An area that many of us are still learning to manage and where I find my clients looking for continued support is how to manage their time better in this virtual or hybrid world.

Let’s face it back-to-back meetings with little to no breaks have become the norm for many and is not sustainable, healthy or productive.

If you are struggling to keep apace with your meetings and want more of your life back, it may be worth considering the following questions:

  • Are you someone who finds it hard to say No to meetings because you do not want to be seen as not committed, a team player or obliging? 
  • Are you someone who finds that you are spending 80% – 90% of your day working with little time left for yourself, family, friends or even your pets?
  • Are you someone who struggles to sleep at night because you have switched off your computer so late that your brain is on alert and you end up lying awake tossing and turning over problems, tasks or to do lists for the next day?

Well, this was the case of one of my clients, Joy. She was recognising symptoms of burnout and realising the impact it was having on her productivity, health, relationship and purpose in life.

Here are 7 practical tips towards taking back control of your time and having a greater work/life balance.

1. Do you have to be at this meeting?

Let’s be honest, not every meeting requires your expertise, presence or decision. Often people invite us to include us. Now, whilst that may seem like a kind gesture, before you know it, you have committed your time to everyone else’s needs and deprioritised your own. Don’t be afraid to check in to see if your presence and opinion is essential. If not, explain to organiser that you want to maximise your output and will need to select meetings were you are adding the most value to all. You are happy to catch up on the key themes and if they need you, to reach out and get in touch. As a CEO once bluntly said to my client when she described her days as very busy, “I am not hiring you to be busy but productive!” Direct as he may have been, he had a point. She was spending a lot of her days in lengthy repetitive meetings will little time to address her needs and deadlines. The net result was she worked late evenings and many weekends to get her job don. This had a negative impact on her health, relationship and mental well-being.

2. Is my Meeting essential?

If you decide to call a meeting, consider if it is absolutely necessary. Too many meetings are put into a calendar without clear objectives or outcomes. Ask yourself can this meeting (update or review), be addressed by email, over the phone or in a memo?

If you are having a meeting, ensure that it has a clear purpose and is efficiently run. Only invite those who need to be there. If it is a decision you are looking for, who are the people that must be there? Research shows that 5-8 people are the maximum you need in a room. If you invite more, you are less likely to reach a decision. This not only makes better use of your time but ensures that others can get on with their day job and be more productive. Most meetings can be avoided when a Team is clear about their roles, communicates effectively with each other and takes ownership, responsibility and accountability for their part.

Are people prepared for your meetings?

I worked with a company whose culture at the time was all about presentation after presentation after presentation in meetings. Very few people read the pre-reads so the entire meeting was about understanding the presentation, which resulted in very slow movements towards decisions and actions. When this company went through a merger, their culture radically changed to one of preparation before meetings. The presenter had to know his topic very well as the Board members would probe deeply into his subject matter, ask informed based questions from the pre-reads which allowed them to make clear decisions on next steps. Everyone had to come to these meetings prepared and ready to work towards outcomes. What would have taken three meetings to resolve, now took one.

3. Delegate your meeting when possible

Delegation is crucial if you want to prioritise what you need to do and make efficient use your time. It is also an opportunity for you to sponsor or help others shine. If there is a high performer, potential successor, rising star, subject matter expert that could step in your place, use this delegation to help them increase their visibility. It not only reflects well on you but also increases their profile. You can let the organiser know that Susan or Tom have been briefed about the situation and will add the relevant insights, expertise and value to the meeting. Needless to say this person must be someone you trust and whom you see as having the right skills and potential to step in for you.

4. Make your meetings shorter and more effective

If you can turn your hour-long meetings to 30 – 45 mins with a clear agenda, everyone thrives. You can then use the last 15 minutes to allow people time to reflect on the messages, ask relevant questions and take accountability for their actions. Having 15 minutes between meetings also gives people time to have a break, take a walk round the block, clear their head, grab a cup of tea or coffee or prepare for the next meeting. It also stops the snowball of lateness that rolls downhill in the course of the day.

5. Be protective with your time

The only way you can be the best version of yourself is to look after yourself.  Give yourself time to thrive and not survive! Scheduling blocks of uninterrupted time to focus on your own work and development is essential too. If you have a task that will take 3 hours of time, schedule that into your Calendar. Carve out time to  rest, exercise and nurture yourself.

My client Joy was nervous at first about making these changes for herself. However, she knew her mental and physical health required it. She used to have  lunch at her desk. Now she decided to take a half an hour lunch break with her partner whom she was seeing very little of so they could have some quality time together.  She scheduled time twice a week to go for an exercise class and walk her dog.  She made a point to switch her computer off at 7pm rather than 10pm. She would literally put it away in a cupboard so she would not be tempted to check her emails just before bedtime, which had greatly impacted on her sleep. She also built in a relaxation routine before bed that involved her reading her novel and listening to her Calm App, which enabled her drift into sleep. After 2 weeks she noticed the change in her energy levels, focus and productivity. She was no longer busy but productive. In the end, Quality is truly the metric that matters most. When you are able to care for yourself, the ability to manage everything else becomes so much easier.

I appreciate each person’s circumstance and situation is different. The key thing is to take one step in the right direction towards taking control of those endless meetings and long working days. Set your boundaries, know your limits and and learn when to say No confidently and respectfully. You will be surprised how this allows you so much more space to make healthier choices in your life.

6. Be a Role model behaviour

If you advocate for keeping to meeting times, taking Fridays off, not sending emails in the evenings or not working on holidays, ensure you walk your talk. The more senior you are, the more your words need to match your actions.

Your behaviour determines how others feel they need to behave. You help shape the culture of the organisation. Lead by example!

7. Meeting Opportunity

 Do all meetings have to be about work? The simple answer is No. Use them as an opportunity to build your network, develop powerful relationships, grow your brand and increase your career prospects. Don’t wait for others to create these opportunities for you, take the initiative yourself. Be imaginative so meetings virtual or physical can be an opportunity for career development and growth.

You do not have to do everything at once, just pick one idea and try it. After all managing your meetings, calendar, time and opportunities will not only empower you to take back control of your life but it also teaches people how to respect and treat you!