Scheduling meetings for new managers

Scheduling phone calls is one of those tasks that no one really ever covers. It’s not a covered in orientation manual for most white-collar jobs and you’ll surely never have a class on it in college. While it can generally be filed under “time management,” the studies on how much time people spend dorking around on Facebook at work should give some indication that even the best among us have a hard time setting priorities daily.

As a digital guy, calls from vendors could almost take up half your day or more if you allow it. There are no shortage of people trying to sell you a tool that can make your office, personal life, team or otherwise more productive. You get pretty good at either ignoring those calls or taking them in moderation, but what happens when your own clients — or prospective ones — inside the organization want your time and ask you to “check your calendar and schedule a time.”

For most newbie managers, this usually means a fairly wide open Outlook calendar save for recurring meetings. When you can pretty much meet “whenever” how do you decide where and when to schedule? I had to come up with a strategy for this on my own over the years and while it’s hardly foolproof, it’s worked for me.

Pick your set of preferred “meeting days”

Establish an informal set of meeting days. Remember you have other work to do and blocking too many random assortments of meetings will throw off your momentum at times when you really want it.

Mondays are almost always busy with people catching up from the weekend. Depending on the office, recurring meetings happened during the mid-week, leaving days like Thursday and Friday fairly open. Of course, a lot of people like taking Fridays off so it’s not foolproof, but it’s a good day — especially in the morning — to catch people heading into the weekend.

Obviously there will be conflicts, so you should be flexible and use discretion. And I’d strongly advise against telling someone, “I only schedule meetings on these three days,” because it won’t sound as task oriented as you think it does.

Set aside designated meeting hours

Come up with hours when you’re most productive during a day and block off portions of those hours where you won’t schedule meetings. In most places, lunchtime is at least protected time. Outside of that, the first hours of the morning can be full of meetings that sink your whole day. While it can be unavoidable, as a new manager you’re usually not thrust into this huge buffet of meetings from the start. Value this period of time, because it won’t always be this way.

After a bit of time scheduling meetings, you’ll decide whether you prefer morning meetings or afternoon meetings. With that knowledge, you can plan accordingly and try to steer people towards what makes the more sense for your productivity. I tended to prefer afternoon meetings across a campus, because it gave me a chance to get out of my seat and interact with actual humans. Morning meetings can be good too, especially if you’re trying to itemize things to bring back to your own team and check off a list.

Ask other people to give you three times that work for them

I’m a big believer in being a steward of people’s time. The best way to do this, is often to let people check their own calendars and make something work for them. Usually — but not always — there’s a time that works and you’ll be able to ride with it.

The problem is when there are lots of these kinds of meetings and they overlap with things you’re doing. It starts to make sense to apply your rules from earlier to make sure you’re not setting yourself for failure by having a ton of meetings at 1:30 when you’re most productive for whatever reason.

It’s up to you, but once you find a way that works for you, stick with it.

Don’t say “anytime will work.”

Saying this is usually borne out of a desire to be accommodating, but it doesn’t get received that way by most people. The most generous interpretation is you’re trying to be helpful. The least generous is “she must not have enough to do because I tried to schedule a meeting with her and she said anytime was open.” Be cognizant that not everyone is your champion and some people are actually judging your meeting scheduling tactics to reflect back how much work you’re actually doing; even if the two have little relation.

Be tactical about scheduling, all while remaining your flexibility. And unless it’s your superior, don’t feel inclined to give someone unsolicited details about the contents of your calendar. It doesn’t seem like it should matter, but in some companies it can matter quite a bit.

You don’t have to take every call

This is another area where your mileage will vary depending on where you work. But unsolicited phone calls can take hours off your working day, through people who ask for a few minutes and end up spending a lot of time getting the point. Sometimes, it’s just a necessary part of doing business and the job. Other times, it’s people who you don’t know trying to make a pitch you’re not authorized to approve even if you were somehow persuaded.

