We’ve all been disrupted by COVID-19. I have coworkers losing their minds having to work from home. I personally had some pretty productive days during the first few days of this mess but then…. the meetings started to pile up. If I’m not in a Teams meeting, I’m on a Zoom, a phone call, and in one accidental case, a Skype meeting. I understand that it’s the obvious way to stay in touch, but to be honest, when everyone defaults to scheduling a call, it’s a drain on productivity and makes it difficult to effectively do your job. When that happens, it’s time to start setting boundaries.
Should I Attend this Meeting?
The first question you have to ask yourself is, “do I need to be in this meeting?” Most people will say, “yeah, I was invited.” Not so fast. Maybe start by asking questions like:
- Would anyone notice if I didn’t attend?
- Do I have anything of value that I need to provide?
- Am I going to provide more than a short update that can be sent via an email?
- Am I saying anything new since the last time we met?
- Do I need to attend the full hour?
- Was I snoring last time?
- Could this be a simple email/chat message?
- Do I know what this meeting is about?
Now, that last question is important. If a meeting doesn’t have an agenda or a goal, it’s pretty safe to say that the organizer is going to be winging it. I’m guilty of this myself but with the whole social distancing/self quarantining nuisance, it’s time to stop.
What can you do?
Meetings are ingrained deep in people’s bones and in their souls and you’re probably not going to change them while we’re dealing with this pandemic so I guess that’s it, I’ve got to suck it up and attend meetings. NO! Here’s what I’m doing and it’s sort of simple. Block your calendar from meetings with your own meeting. That’s right! Fight fire with fire. Don’t go crazy and block all of your available time. You just need to block enough time to eliminate frequent context switching and be productive.
You can manually do this but it can be tedious. If your organization uses MyAnalytics (https://myanalytics.microsoft.com) like mine does, you can use that tool to automate it. Let’s take a look at the product because if you haven’t sensed it from the above, I’ve had it with meetings.
MyAnalytics provides personal productivity insights. Now, the numbers below are patterns from the last 4 weeks but I’ll say that I think my numbers are slightly off. I’ll explain later.
There are 4 areas where the tool with help.
- Shows you how much focus time you have. Focus time is defined as 2 consecutive where you’re not in a meeting.
- Shows how much Quiet time you have. In other words, the amount of time outside of your working hours (which in my case is set to 8am-5pm) that you haven’t been sucked back into work.
- Shows you how many people you’ve collaborated with in the last 4 weeks and past 12 months. So the people you’ve emailed, chatted, met with in that time. It even shows you things like the amount of time you’ve spent collaborating with specific individuals and what percentage of their emails you’ve read. I’m not going to show those numbers but I have someone in my list that I’ve only read 25% of their emails. Yikes.
- Shows how you communicate throughout the day.
The Categories and Numbers
Ok, so I mentioned earlier that I think my numbers are off so now is a good time to explain. The tool suggests that 63% of my time has been focus time but it’s basing that number on my calendar and doesn’t (can’t) factor in impromptu meetings which seems to be my life lately. So 63% is wrong because with the number of meetings that I get pulled into, I know that I don’t often get 2 hours of focus time; HOWEVER, I will now start having more focus time.
The Focus page lets you automatically schedule focus time. You can see the green checkmarks in the top section under my focus plan. On each of those days, it found 2 hours that someone hasn’t monopolized and blocked it off with a meeting. On days that it couldn’t find 2 consecutive hours, it booked 2 separate 1 hour blocks for me. As soon as I did that, people stopped booking my time and started asking me when would be a good time or “hey, are you free at this time?”
The Focus page also gives you some good tips and insight. So you can see that I read more than half of my emails within 30 minutes of receiving them and that my calendar for the upcoming week usually fills up by Friday.
You can click on the View Suggestions link under each section to get advice with justification behind the suggestion.
Wellbeing, or the “are you in danger of burning out” page, shows you how many quiet days you’ve had in the past 4 weeks, or days where you didn’t work outside of normal working hours. I seem to average 3 quiet days per week and that’s horrible. I’m a bit of a workaholic and that’s partially due to my imposter syndrome. If I’m not working, I’m studying something. It’s unhealthy, and this page will just slap you in the face with that fact. I’m not surprised by the pie chart on the right.
The Network page is less of a slap in the face as it simply shows you how many people you’ve interacted with. In the last 4 weeks, I’ve emailed/chatted/met with 40 people and 140 in the past 12 months. Further down on the page, it also suggests people who you might want to keep in touch with or flag as important contacts.
The Collaboration page shows insight into your meeting habits. This one shows that I typically spend 30% or 13 hours of my week in meetings and 75% are recurring (again, not all my meetings are on my calendar). Realistically, I average somewhere around 17-22 hours / week in meetings.
I’m sick of meetings and the reality is that while we’re dealing with this pandemic, it’s going to get worse and we need to take action so that our constant connectivity doesn’t hinder our productivity. If you have MyAnalytics, use it so that you can understand how you spend your time and certainly use it to take control of your time. That simple feature to automatically block time is wonderful. If you don’t have MyAnalytics, that’s fine. You won’t have some of the cool insights but that shouldn’t stop you from booking 2 consecutive hours on your calendar where you can take care of what you need to take care of.