Organizational cultures tend to build up bad habits of wasting time. Griped about but tacitly accepted, it results in a tremendous and enduring drain on productivity. Leaders foster it in two key ways: 1) “perpetrators” schedule unnecessary meetings or discussions, and 2) “compliers” fail to assess and say “no” to activities that don’t add value. It’s critical to recognize the pattern, catch it in the act, and apply deliberate standards to allow or reject what gets on your calendar, and therefore how your time is spent.
Bureaucrats (“Of course we need a quarterly meeting to review x, y and z,”) anxious butt-coverers (“We need to circle the wagons…”), extroverts (“I need to think this through—let’s pull a group together and talk through it,”) ego cheerleaders (“We’ll have you on stage for 12 town hall meetings around the country,”) and problem-socializers (“We need to get a swat team on this one”) are the most frequent instigators of wasted time.
Outlook, Notes, Smart Phones and the like, and administrative assistants unwittingly stir the pot. Meetings appear on your calendar for a week from next Tuesday as if by magic. If you then show up without assessing both the value of the meeting itself, and of your presence there, then you’re as responsible for wasting time as the perpetrators themselves.
To catch the problem in the act of happening, it’s critical to take a more proactive role in your own calendar than you have done since the era of the virtual meeting invitation. Take a harder look at your calendar by making it a practice at the end of each day or week to review the next two weeks. Circle the meetings that will add value, or to which YOU can add value. As you do that, apply what I’ll call a “Value Compass” by asking yourself a simple question: does this meeting and/or those who’ll be there (including me) drive us toward or away from adding value?
If it fails the compass test, then it’s important to say no to the meeting. For those you didn’t circle, you need to determine a way to gracefully decline the request, cancel it, or decide NOT to set it up in the first place.
Enabling technologies and consensus cultures dilute the value of time and human capital. It’s incumbent on leaders to take a more proactive role in how they call others to spend their time, and how they focus their own efforts, particularly now, when conditions are challenging.
Be a leader of your calendar by using the value compass to avoid perpetrating or complying with wasted time.