A short while ago at Bilue we did a pulse check-in with every single person within the engineering team to ask them a few questions to reflect on how they are currently doing. Along with this question of wellbeing, we asked more open questions around what energises you, what drains you as well as what a perfect and not so perfect day looks like. Although the benefits and rewards of doing a pulse check-in could be another blog post on its own, it’s the ‘not so perfect day’ that I’m hoping to touch on in this article.
When responding to the question ‘what a not so perfect day looks like’, over 40% of our engineering team responded with an answer along the lines of ‘too many meetings’. This statistic was huge and immediately caught us by surprise. Luckily we caught onto this trend early in the check-in process and were able to start digging deeper into responses to better understand what ‘too many meetings’ means for each person. Upon reflection, we found it relates into one of the following categories
- Meetings where you can’t add value
- Meetings that are disconnected / Meetings that break flow
- Meetings that don’t have a purpose / agenda
- Meetings that are “useless”
In revelation of the above, it’s key to understand that although a meeting itself seems like an improbable cause of a not so perfect day, it’s a combination of everything that comes before and after the meeting along with everything that could have been done within the time slot of the meeting instead of attending the actual meeting which is where the ‘not so perfect day’ responses start to align. As an example to better understand this, let’s take a pulse check-in response of “too many meetings“ and compare it to a really zoomed in satellite view of Apple Maps, if we zoom the map out a little we can see “too many meetings” falls into one or more of the above categories, but if we zoom out even further we reveal an overarching category of time management.
Once we understood the heart of the problem, we aligned with the engineering team leads to collectively come up with a game plan on two things, the first being letting our teams know that we hear them and that we hear the issue and the second being how are we going to tackle this? – meetings aren’t something that just go away and the majority of these meetings (Bilue being a digital consultancy) are actually client requested.
Letting our teams know we hear them was easy to approach, as Bilue is super transparent we were able to call this out very directly in a company update. We also aligned on tackling the wider issue of time management, our engineering team leads were provided with resources on how to best manage time and within the space of two weeks we asked each engineering team lead to review the calendars of every person within their team in a one on one setting to help them better understand time management whilst at the same time helping each team member understand what a more efficient work week could look like for them.
Now that it’s been a short while i’ve been able to reflect on my learnings from the above (something I don’t do often enough) and have found myself questioning ‘what works for me’ – that is; if I could only pass on five tips for better time management to the team, what would they be?
- Not all time is equal
- Shortening default meeting times
- Buffer. Buffer. Buffer.
- Calendar Integrations
- Etiquette: Avoid being late or declining last minute
Not All Time Is Equal
This is something that I knew and acted on subconsciously but wish I learnt way earlier in my leadership journey. The basic principal here is that if you’re a morning person, you should schedule your harder, more focused driven tasks for earlier in the morning while you’re still energised and push out the more draining activities to later in the day – or flip this around if the afternoon is your vibe.
For me personally i’m up most mornings at 5:40am for a quick pre-work run, my work day kicks off at 7:30am and I love making use of the quite / distraction free mornings to finish up sales proposals or anything else that requires deep focus. I then try to push out 1 on 1 catch ups to the afternoon where I know I won’t need as deeper focus whilst at the same time trying to strike a balance with what best works for the person i’m meeting with.
Shortening Default Meeting Times
I recently enabled this option in my calendar 2 months ago and it’s made a huge difference. Meetings that were previously 1 hour in length are now 50 minutes and those that were 30 minutes are now 25 minutes. This might not seem like a big change however I am a huge believer in that a task will last for as long as you’ve been given to complete it – i’m finding meetings to be much more efficient whilst at the same time loving the extra 10 and 5 minutes freed up and now use this time to reply to the Slack messages and emails that come in during the day to help reply and unblock the team by providing quicker replies.
Buffer. Buffer. Buffer.
My coach Keegan Luiters recently said to me two quotes that I absolutely love “Buffer is my word of 2021” and challenged me with “If your day is already 100% full of meetings and you know things will pop up throughout the day, you already have no room to action it”. I am a huge fan of blocking out my calendar and prioritising the things that are important to me. In Get Smart! by Brain Tracey, this is summed up by saying that some of the most successful leaders in the world don’t have a todo list, instead they block out time in their calendars to action it.
Sure, you know you’re busy, but does everyone else? – this one is simple; prevent conflicts and better manage your time by allowing others to see what will work best for you. If you use an external calendar for a different project or client, integrate it with your primary calendar so you can highlight times that will best work for you whilst reducing distractions and meeting conflicts so you can play less email scheduling tennis and focus on your task at hand.
Do whatever you can to leave a meeting on time, if that means commencing the meeting by stating you’ll need to get out in exactly one hour then do so, if it means jumping in mid sentence (or leaving a virtual comment) to say you need to jump out then do so. Similar to not all time being equal, if you’re late out of the meeting then chances are someone else is too – this quickly has a wider flow on effect from one meeting to multiple proceeding meetings and can scale really quickly to quite a big impact in loss of productivity. To help prevent the flow on effect, do your best to start meetings on time and if you need to push back / reschedule a meeting, do so with enough wiggle room to allow everyone else to refill the original meeting time with another activity.
As summed up perfectly by Steve Jobs, “It’s really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time”. In my view, time is a give and take situation which ironically we usually don’t spend enough time reflecting on or learning from. By making small changes to your daily flow you’ll open the opportunity to having a bigger impact on your team and those around you.