We’ve all had days when we see nine emails on a topic and we know that if we could just talk, we could save ourselves another dozen messages that need to be read, responded to, sworn at, and filed (or deleted)!
Back in the days before email (for all of you born after 1975, I know … shut up), we had a more difficult time because communication wasn’t as instant as it is today. When I began my career in the 1990s, I worked at one company managing a project where I needed a status twice per week. We didn’t do conference calls, we did meetings. I would wait in the conference room mentally tapping my foot while the masses assembled. It would take 10 minutes just to get everyone to show up. Then they would chit chat for another five while my blood pressure mounted from stress.
I was busy. I was climbing the corporate ladder. With hands to shake and babies to kiss, I could ill afford the time away from my phone and computer.
One morning, after about two weeks of this nonsense, I sent my admin (a shared resource and a Godsend) into the conference room ahead of me with strict orders to remove all the chairs. As my team straggled in, I almost couldn’t keep a straight face watching them try to figure out if they should lean against the walls (human flying buttresses anyone?) or cop a squat on the table’s edge. “We just need 10 minutes to get an update from everyone and then you can all get back to your real jobs,” I assured them, never once letting on that I was the reason they couldn’t sit with coffee in hand and shoot the breeze for the next half hour.
It worked beautifully. So I did it again and again until they figured out I was the reason there were no chairs (told you my admin was a Godsend, she never breathed a word).
Today, I set conference calls for 15 or 20 minutes, not the full half hour that Outlook suggests. If we need a longer meeting, I set it for 45 minutes. I also set the meeting to begin at five minutes past the hour or half-hour mark knowing that my colleagues are most likely just wrapping up another call and so won’t be able to hop on right at the top of the hour regardless. Additionally, by setting a 15- or 45-minute meeting, if we do run long, no one schedules those last 15 minutes anyway. And if we do end on time? Brilliant! We all have a moment to grab a drink or a bio break or check email or even fit in that call to the dentist to reschedule our next cleaning!