Among several benefits of physical labor is the presence of an actual pile of work to do. This wood needs chopping, this motorcycle needs repairing.
But for those of us in knowledge work fields, the work may be more amorphous. In some cases, it may be producing a specific deliverable such as a presentation or document. Yet sometimes, the work may be focused in making progress towards achieving a key strategic goal – which may or may not have an immediate deliverable.
In this world, learning to manage workflow is vitally important. The work itself is never-ending, and your time is the finite quantity. As a recent favorite quote highlights, ‘for most people, their email inbox is a to-do list managed by strangers.” It is easy to fall into the trap of letting things that appear like work dominate most time ‘in the office.’
Part and parcel of this is managing meetings. Whether in-person or virtual, meetings are a fact of life in the workplace. This is true whether you are at a large, multi-national or are a solo practitioner. Managing a work calendar is by no means easy. Just coordinating meeting times can be a bear – as exhibited by the 1 meeting I am attempting to schedule with 6 people and have done 2 rounds of Doodle polling and still have not found an overlapping window of time.
Inbox management and meeting coordination deal with the logistics of modern work, but do not even to begin to consider a more critical dynamic – productivity. Knowing how to coordinate one’s work is certainly important but knowing how to optimize your time to deliver the highest possible output is something completely different.
In my work, I toggle between introverted, head-down desk work, and extroverted, social engagements. On most days, I often pivot back and forth between the two. Yet what I have found is that when I lose control of my calendar, I am dramatically less effective. Too much “in-person/camera-on” meeting work, robs me of the mental space to do the critical, quiet, contemplative work that adds value to my clients.
This is a dynamic I have been considering carefully over the recent months, and I have reached a few conclusions. This post then is meant to be a bit of a line in the sand and help force me to become more disciplined.
Where I have settled is that I generally no longer take networking meetings in the morning. Networking meetings would be conversations with new contacts or touch-base meetings. Morning is far and away my most creative time, and I need to be zealous to not cede those precious hours. Client specific work (and meetings as needed), research and writing needs to be my focus before lunch.
What I have also found is that after 3-4 hours of more intense cranial work, I am ready to be social and interact beginning from lunch on. I have begun to bunch in-person meetings in the afternoon and have found that to be exceptionally productive, and energy giving.
Of course, like all rules, there will no doubt be exceptions. Instead, I am attempting to set a default behavior that optimizes for my greatest productive and output.