Make no mistake: Upon re-entering the workforce, it’s likely your Outlook calendar will resemble a mosaic of brightly colored tiles.
That’s because the average American office worker spends more than nine hours of every week preparing for or attending status meetings, according to a 2015 survey by software company Clarizen.
And while some meetings help speed along the decision-making process, or get a project effectively kick-started, more than one-third of those surveyed called status meetings a “waste of their time.”
Indeed, while meetings are a necessary part of doing business, many organizations over-rely on them, says Laura Vanderkam, author of What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast.
“That’s too bad, because meetings can sometimes keep people from doing the jobs they were actually hired to do,” she says. “If you have four meetings scattered over your calendar for the day, you won’t be able to carve out long, focused hours for deeper work.”
The good news: There are ways to manage your day so your day doesn’t manage you, including scaling back your to-do list (yes, you read that right) and enforcing quiet time in an open-plan office.
1. Set three priorities for the day.
When you spend all day in meetings, the default between-meeting activity is checking email. If that’s all you do all day long, you might need to stay late getting other work done.
Avoid that, and “make a list of your three top priorities for the day in the morning, and list what steps you need to take to make these happen,” Vanderkam says.
Then, when you’ve got time between meetings, tackle one of these. By limiting your to-do list, you increase the chances that you get through it, even when other things come up throughout the day. If you’re able to complete those three assignments, you can start on other tasks.
2. Stop interrupting yourself.
Interruptions are everywhere in offices, but you can make the situation worse by interrupting yourself.
“Get out of your inbox when you need to concentrate,” Vanderkam says. “Turn the program—and your phone—off for thirty-minute stints. Even if you need to check email a lot for your job, alternating your time (thirty minutes on, thirty minutes off) can give you solid blocks of time that you can get a lot done when you’re not interrupted.”
3. Keep status meetings to five minutes.
“When deadlines are coming up quick and we have a lot of hustling to do, I have five-minute daily morning meetings with my six team members,” says Kimra Luna, a personal branding and online business strategist. She connects with each team member or leader and asks them:
What did you work on/complete yesterday?
What are you working on today?
Do you have any questions or concerns for me before you can move forward?
“Once my team gets used to this, they become fast and straight to the point. I found doing this in the mornings gets far more work done each day, for myself and my team,” she says. “I would recommend doing it with team leaders or project managers; then those leaders can do that with the people they are delegating tasks to.”