You’re exhausted. You’ve been in back to back meetings all day and you finally return to your desk only to get that stomach pang. It’s 5:30 and you’ve done NOTHING on your to do list. How did this happen? For working parents, this productivity fail can result in evenings where you’re more connected to your phone than your kids while they’re awake—and then signing on to start your workday again after they’ve called you back to stall their inevitable slumber for the fifth time. Not ideal for anyone who wants something resembling a life!
If you want to get your work done during the day AND be present for your family in the evening, pay attention—I’m talking to you! Here are some strategies that work for my corporate clients who are balancing career and family.
1. Take a proactive approach to time
It’s time to commune with your calendar. It’s not your enemy, it’s your solution to getting your priority projects accomplished. To take a page from my longtime guru on time and life management – Stephen Covey, put “first things, first.” I’ve listened to the cassettes (yes, I said the c-word!) of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People more times than I can count—and it’s the primary reason I’ve been able to incorporate a writing practice into my busy life of being a small business owner and a mom. Identify your priorities, values and mission in work and life and make sure your calendar reflects them! I sit down with my calendar a month at a time and schedule in writing time one to two times a week. Then I schedule EVERYTHING else around those dates with my laptop and favorite writing coffee shop.
2. Your new mantra: “Do I need to be in this meeting?”
Now that you’ve identified your priorities, use them as your filter for when you answer this productivity make or break question. Be ruthless in protecting your time and saying no to meetings where your intuition is telling you: 1) It will be a waste of time, 2) Your input is not needed on this topic 3) You can give an opportunity to someone on your team to lead. If you have a hard time declining, try my approach to using The Inspired No. As much as possible, question the need for a meeting. There are times where it is necessary, but often times we set up time with others simply to hold ourselves accountable to deadlines or doing the work. What other way can you hold yourself and others accountable? If you’re a leader, set the tone that questioning the need for a meeting is ok. It can become part of the culture so that as a team, you can help each other protect your collective time.
3. Kill the meeting to prep for the meeting
This may be controversial and I’ll put out the caveat that if you’re rehearsing for a presentation or pitch—there is a need for practice. That said, we have gone completely overboard in our abundance of “meetings for the meetings” and more often than not it can prompt employees to experience everything ranging from disengagement to outrage. Instead, how can you use tools like Slack or even email to assign roles for meetings and get feedback from colleagues on how the work is progressing? In my experience, the meeting for the meeting often occurs when there is a gap in leadership on a project., assignments are organized by committee and there is much time hemming and hawing over who does what and how to proceed. If you’re experiencing that gap in leadership, consider this as an opportunity to step up and run the show. While it may seem like you’re taking on more when you do this, you’re actually saving time by providing clear direction and a structure for your colleagues—cutting down on hours of hesitation and second-guessing.
4. Run meetings with military precision
Meetings should have rules. Whenever possible they should be 30 or 45 minutes, max. Everyone should arrive on time. If they don’t arrive on time, you don’t restart the meeting when they arrive. In addition to everyone knowing what the meeting is about (I wish this was a joke), there should be an agenda and pre-work that MUST be read prior to the meeting. Everyone should show up with a pen and notebook. Personally, I find laptops in a meeting distracting, but I know this is becoming standard practice. If you’re trying to create a culture where there are fewer meetings and you have only a few times where you gather with people in person, I do think pen and paper facilitates better team interactions and dynamics than a room full of laptops—but that may be a question of style. There should be a clear leader of the meeting who will keep the discussion to the agenda and capture interesting topics that are not on the agenda to revisit at another time.
5. Delegate like a boss
You don’t have to do it all yourself—especially when you have employees reporting to you! I see many leaders with teams, still struggling with delegating and the costs are clear—overwhelm and a lack of growth. When you stay focused on the junior tasks that could be growth opportunities for your direct reports, you cut off your own opportunities to expand your skills and expertise—not to mention your chance of being promoted. Even if you don’t have a team, (with the support of senior leaders) gain some leadership experience by mentoring a more junior employee on a project you’re working on together. You can practice training employees, handing off tasks and letting go of control. These are all necessary skills to both protect your own time and move to the next level in your career.
6. Leaders: create office hours
If you’re in charge of a team and you all sit together in a small space, you may be the one who can always answer that question or give advice or coach—at any moment in the day. It’s exhausting and you can end up feeling like your time is not your own. One way my clients are able to protect their time is by creating office hours 2-3 times a week and communicating that this is the time to come over to discuss something in person. If they come over for a quick chat at other times, it’s up to you to kick them out of your cube—in the most respectful way—and redirect them to your office hours. You may want to post your hours somewhere to give your team the visual cue.
While I don’t recommend implementing all of these strategies at one time, pick one or two to experiment with and see how much time you can create in your day! Begin the dialogue with leadership around the way meetings are impacting productivity and engagement for the team. These habits are deeply engrained in corporate cultures and buy-in at a senior level is necessary to make a change. Most importantly, practice disconnecting from work during those pre-bedtime hours with family. I know I’m not alone when I say this is hard and I’m not always good at it (and I do this stuff for a living!). Keep at it, re-focus every day, and when your 2nd job—otherwise known as evening crazy town—is as ridiculous as it usually is, try laughing. It truly gets me through.