As a new manager, it’s not always easy to say “no” to people. Or you feel like you need to chase every lead down their rabbit hole to see where it goes. Chances are, you probably don’t. Often the best way to deal with these unsolicited emails and phone calls, is simply let them go unanswered initially. Maybe you’ll answer later on, but preserving your own sanity and workflow is better than breaking your concentration on someone who essentially jumps in line without a warning.

Once you’ve received their voice mail or follow-up email, you can reply and schedule them just like anyone else if it’s something worth pursuing.

There’s no hard and fast way to figure out meetings. Meeting creep is a big part of the office life and if you’re in a place where it’s fluid or lacking structure, the best thing you can do is create parameters to make your own work life more effective and productive.

Test different models and figure out what works best. Obviously not every one of these scenarios applies to every person in every industry, but there are a lot of people who I’ve talked with over the years who were a lot like me early in their careers and didn’t know where to look for meeting discipline.

Hopefully, it’ll make your days a bit more productive.

Setting the social media agenda where one doesn’t exist

Last week, I was having dinner with some friends who were discussing their frustration with being in organizations where it felt as though there was no true agenda in regards to their web presence. While these folks are quite good at what they do, neither of them felt particularly strategic in their thinking and it wasn’t part of the job they felt they were taking. I told them they needed to reconsider that the thought that their only job was execution, but rather, being an asset required taking a more strategic view of things.

The conversation fired me up enough, that I had to put on my teaching strategist hat in-between bites of gluten free pizza.

Here were some of the takeaways:

1. You need to be the subject matter expert: Maybe you feel as though you’re good at specific things and feel out of your realm when it comes to trying to provide a senior leader direction on a topic. That’s understandable. But the reason you’re there is often to be the “young, fresh mind” offering up key insights and information that will help the organization move forward in its marketing digitally. In the case of these two folks, they’re working for non-profits with limited budgets, but that’s not a unique thing. Which leads me to…

2. See what others are doing well: There are so many resources online that you can spend entire days — to your peril — researching discovering and voraciously reading the pros, cons and so forth of what other people on doing online. The bottom line here is you can find people in your field and around it, doing things that can be of benefit to your organization. It doesn’t mean doing the same things, it means figuring out what’s working and what doesn’t, so you can provide a value-added benefit to the organization.

3. Assess your goals by listening and asking questions: For my shy friends who flourish designing, this one seemed the hardest. “What if I say something stupid? I mean, what if they ignore what I have to say?” Understandable fears, but you never know until you try. And the tactics involved in converting people to a new way of thinking often require showing rather than telling. It can be tempting to want to inundate folks with the bevy of new things that may or may not help. (And don’t get me started on the calls from consultants offering to change your life with this product or that one…) But it’s your responsibility to curate the best ideas, implement what you can within your responsibility and be able to show how it’s helping.

4. What’s the punchline?: Often times, it just boils down to giving someone the punchline. In organizations where people are wearing lots of hats, with leadership who might be set in a different way of doing things (read: older), it might be challenging to convince them to really propel forward with bold new innovations for fear they won’t work as well as conventional methods. That’s where it’s your responsibility to track, measure and evaluate what’s working and what doesn’t. Make sure that everything you’re doing can be tied by to goals that you established, so there’s no confusion about what time is being spent on.

Time will tell whether this recommendations from this spirited discussion — ok, spirited from my end — will necessarily help, but they’re both reported feeling more confident since our little impromptu lesson.

Intentional Walks In The Workplace

This post is going to talk about baseball to make a broader point (I hope) so if you’re initially turned off, you should just go with me for a minute.

Joe Posnanski is probably the best writer about baseball in the business right now. His blog posts are quite long, but he writes yesterday about the World Series in Game 6. In case you weren’t watching, the long story short is basically that the Texas Rangers were just a strike away from winning the World Series twice in Game 6. They eventually lost that game and Game 7 the following night to go home runners-up from the World Series for the second straight year.

