There’s a danger we speak of in falling into a routine. Boring, repetitive cycles that can make us miss out on new ideas or opportunities. The opposite of that can be true as well, though. Working in an office, especially a semi-open plan office, can be distracting. Day in and day out, catching bits and pieces of other people’s conversations or phone calls. The worst is the unplanned meeting. You’re neck deep in something important when an alert pops up: someone has scheduled a meeting half in your lunch break and half during a time when you’re definitely going to be busy.
The worst times of day to schedule a meeting seem obvious, but just in case, here’s a brief list:
9:30 am or earlier: Inevitably, someone is going to be stuck on the TTC or the road, several of the people invited are still trying to juggle breakfast while getting set up, or, if you’re like me, going through a to-do list for the day and making a plan of attack.
11:30 am to 2 pm: Not only are people hungry during this stretch, but you’ll notice that people in the office stagger their lunches for a variety of reasons. If you schedule a meeting anywhere in this window at least one person is either not going to be able to make it or will have to re-schedule the rest of their day to accommodate it. (Unless you’re providing lunch at the meeting, but that’s unusual.)
4 pm onwards: Like the morning, this last stretch of the day is for finishing up projects and tying up loose ends. And don’t be the person who schedules ‘just a five minute meeting, I swear’ right before five. Just don’t.
If you have the misfortune to work with someone who probably knows all of this but schedules meetings during this time anyway, I’ve got a suggestion for you. Routine and calendar scheduling.
I get some of my best work done before 10 am and after 4 pm, partly because unless something major is going on I set that time aside for administrivia and organization. Take the first hour (or half hour or 45 minutes or whatever works for you) and focus on making a plan of attack for the day.
There are all sorts of articles that tout the value of multi-tasking but the truth is that most people just aren’t good at it, and the people who think they’re the best at it tend to actually be the worst. You’ll get more done and at a higher level if you focus on one task at a time.
With a plan of attack for the day you can focus on smaller blocks of work individually without being overwhelmed by the big picture.
At the end of the day I try to make sure that everything is in order for the following morning. Packages for delivery are ready for the courier, the courier has been called, I’m all caught up on voicemail and email and have cleaned up my desk as much as is feasible. Sorting these kind of tasks at the end of the day lets your mind unwind and de-fragment and means that the next day will go much more smoothly.
The trick with this is to make sure that this time is available to you. Block it off in your calendar. If your office is like mine, you’re probably running on an Exchange server, so when you want to schedule a meeting with someone you open up your Outlook calendar and see when they’re free. If you’ve blocked that time off properly in your own calendar other people will see that you’re unavailable and (hopefully!) schedule the meeting for a more appropriate time.
Getting into a routine of daily maintenance and calendar blocking can restore some calm to your day and smooth relationships at the office. Try it. You might be surprised.
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