The higher you are on the corporate ladder, the bigger that number gets.
“Generally speaking, the more hats you wear at work, the more meetings you’re expected to attend,” says Kris Duggan, the owner, cofounder, and CEO of BetterWorks, a 65-person company that helps enterprises set and manage goals through its software. That’s why CEOs and small-business owners tend to spend the majority of their days in the boardroom.
But, as it turns out, this kind of schedule can be detrimental to their productivity.
That’s why, for the past four years, Duggan has tried to limit the number of meetings he schedules each day. He believes fellow small-business owners could benefit from this strategy as well.
He blocks off time every day during which he doesn’t allow himself to book or attend any meetings. He then tries to schedule no more than two or three meetings the rest of the day. “I find that by giving myself uninterrupted time, I can think beyond the most pressing issues and really focus on my long-term stretch goals,” he tells Business Insider.
At BetterWorks, he says, most department heads choose a day (or two) of the week to keep completely meeting-free so these managers and their teams have time to work on projects that require continuous focus, time, and devotion.
“I know when I’m attending meeting after meeting, my mindset shifts to become task-oriented versus thinking critically and novelly,” Duggan says. “Attending meeting after meeting forces you into checklist mode. When you’re running a business, at least part of your day has to be devoted to the future of the company and meeting ambitious goals, and unless every meeting remains focused on those things, it’d be impossible to achieve everything at the same time.”
Duggan says this is one of his favourite productivity hacks.
Goal setting and alignment are very important, and “limiting the number of meetings I have in one day ensures I stay free enough to meet my goals,” he says. “The way I organise myself each quarter, month, and week is to define my top goals and priorities and avoid getting sidetracked with extra projects and meetings that take away from those bigger things.
“For example, some of my goals for this quarter are to finish a proposal to get a book I’ve written on Goal Science published, complete operational planning with leads for 2016, and hire a world-class CS leader. If I don’t give myself meeting-free, uninterrupted time to work towards these goals, I put the company at risk.”
He believes capping the number of meetings to two (or three, tops) per day makes sense for all small-business owners and CEOs who have a good alternative use for that time. “It can be inspirational and helpful for you to be present on meetings,” he says, “but if those meetings aren’t productive, it’s a bad use of valuable time.”
Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, and the number of meetings you’re required to attend (or simply can’t avoid) may depend on the stage of your company.
“It can be difficult to block out time and stick to a hard rule on a low number of meetings when they all feel crucial to business success,” he says. “When we’re fund-raising, for example, my calendar is full of meetings.”
There are also many days when you just have to have more than a few meetings — between interviews, team meetings, one-on-ones, sales meetings, product meetings, etc., he says. “I’m not going to skip a meeting with a potential investor just because it falls on a day I happen to already have a few meetings set up,” Duggan adds, saying he nevertheless believes “in the power of blocking off large amounts of my day, keeping them meeting free, and using that time to focus on meeting my quarterly goals.”
Regardless, he thinks limiting the number of meetings, or avoiding meetings for most of the day when you can, is one of the only ways small-business owners and CEOs can find the time they need to work on the projects that Duggan says “are most important to the success of their company.”