If you’re a manager looking to shorten meetings, there’s plenty of advice out there for you. Tips on how to free up your time when you’re not the person in charge are a little harder to come by. That’s because managers and the people they manage often have two very different sets of priorities: for the managers, every minute spent in meetings is potentially applicable to their goals; for the managed, meetings often represent a desert of productivity, dead time in which nothing gets done. If you’re among the latter group, you might feel powerless to change your circumstances – but you’re not totally without options.
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Here’s how to get free:
1. Gather your data.
To take back your time the right way, you’ll need your boss on your side. The best way to go about it is to show her that you have the team and company’s best interests at heart. You won’t do that if you approach the problem from an emotional standpoint (“I’m tearing my hair out over here!”) or by focusing negatively – and vaguely – on the problem (“I can’t do XYZ and attend all these meetings, too!”).
The first step is to start keeping track of your time. Before you even ask the boss for a moment out of her schedule to discuss the issue, start tracking how you spend your days, logging every meeting, brainstorming session, and individual block of work time. (As a bonus, this approach will also tell you if you’re wasting time – although don’t present your boss with a diary full of Facebook usage if you want to stay employed.)
2. Ask for a meeting.
This is a sit-down conversation. You’re building a case, not just complaining about your schedule, so you need your manager’s full attention in order to make the situation clear.
The goal, here, is to avoid anything that looks poorly thought-out or self-indulgent. Your guiding principle should be demonstrating the best use of your time, in terms of what will benefit your employer. Now is not the time to share the fact that you, personally, hate meetings and wish the conference room could be turned into a ball pit.
3. Have clear goals.
Unless you’re working at a company that shares your disdain for meetings, you’re probably going to have to make room in your schedule for a few. Be honest about which meetings genuinely require your presence, and which use you more as a seat-filler than an active participant. Aim to lose as many of the useless ones as you can.
4. Be prepared to compromise.
Ideally, your boss will meet your requests with an open mind, and hear what you’re communicating, but even in the best-case scenario, it’s unlikely that you’ll get everything you’re asking for. Some of that is just the nature of negotiations. Then, there’s the fact that your manager has a different view of your goals and your place on the team than you do. She might see ways in which you’re essential to a meeting’s purpose that you don’t see yourself. Even in this case, it’s still worth having the conversation – once you know why you’re in the room, you can focus your attention on fulfilling your role. You might feel more engaged, knowing that there’s a reason for you to be there.
5. Respect your own time.
Freed-up time is not free time. To keep other people from grabbing up your hard-won empty blocks on the calendar, don’t leave them empty for long. Your work is important, even when – especially when – you do it by yourself, at your desk. Don’t hesitate to block off work time in your calendar, to make sure it stays available to you.
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