CEO Coaching: Kill the Time Suckers

One of the most egregious time wasters in companies is meetings or energy spent without a real purpose. I was reminded of this as I read our local paper recently. (I live in Boulder, Colo.—a wonderful community that has a whackadoodle reputation, sometimes warranted.) There was an article about a meeting with the city council, mayor, city staff, and some citizen participants about the challenges that chronic repeat offenders (e.g., substance abusers) cause the city, straining the systems and draining resources. 

After some description of the ensuing dialogue, the paper pointed out that a paid facilitator then taught everyone breathing exercises. It’s good to know how to breathe, but will it reduce the homeless population or drug use? Perhaps a superfluous example, but I frequently see this in corporate settings.

Rule No. 1 for meetings is to have a clear purpose. It’s OK to shoot the shit at the “watercooler,” offer stress reduction classes (including breathing), and have effective teambuilding events, but if you’re going to gather a group of hardworking folks with things to do, make sure it’s for a specific reason. 

I can waste time with the best of them but have also, over a long career as an executive and executive coach, developed practices to make use of the most valuable resource you have: your time! Here are a few that focus on executives.

Meetings are the lifeblood of most organizations. Always have a purpose and a facilitator (if you called the meeting, it’s probably you!) who’s assertive enough to keep the loudmouths on track and the agenda in clear focus. (I’ve written a lot about meetings in previous blogs. Look here and here.)

Make sure people are prepared for discussions. What information or pre-reads do they need? You shouldn’t make decisions without good information. (Here is how Amazon does it.)

Go to work with an agenda every day. How will you add value to the company or facilitate the execution of your strategy? It’s too easy to just show up and wait for the phone to ring or your iPhone to buzz—and then you’re in firefighting mode all day.

If you have daily staff meetings (i.e., update meetings), do them standing up. Also consider whether the information could be shared in another fashion. I’m a fan of being face to face (yes, in the office!) to foster better alignment and stronger relationships, but if you cannot identify the value of a frequent event, stop doing it!

Don’t allow CYA emails. When I was an executive, I was ruthless about this. I’d ask people, “Why did you include me on this list and waste my time? Please don’t do that again!”

Be assertive. When someone hasn’t gotten to the point after 15 seconds of “How’s the weather?” in a phone call, say, “How can I help you?” Get comfortable saying, “I’m sorry, but I don’t have time for this conversation right now.”

If someone wants a face-to-face meeting, ask them what you’ll discuss before you meet.

Review your calendar at the end of the week. Did you spend most of your time on issues that supported your strategy or added value to the firm? If not, you have some work to do.

As a mentor of mine says, “You can always make another buck, but you can never make another minute.” Make sure you use yours in a way that adds value or gives you joy!

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