A reader writes:
How do you put order/structure to a boss’s calendar that is out of control with constant meetings and no time to get any work done? Due to downsizing, etc., he oversees three departments now instead of just one. My boss has meetings on top of meetings on top of meetings, many of which he requests. I block off “Office Time” on his calendar and those times only get bumped for more meetings. I simply must help him take control of his work days, but can’t figure out where to start. HELP?
You've come to the right place on this one. I'm obsessed with this topic.
At its core, good time management is about clarity – clarity about what the person is there to accomplish. I'm assuming that your boss has important things he must accomplish other than sitting in meetings, right? But his schedule indicates that he is not being honest with himself about how he allocates his time and that he's not applying the necessary level of rigor required to have his time reflect his priorities. He has a lot of company in being that way.
Obviously, there's only a finite amount of time in the day. That means that people with lots of demands on their time need to pick and choose what they will and won't do. When people refuse to make those decisions, often because they aren't being honest with themselves about the fact they can't do it all, they still end up not doing it all -- but since they won't make deliberate decisions about what won't get done, they instead end up letting those undone items get picked by default. And that's no good. If some things aren't going to get done, it's far better to choose those things strategically, not just wait to see what's undone at the end of the week.
People who mismanage their time are people who aren't thinking clearly and logically about this. Just because there are a lot of things you'd like to do, or that you should do, doesn't mean that you can do them all. People who refuse to recognize this reality will find themselves overextended, stressed out, and often neglecting high priorities in favor of lesser ones. This can turn someone who should be a high performer into a weaker performer, all because of fuzzy thinking about priorities, time management, and what's realistic.
Ultimately it's about being brutally honest in response to this question: Since we can see there isn't time to do everything, what things can you decide to cut out? Most people in this situation initially respond, "I need to do it all." But what they keep forgetting is that they aren't doing it all now. It's not happening, because it's not possible. Like with your boss, they're not getting to everything, and often some of what doesn't get tended to is more important than what their time is getting spent on. So since you can't do it all anyway, you need to pick consciously and deliberately, not leave those choices to chance.
So. Where does that leave you with your boss? You have the right idea about scheduling your boss appointments with himself -- work blocks that are deliberately built into his schedule. But your boss is then overriding this by letting those work blocks get bumped. So you need to sit down with your boss and talk straightforwardly about what's happening.
Your boss needs to be honest with himself and decide whether or not he's committed to having room in his schedule for this. If he is, point out to him that he's been routinely sacrificing that need and that you're both going to need to more strongly commit to protecting that time from intrusions. This is a painful concept for people when they first grapple with it, and if he agrees too quickly, it means he's not fully processing it -- so tell him, "Look, this sounds easy now, but in practice, things are going to come up that will tempt you to backtrack. I think we need to agree that we will protect these work blocks at all costs, except in very unusual cases."
If he's logical, he's going to see the reason in this. If he's not logical, well, good luck with that. You may not be able to change him much.
(By the way, I also wonder whether your boss really needs to be in all those meetings. I'm skeptical of most meetings, let alone a day or week packed with them to the exclusion of all else. Your boss may need to delegate more, or say no more things, or teach his staff to use his time better. And if all the meetings truly are necessary, then it sounds like your boss's job is more than a one-person job, which means that either his job description needs to be pared down or he needs to compromise on issues like how much he'll involve himself in certain areas. But trying to magically do it all, when it can't all be done, guarantees he'll fail at some of it.)