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Have you ever finished something and thought to yourself, “That didn’t need to take an hour?”
In my world, I have an endless stream of requests to do something for an hour. I just looked at my calendar for the next two weeks and almost everything that someone else scheduled and invited me to is for an hour.
In contrast, all of the things I (or my assistant) have scheduled are for 30 minutes. And many of them will take five minutes.
If you schedule a meeting for an hour, it’s remarkable to me how often it takes an hour, even when it doesn’t need to. Three-hour board meetings, especially when board members have traveled to them, take — wait for the drum roll — three hours.
During the day, between Monday and Friday, I generally have a very scheduled life. I go through phases where I shift into Maker Mode, now no longer schedule anything before 11am my time (with occasional exceptions), and try to have a very unscheduled weekend. But Monday to Friday looks like the image to the right.
Over time, I’ve come up with some approaches to deal with this massively over-scheduled life in order to stay sane. Here are a few of them.
30 minute schedule slots: I’ve tried it all. 60 minutes. 15 minutes. 5 minutes. 45 minutes. 37 minutes. The only thing that I’ve found that works is 30 minutes. If I schedule for 15 minutes, I inevitably have too many things in a day and get completely exhausted. If I schedule for more than 30 minutes, I find myself twiddling my thumbs and trying to get finished with the meeting. 30 minutes seems to be the ideal amount to get any type of meeting done.
A walk: If I have a longer, more thoughtful discussion I want to have with someone, I go for a walk. I have four routes around downtown Boulder – 15, 30, 45, and 60 minute walks. All of these walks have the same loop so even when I schedule for a 60 minute walk, I have an easy way to turn it into a 30 minute walk if it’s clear that’s all it’s going to take. Or, if I’m into the first 15 minutes and realize it needs to be an hour, I just extend to the 30 minute segment. My worst case on a walk that goes too long is that I get some steps for my daily Fitbit habit.
Phone calls: I schedule almost all phone calls, except for ones with high priority people. This high priority ones interrupt whatever I’m doing or get done on a drive to and from the office. If you hang around me, you’ll see that my phone rarely rings (except for Amy) and I rarely make calls outbound as most of my world runs on email or real-time messaging.
End everything early: I try to end everything when it’s done. I jump right in and finish when we are finished. When you give things 30 minutes, you don’t have time to futz around with intros and catch ups. When someone starts this way, I break in and say as politely as I can, “What’s on your mind?” On the phone, I minimize chit chat and just try to get to the point. And, after five minutes when we are done, I revel in the notion that I’ve got 25 minutes to do whatever I want.
I’m always experimenting with new things. What do you do to keep meetings manageable and sane?
This story originally appeared on Brad Feld. Copyright 2015
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