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The Costs of a Jammed Calendar
April 1, 2013 - 9:00pm

Go look at your calendar.  How much of your previous week was scheduled in meetings or other events?  

Recently, I received a piece of critical feedback from someone whose insights I greatly respect.

She told me that my calendar (in our case a cloud based Office 365 calendar) is looking "awfully full". 

The problem with people who have jammed up calendars is that we become a roadblock for team meetings.  Finding a day and a time that everyone in a group can meet for a non-regularly scheduled meeting gets difficult if one person's calendar shows few available days and times.

On some level this is a problem of our own making. We are all doing more, and much of what we are doing requires meetings.   

We book more meetings, appointments, and events because there are so many interesting and important projects that we can contribute.

We understand the value of having a seat at various tables, and we lament if we are not included in decision making processes that will have an impact on our group, department, or school.

The problem is particularly acute in academia, where committee assignments tend to proliferate. Many committees end up with the "usual suspects," appointed because the committee chair or organizer has a track record of working with certain individuals.   

A full calendar of meetings and appointments may signal a full set of relationships, opportunities and networks.  We learn from each other by spending time with each other.   

The question that I am facing is how to balance increasing demands on my time, and yes more meetings, with the need to be flexible and responsive with my colleagues. Due to an overflowing calendar I am missing out on any number of ad hoc and unscheduled conversations.  In being highly scheduled I am less available to the people to whom I need to be most responsive.   

Some ideas to open up some space on our calendars:

  • Make sure that our regularly scheduled meetings, our weekly or bi-weekly meetings, are truly valuable. It is easy to set up a recurring meeting, and hard to end one once it begins.
  • Create a rule that "informational" meetings are 30 minutes, "decision meetings" are one hour.
  • Figure out if you can ask another member of your team to represent your group at a regular meeting.
  • Reserve significant blocks on your calendar as "no meeting" zones, and then let your colleagues know that during that time you are available for informal consultation.
  • Hold some of your meetings using online meeting software, as this will reduce the "friction" of meetings (less time to walk or drive to the meeting), and online meetings tend to be shorter than face-to-face gatherings.
  • Start and end your meetings on time.
  • Stick to good meeting practices, such as making sure there is an agenda circulated ahead of time, and that there are clear meeting outcomes such as an agreed upon list of to do's and next steps.  This will make your meetings more efficient, which may lead to less meetings.
  • Try to do what our family does with shoes and toys.  The rule is that if you get a new one that you have to get rid of an old one.   So if you agree to a new standing commitment you remove another commitment that requires a commensurate time investment.   Another way to do this is to wait to take on another committee or working group until a current group is at an end.
  • When not in meetings make sure that your colleagues know that you are available for informal and ad hoc discussions.   

How does your calendar look?  

What ideas do you have to free up some space?


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