I, like everyone else around me in business, struggle to make the best use of time. I constantly find that the day is over almost as soon as it has begun as I race from one meeting to another, trying to ensure that the wheels stay on the track. In marketing this can be even more of a problem especially when too much focus and effort is placed on the here and now as this can eclipse time that should be spent on the more important and longer-term strategic issues. In short, marketers find themselves with very limited time to listen to the market, to identify new opportunities to improve and to embrace the chance to innovate and create. This is critical when the function is evolving and changing more rapidly now than at any time in its past.
I have read and listened to many influential speakers on how to better utilize my time and to structure my day to improve time management but somehow I never seem to be able to put these into practice. Often over a weekend I think about how next week will be different and then find that on a Monday morning I’m straight back into the old habits. So this got me thinking; what is it that makes it so difficult to change and what really controls how I behave? One answer is very simple, as it happened I realized that it was my calendar. If I can control and manage my calendar then perhaps I can address some of my time management issues and improve my commercial productivity as well as my contribution to my colleagues.
So how should I go about improving my time management by better controlling how my calendar is structured? Here are my thoughts on my dos and don’ts.
The Dos. It is all about balance. I don’t think anyone should spend more than 50% of their time in formal structured meetings so here are my tips for keeping some non-meeting time available.
- Try and set aside one day a week where you have no or almost no meetings. Try and be rigorous about this.
- Always try and keep some blue sky between meetings and if you have to run back-to-backs then finish the prior meeting at least 10 minutes before the next one starts. Make sure you build this into your calendar!
- It is also important that there is time available to have informal catch-ups with team members. Everyone should try and ensure they find 10 minutes every day to engage with colleagues. If you have trouble doing this then block out catch-up time in your calendar.
- Another way of establishing some informal time is to bring in some breakfast pastries every Friday and create an informal get together.
On the other hand, when I do participate in a meeting then I want to make sure that my contribution is as optimized as possible and that each and every meeting results in the best possible outcomes. Here are some suggestions:
- If you are meeting one of your team members then try going for a walk instead of a sit down meeting. This makes it more informal and it also sets a limit on how long the meeting will take place.
- If you have to have back-to-back meetings then break them up by moving the location of one of the meetings to a coffee shop. A different environment can be uplifting and works especially well when addressing challenging issues or sensitivities. Again put this in the calendar invitation.
Now for the don’ts. Clearly the focus has to be on making any time that is spent in a meeting to be as productive as possible, so here are my thoughts:
- The most obvious one is that you should endeavor to manage your own calendar or at the very least set some principles as to how you would like your time allocated.
- I would also suggest that you set a limit of only 4 hours of meetings a day. Any more than this and you won’t be prepared for the ones you are actually attending.
- We are all used to attending meetings where there is no clear agenda or objectives so make it clear that your attendance will only happen if there is a specific decision to be made. A good idea is to put the meeting objective in the subject line for the meeting invite.
- Finally try not to use formal meetings for updating as there are usually more productive and better ways of achieving this.
If you take control of your calendar, you will take control of your time management. There has never been a better time to start.