I’ll let Joe’s article set the backdrop to what I want to talk about here:

Then came Game 6, 10th inning, the Texas Rangers up a run. The Cardinals had the tying run on second base. And Albert Pujols stepped to the plate.

Baseball fans watch for a million reasons. It’s silly to try to reduce the game to a simple, “This is what the game’s all about” cliché, because the game is all about many, many things. But, Game 6 of the World Series, 10th inning, two outs, runner in scoring position, Albert Pujols at the plate, the whole city of St. Louis going bonkers — yeah, that’s a pretty good moment for the game. That’s a time when you wake up your kids to watch. That’s one you think about for the rest of your life.

And Ron Washington had his pitcher Scott Feldman intentionally walk Albert Pujols.

Now, you can question the strategy of the move, and you would be right. Washington was putting the winning run on base. The next batter, Lance Berkman, is one of the best hitters of the last generation, and he would have the platoon advantage being a switch-hitter, and in 2011, anyway, Berkman was actually BETTER against right-handed pitchers than Pujols.

2011 vs. righties:

Pujols: .300/.372/.525

Berkman: 307/.427/.571

But, I’m not talking strategy here. I’m talking about competition. I’m talking about conviction. I’m talking about guts. Ron Washington, in the biggest moment, didn’t trust his pitcher to get the final out. Ron Washington, in the biggest moment, tried to win the World Series by means of evasion, tried to win the World Series with an out-of-court settlement. And it was grotesque.

This whole sequence didn’t bother me because it was questionable baseball strategy — I’m a web guy with some tennis background, I might love baseball as a spectator, but I can only second guess — but rather because it was so clearly a questionable leadership decision. At the most critical moment at the most critical time. At a time when the boss could only watch, he inserted himself into the situation and made the best call that he thought he could make at the time.

There’s no shame in that. But the choice was essentially to concede defeat at a point when the stakes were high, but not so high that if there was a problem (worst case: pitcher gives up a 2-run home run to tie the game) that it couldn’t be fixed in some myriad of ways after the at-bat. But to step in and raise the stakes (now we’ve got 2 guys on base and are sending the winning run to the plate to face the music) and expect optimal performance — even if it’s just a situation that happens routinely in the sport — given the magnitude of the circumstances, it seemed extremely shortsighted.

I don’t have to live with the choice. Sure it might have cost that franchise millions of dollars in lost revenues associated with the prestige of winning a World Series title. But he won’t get fired, because somebody has to lose the World Series and it’s a rare occasion to even be there. A real life example? You’ve got to pitch a big project to a particular client and your ace comes down with some rare non-fatal, highly contagious Antarctic flu and can’t deliver. You need to rely on someone else and you’re not able to do it yourself. Rescheduling is not an option. So what do you do? In our baseball example, you’d just say “there will be other people who want to work with us. We’ll just wait for him, because if we can’t pitch him with our best guy, we won’t pitch him at all. They’re good for us to give our B game.”

I’m being over the top here. I just think there’s a real lesson embedded in this sports metaphor and it prompted me to jot all of this down. You draw your own conclusions and if you’re so inclined, leave a comment. (Especially if you’re one of those sixthousand Cardinals fans on my Twitter feed who surely supported Ron Washington’s decision. Hehe.)

Stop watching the clock

I like to have time to do particular projects I set out to do in a day. So when I look up at the clock and see that it’s later than I’d like, I sometimes get discouraged. I usually start a mental loop of all of the things I wanted to do, how I didn’t have enough time and how it’s frustrating to me.

But then it occurred to me that I needed to stop watching the clock. When you let a clock rule the creative process, you’ve already lost.

Instead, I try to prioritize:

1. Think about what you want to do.
2. Plot small signpost goals along the way.
3. Focus on meeting your goals, rather than beating yourself up about what didn’t work right.

It might not always work as I intend, but I find it’s a good way to refocus myself on the things that are important, which makes me more productive in the end.