Email and meetings aren’t work

Email and most meetings aren’t work. We all know this to be true. But huge swaths of our days are allocated to meetings and answering email. It’s impossible to accomplish much aside from information dissemination.

A close friend, who like me is a productivity nut, asked me a question that made this point clearly:

What fraction of your day is spent in meetings you asked for compared to meetings that were asked of you?

I didn’t know the answer but I calculated it. I was disheartened by the result. Over the past three weeks, my ratio is 6 to 4. For every 6 minutes I spend in a meeting I arranged, I spent 4 in a meeting I was invited to.

What is your ratio? And what should it be? Presuming meetings I request are more productive than meetings I’m invited to (because I’m driving the agenda and accomplishing my goals), if I could shift that ratio by just one minute to 7 to 3, I would improve my productivity by 17%.

The bigger the company, the worse the problem becomes. Last week, I chatted with a friend who joined had just joined a large company. He found his team to be incredibly unproductive even though his reports were smart. After he asked the team to their tasks in 30 minute blocks, he realized 6 of every 8 hours of their days were spent either responding to emails to attending irrelevant meetings. In other words, it took four employees to accomplish the work of one focused worker.

With the new year around the corner, it’s that time to make New Year’s Resolutions. My theme in 2013 is “return to fundamentals.”

  1. Set objectives and key results by quarter. These are clear goals with quantifiable metrics. For example, spending 50% of my time helping portfolio companies.
  2. Block the time every week on my calendar to achieving these goals. Control my calendar to make sure I’m maximizing my meeting ratio (as mentioned above).
  3. Prepare for meetings. Send agendas with precise questions, agendas and rough timings for each item ahead of time.
  4. Measure and tune. I’m going to track these time allocation metrics and my productivity goals. I hope to improve my focus and have a more positive impact with my teams.

Email and meetings consume big chunks of time. And though it’s easy to convince ourselves they’re productive, they aren’t. It’s hard work that moves companies forward. Time to get back to fundamentals.

Dec 12, 2012

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