers and managers have much broader applications.

In the consulting world, consultants are the makers and partners the managers. In banking, it’s analysts and bankers. In fact this article could have been named “Consultant’s Schedule, Partner’s Schedule”, “Analyst’s Schedule, Banker’s Schedule”, “Associate’s Schedule, Lawyer’s Schedule”, or many more other titles for just about every profession.

Just like you can't write or program well in units of an hour, you can’t build a model in Excel, truly make a dent in a PowerPoint deck or push forward a Word document. That's barely enough time to get started.

Whether in consulting, banking or law, these are activities that require time to find flow, and flow is best when not disturbed.

In all disciplines we so often put meetings in other people's calendars without thinking of the impact. We choose the time that best suits our schedule, or just look for any block of free time. But as you can see, the unintended consequences can be significant.

Sometimes it’s unavoidable. Meeting Free Wednesday’s are a pipe dream for most people. But overall, being mindful of scheduling is a huge unlock for team productivity.

It starts with being considerate about when you are putting meetings in other people's calendars. If you’re a manager, try at all costs to avoid putting a meeting with a maker right in the middle of a morning or afternoon. Or batch organise all meetings for either mornings or afternoons.

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Makers are from Mars, Managers are from Venus

In most organisations makers can’t say no to a manager.

This means that the more senior person involved in scheduling meetings must take responsibility for managing time and calendars (or, more accurately, their personal assistant).

Smart managers know this, and have more productive teams as a result, which make them look better. Here are some specific tips for how managers and makers can work towards this goal.

Managers can help makers by:

  • Creating a simple rule to always organise meetings with a maker in the early morning, over lunch or late afternoon.
  • Having a policy in place to schedule all project team meetings in batches in the mornings (best alternative) or evenings (second best alternative). This means makers will have the day or evening free to push work forward without disturbances. Mornings work best as they set the right cadence for a team and can avoid late nights and burnout.
  • Identify people who are responsible for generating output but are operating on a managers schedule (organising a constant stream of 1 hours meetings all day), and help them find the right way of working, more geared towards generating the output they are responsible for.

Makers can help managers by:

  • Setting the tone by making sure they aren’t the ones scheduling meetings that break their own flow. Or, taking the initiative to set up meetings so they can control when meetings are organised, in doing so taking the responsibility to manage their own time.
  • Letting their manager know upfront, before a project starts, about the best time is to organise meetings.
  • Blocking out large periods of time in their calendar to commit to pushing work forward.

Key Takeaway

Everyone’s looking for a quick win.

That low hanging fruit that positions itself seductively in the low effort, high impact zone and is available at little to no cost. That spray of WD-40 that greases the gears and gets the whole machine humming.

I hope you can see now how a simple change to the way you think about the timing of meetings, or when to have them, can help you rip productivity right out of your calendar, and your teams.

No matter what your field, think more about when you bring your team into meetings. Consider more than just your own schedule by thinking about others and you can help get them get into that flow state where real work happens.

Rethinking how you schedule meetings can rip time straight from your wretched calendar. Company-wide, finding the right time for meetings can unlock productivity in your team and organisation.

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