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.