Sometimes it’s the simplest productivity hacks that end up returning the greatest benefits over time. Here’s one such strategy I’ve been toying with recently:
The Meeting Margin Method
Assume you have to schedule a meeting that lasts X minutes. Instead of blocking off X minutes on your calendar, block off (1.5)*X minutes.
For example, if you agree to attend a 30 minute meeting starting at 2:00 pm, try to block out 2:00 to 2:45 on your calendar. Similarly, if it was a 60 minute meeting, try to block out 2:00 to 3:30. And so on.
The key is that you’re not extending the time of the meeting itself. That is, you still attend the meeting for the originally proposed time. The extra 50% on your calendar is a meeting margin protected for your own personal use.
In particular, the margin can be used for the following purposes:
- To process the meeting: clarify any new obligations that were discussed and make sure they’re in your system. Perhaps execute some of the smaller tasks right away. The goal here is to close all open loops related to the meeting so that it releases its hold on your mental energy moving forward in the day.
- To catch up on anything missed while in the meeting: check your inboxes to handle anything urgent (if you’re in the type of job were such urgent communication is common and cannot be ignored). The goal here is to eliminate the need for you to rudely and uncomfortably split your attention during the meeting itself by constantly checking your inbox. If you know you have time right after to check in, you can confidently concentrate while in the meeting.
- To make progress on real work: if the margin is large enough, make progress on things you know need to get done. The goal here is to stave off that feeling that everyone but you has control over your time and attention.
- To take a break: take a breather to allow attention residue to fade and your mental energy to recharge (c.f., Tony Schwartz). The goal here is to reduce the cortisol-spiking sense of urgency created by tightly packed calendars.
There are few experiences more stressful than a day in which your schedule is so fractured with appointments to talk about work that you have no time to act on the results of all this discussion — leading, instead, to the awful sense of a growing stack of obligations, all being juggled in your head, that you have no idea how to define or handle.
The meeting margin can help.
It’s a simple strategy, and, importantly, can be implemented covertly; that is, no one needs to know that you’re adding these extra margins as you fill in your calendar.
But it systematically injects enough breathing room into you schedule to ensure that even if your job heavily depends on discussions about work you’ll maintain your ability to actually get real work done.
(Photo by Long Road Photography)