Ever have those days where you find yourself in back-to-back meetings all day and think to yourself , “When am I going to find time to get my actual work done?” For some of us, it is a weekly occurrence. Regardless, there are ways we can start to take back control and enhance our productivity so that we don’t have to complete all our work post-6PM and on weekends. Here are some tips to beat the meeting schedule madness:
Determine Your Optimal Working Time
Our first defense against meetings taking over our schedule is being proactive with our calendars. Understanding when the optimal time is for you to be most productive with your work is the first step. According to Daniel Pink, author of “When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing” some people are most productive in the morning (Larks), some at night (Night Owls) and others are neither (Third Birds). According to Pink, “All of us experience the day in three stages—a peak, a trough, and a rebound. And about three-quarters of us (larks and third birds) experience it in that order. [Night Owls] experience the day in something closer to the reverse order—recovery, trough, peak.”
The fact is, just about everyone has specific time throughout the day where they are the most productive and there are also differences in the type of work that should be done during the peak, trough, and rebound period. For instance, I am most productive on tasks in the first two hours of my work day in the morning. I would estimate I can get 80% of my to-do list done in that period if uninterrupted. As a result, it is crucial for me to protect that time in my schedule. This can mean suggesting meeting times post 11AM or even going so far as to block the time in your calendar so people are more likely to reach out and ask before booking that time. The key is once you know this about yourself, do your best to protect your productive time so you are setting yourself up for success.
Whittle Down Your Priorities
Ever come back to your desk after a barrage of meetings and think “Now what was I supposed to be working on?” Once you understand when you are most productive and work to protect that time whenever you can, the next step is to make sure you are crystal clear on your priorities for each day. This does not mean having your 20+ item to-do list next to your computer, but rather prioritizing and whittling your list down to the top 2-3 things you need to accomplish that day. I know you think you have 10+ things to do but I assure you if you sit and narrow down to the top 2-3 things and focus on those, your productivity will increase.
This prioritization is especially important as we get pulled in multiple directions throughout the day, with new asks hitting our email, people stopping by and asking for things, and new takeaways from meetings. With this barrage of asks and new information, even when you do have a break between meetings you’ll end up wasting all that time trying to remember what you are supposed to be doing. This results in you just checking your email during meeting breaks and as a result, your to-do list remains untouched, or worse, it gets longer.
Alternatively, if you have your prioritized to-do list, when you get those few minutes between meetings, look at that list and you’ll instantly be able to “work smart” by tackling the most important tasks rather than the newest tasks. Instead of spending 10min trying to remember what you are supposed to be doing, its right there in front of you.
The Pomodoro Method
So we’ve tried to protect our most productive time, we have our 3 most important items to accomplish for the day…now what? When we have a lot of meetings throughout our day, we can find ourselves with only between meeting time which we think is not enough time to get anything done. As a result, we squander that time when we could have been working to check something off our to-do list. This is where the Pomodoro Method comes into play. The Pomodoro Method is a time management and productivity technique whereby you break down tasks into 25 minute sprints separated by breaks. Utilizing the technique will help you better break down complex tasks into smaller, actionable steps, be more focused on a single task, and overall more productive.
On days where you have 2-3 hours in a row open, you should definitely use the Pomodoro Method to ensure you utilize that time most effectively and don’t spend too long on any one task. However, this method is particularly useful on days when you have those 25-30min between meetings. When you get back to your desk, sit down, look at your 2-3 item prioritized list, set your timer for 20-25min, and work! Before you head to your next meeting, jot down if there are any next steps that are needed to finish the task or check it off your list if you are done. By embracing this technique, you’ll realize there is a lot you can get accomplished in those short between meeting breaks.
While meeting heavy days can leave you wondering when you are going to be able to do your actual work, with a little strategy and practice you can get a few of your most important tasks done before 5PM. First investigate and then protect your most productive time of the day. Next, prioritize your to-do list so that you can easily remember what you need to accomplish during those free moments throughout the day. Finally, embrace the 30 min meeting gap with the Pomodoro Technique and use that time to work productively on your to-do list. As a result, instead of having your entire to-do list untouched come the end of the day and bringing that work home, you’ll be left with maybe 1 task left or even none by the end of the day. Now tomorrow’s meeting heavy day looks a little less terrible with these tools.