Do you book your calendar so tight that you rush from meeting to meeting (whether virtual or in-person), constantly arriving late or leaving early to make the next one? Sometimes you barely have enough time to drive to off-site meetings and far be it you actually eat or use the restroom.
The problem here (as if there is only one…) is that with this constant running, you never get the time to effectively follow-up or prepare. While some meetings can be highly productive, leaving you with a positive, motivated feeling, it’s quickly overshadowed by your autopilot tendencies as you move on to your next obligation.
Slow down! It’s time to give yourself some breathing room. Believe it or not, giving yourself some space will help you be even more productive and as a bonus, healthier too.
Why it’s difficult
We have things to get done and people counting on us. We bounce from one crisis to another in an endless cycle of unproductive busyness.
Cultural pressure has made overworking glamorous. Workers boast about what they sacrifice, working 60+ hours a week, late into the evenings and on weekends, losing sleep, skipping meals, missing meaningful events, giving up important relaxation and recovery time, all in the name of work.
In addition, there is social pressure to be or appear to be constantly busy. And it’s not just social pressure. For some, it’s an addiction, a psychological response to the fear of being unproductive.
Carving out the time
Whenever possible, block off at least 15 minutes of time immediately after meetings. The information you just received is still fresh, making it the optimal time to review, add details, organize, and make a plan for action items and follow-up.
Rereading your notes and recalling conversations straightway can help you decipher fragments. When we take notes, we do so with the intention of remembering something. Whether it’s something we want to recall later, remember to do, remind someone else of, or any number of other things. The key here is that we took the note because we thought it was important. Adding context to those notes will help remind you of why you wrote them and can help with decision making later.
In addition to adding context, it is also important to include details. This could be things like specific facts and figures, which of your co-workers has the information you need, steps of a process, etc… These details will help immensely when it’s time to take action.
Make note of others’ action items too. Some co-workers may need your help, you may need others’ help or you may have information that can be beneficial to them. This awareness will make it easier when you need to commit time to someone else’s follow-up.
It may also be helpful to make external or environmental notes. This information can increase your success as a manager, keep a pulse on the culture, or set you up for more productive meetings in the future. Examples: time of day, day of the week, team member reactions, location, attendees, the physical space, changes in behavior such as employees that are unusually quiet or outspoken, distracted, or restless.
Having reviewed your notes, you may find that they are not in the best order or categories for the way you need to process them. Taking a few minutes to categorize or put them in sequential order will help significantly when it’s time to take action.
Make a plan
Now that you’ve reviewed your notes, added context, details, and organized them, you’re ready to make your plan.
- Make a list of action items if you have not already. Be sure to put them in the order you will tackle them.
- Breakdown each action item into tasks that will help you accomplish them.
- If possible, assign a realistic deadline or date and time to address each task. This will increase the likelihood that they will be complete and on time.
- Taking notes digitally makes it much easier to add context, details, and reorganize as needed.
- If it’s appropriate and acceptable, recording meetings can help give you something to reference when you are not able to process the information right away.
- When you are able to assign deadlines or times to work on tasks, add them to your calendar right away.
- Add breaks and lunch to your calendar so you allow yourself time to refuel and reenergize.
What are the benefits?
After you have gone through this process a few times you will become a better note-taker, making it quicker and more efficient.
Addressing action items as soon after a meeting as possible will help plan for tasks that require dedicated time and/or collaboration. It also keeps you focused on what needs to get done so projects stay on track.
You’ll free up mental capacity to accomplish more tasks with greater accuracy and speed and open the door to new opportunities.
Health and wellness
When you are able to give yourself time between meetings, phone calls, and other commitments, you allow your brain and your body to recover from constant fast-paced, high-level stimulation.
Simple but necessary recovery activities may include using the restroom, taking a walk, eating a healthy snack, or simply soaking up a few minutes of quiet time.
Self-care behaviors reduce stress and help you maintain control of your days.
The bottom line
It may not always be possible to take time between meetings but when you do, you will feel better about yourself, be more productive, and ready to take on what’s next!