In our last newsletter, “How to Have the Right Amount of Meetings,” we introduced one of my favorite mantras: “Never let the colors touch”. When your packed calendar looks like a set of paint swatches, you need this lesson more than you know. If the filled-in meeting blocks are all touching in your calendar, you don’t have a single minute to reflect on the meeting before, refresh yourself, or plan for the meeting to come.
Once you can see white spaces between your appointments, you can stop working like a robot and begin working like a human being whose thoughts, needs, and whims require room for reflection and flexibility. You can take a minute to think. You can spare others the rudeness of cutting them off for your “hard out” and enjoy the bonus that comes from tighter meetings, which guide us to limit preambles and move quickly into substance.
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Adding these moments of white space has the immediate impact of lowering your sense of frenzy and overwhelm. But if back-to-back meetings have been lowering your IQ one point at a time, you may not even remember the best way to use the time you gain.
I thought it would be helpful to unpack those little white transition times to show you the actual ingredients that make up a perfect slice of white between meetings. There are numerous improvisational elements that can fall into this time, but the most productive structure follows an easy progression:
- Look back
- Look within
- Look forward
Look back. One of the reasons the day feels overwhelming is that each meeting usually ends with an assignment or implied to-dos. We must enter a note, send an email (or two or three), or record some data. But in a world where we’re always “on,” none of this important closure occurs in real time. Our action items accumulate throughout the day as Suess-ian piles of sticky notes and digital lists.
Therefore, the first portion of any white slice on our calendar goes to looking back on the last meeting and tying up loose ends. We may do that looking back from a learning perspective as well as a box-checking one. What worked? What didn’t work? How can we do better next time?
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Look within. In the ever-tightening vice of your meeting schedule, you likely have not the foggiest clue how YOU are. Slices of white space are times to find out. Take a breath and get present. Are you starving? Do you need to move around to get your blood flowing? Are you reaching for your phone for no reason at all? Take time here to unplug the circuits for a few minutes and reboot your exhausted frontal lobes. Stepping away from technology helps us combat screen and Zoom fatigue and come back into ourselves.
Look forward. Then it’s time to prepare to bring your best self to what’s next. Absolutely nothing reduces stress and makes us feel more in control than being completely prepared. Use some portion of your white space to think about the purpose of your next meeting and the person or people you are about to converse with. If it’s a new relationship or client, “take a bath” in the company. Read about them on social media and the web. Watch videos of their outbound marketing or their executives at events. If this prep is more extensive, you should block additional time for each meeting. Preparing is both a leg up for you and a compliment to your new acquaintance.
If it’s someone you’re familiar with, you can re-inventory in your mind the things this person likes or dislikes. You can consider how you showed up the last time you were with them and whether that was successful or not. When time is short, even a single minute of space to get composed and imagine the best possible meeting can give you exactly the boost in focus and charisma you need to move your business forward in remarkable ways.
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Of course, if you really want your white space to remain so, you will need to begin ending before you actually end. For a 45-minute meeting, you’ll start wrapping up around the 40-minute mark, finalizing action items and next steps on the 42, and on the 45 you are all out the door or signing off.
As these slices of white space become your norm between every meeting on your calendar—including conference calls, video calls, and one-on-ones—make it a habit to fill them with restorative goodness and stress-reducing preparation. I assure you, people do notice, and as you sane-ify your own calendar, you’re concurrently modeling a valuable lesson and being of service to every weary worker around you.
This article is also available in Chinese.
Before you go, check out this video by Leaderonomics on identify the patterns that affect your productivity. We hope it benefits you!