Having recently written quite a bit about email and communication, I want to turn to some of my backlog of thoughts on calendaring, scheduling, and meetings. I have learned a lot of techniques that I believe make me and my colleagues more effective and efficient, but there’s one simple tip that rules them all. It’s this: don’t schedule things back-to-back—leave gaps. The reasons why are a lot more important than I thought at first, and I encourage everyone to do this.
I learned this technique accidentally, by stumbling upon it in Google Calendar’s settings, where it’s called “speedy meetings.” The idea is that for a half-hour meeting, you schedule only 25 minutes. For a full hour, you schedule only 50 minutes. This is pretty transformational. You need to experience it in action yourself, but let me list a few things that will hopefully convince you it’s worth trying.
Scheduling a gap between meetings implicitly acknowledges your support for human needs. We need to get up, stretch, move, take a few breaths of fresh air. We need to use the bathroom and get a drink of water. These aren’t opinions, they’re facts. If you schedule people back-to-back for hours at a time, you’re sending a clear signal about expectations of their priorities and capabilities. Set the expectation, instead, that your meeting agenda isn’t in conflict with being a real human.
Meetings usually run over. You know this. We all know this. Be respectful to the next group: schedule to leave the room before the next meeting is scheduled to start. Let the next group arrive early so they can find their seats, plug into the display port, get WiFi connected, test the A/V, whatever.
Being respectful to the next group is also being respectful to your own meeting’s attendees. Nobody likes being part of the group that’s being rude to the next group. It doesn’t matter that Keith scheduled the meeting: everyone else, not just Keith, feels like they’re being jerks to the people staring through the glass door. Keith, by not dispersing the crowd early, is making the whole group uncomfortable and unhappy.
If Keith schedules the meeting to leave a gap before the next, and clears the room, he’s being kind to everyone. This reduces a lot of stress, fatigue, and frustration.
It Improves Efficiency and Focus
Meetings should ideally be laptops-down, phones-away, single-focus. We should all be actively present and engaged in the meeting. But we all have a lot of things going on simultaneously that need our attention, and stress us. If we’re scheduled back-to-back all day, how will we know if the DocuSign for the critical deal is ready for a signature? How will we know whether our spouse was able to confirm that the babysitter can change their schedule so we don’t have to stress out all day? How can we effectively go back and forth and find a time for that critical call that’ll work for everyone?
Ten minutes an hour unscheduled lets people check email, listen to that voicemail that came in during the meeting, check Slack notifications, and so on. This not only gives people time to be people, but it frees all the people up who are waiting on each other, so a lot more gets done. People who are fully booked end up taking 3-4 days to get things done instead of 30 minutes. Ten minutes an hour significantly improves the pace of work.
The other thing it does is make the meetings count. If there’s no time to take care of the inevitable multitasking between meetings, it happens anyway, but it happens in the meeting. And that makes people distracted, not fully present. But if you know you’ve got time between meetings, you can keep those devices closed and participate fully, amplifying everyone’s contribution.
So there you have it, a few really big reasons you should leave small gaps between meetings! Give it a try and see how it works.