Don’t waste those gaps between meetings
We all have 30-minute gaps in our work schedules that we neither planned nor agreed to. We can blame the automated scheduling platforms that companies implemented in the 1990s and 2000s for that.
These systems – most notably Microsoft Office – have had unintended consequences on our time: Meetings are often scheduled far into the future, more people attend and – possibly the most frustrating consequence of all – 30-minute gaps are scattered throughout our day. The systems that were developed to improve our efficiency are, in fact, killing our productivity. We have literally handed over control of what is on our daily calendar, who we meet with Monday morning, in what order or cadence we go about our work day. It is time to take back control – at least where we can.
We don’t often pay attention to the 30-minute gaps sandwiched between two meetings. For most, they just mean there’s some breathing room before the next meeting starts. Time to grab a quick coffee and maybe answer a few emails. On any given day, that might seem harmless, but if you take a long-term view of your month, quarter, or year, these 30-minute spaces can have a real toll on your productivity: four 30-minute gaps in your schedule can add up to 25% of your day. It pays to think differently about this floating space of time. It is there for us if we choose to use it; to write it off as a waste of time is a missed opportunity.
Here’s how to take some of your time back:
+ Take a few minutes at the start of each day to identify the gaps in your schedule.
+ Schedule what you want to accomplish in each gap right on your calendar. This can be anything from lower-value work that needs to get done (such as expense reports) to larger, finite tasks you’ve been dreading (such as outlining your next presentation).
+ Hold yourself accountable. At the end of the day, look back on your 30-minute tasks and note which ones you’ve accomplished.
These small spaces of time are also good for the kind of work you want to come back to and reflect on, like writing an article, or a creative pursuit. For instance, I recently started planning for a large project. I used a 30-minute block to start to draft the project charter statement. Later in the week, I revisited the draft. The passage of just a few days helped me gain perspective. When I revisited the charter, I was able to reshape part of the scope.
So stop looking at those 30-minute gaps in your day as a waste of time. They may be the key to turbocharging your productivity.
(Jordan Cohen is a productivity expert Jordan Cohen and the recipient of the 2010 grand prize from the Management Innovation eXchange for his previous work at Pfizer.)
© 2015 Harvard Business School Publishing Corp. Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate