I’m kind of embarrassed writing this, as I wouldn’t have thought scheduling meetings would be that hard. But experience has taught me that some people still haven’t figured out that when they have a meeting, there are other people there besides themselves.
Paul Graham wrote a nice overview of the grandest dichotomy in working styles – managers vs. programmers – in his article Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule. His point is that while managers may view a day as a grand dartboard for scheduling meetings, those folks who primarily work at creating things (“Makers”) prefer to have large chunks of uninterrupted time. For a maker, a meeting in the middle of the afternoon turns the afternoon into three pieces:
- Before the meeting, when there really isn’t enough time to start anything
- The meeting (yawn)
- After the meeting, when there really isn’t enough time to start anything
So a thirty minute meeting effectively wrecks the whole afternoon.
The End of the Day
Paul’s article is good information for those who have to deal with the manager/developer interface. But a lot of times there are finer gradations to deal with in an office. In addition, I’m very uncomfortable with the “hold all your meetings at the end of the day” approach, for a few reasons:
- The end of the day isn’t the same for everyone. When I was writing code, my most productive burst was often 11am-7pm. On the flip side, if you just pulled an allnighter, you have to wait until 5pm to go home. Or if you have an appointment in the afternoon, you have to come back to the office. (This is more about meetings that are inflicted on you than ones you schedule yourself)
- Meetings usually breed action items, some of which may be somewhat time-critical. Walking out of a meeting at 5pm when everyone has left isn’t helpful.
- Having a meeting at the end of the day may have attendees focused more on the clock than the agenda. (Granted, this can make for shorter meetings, but let’s pretend they are necessary and must be productive…)
The Beginning of the Day
Okay, so the end of the day is out – how about the beginning of the day? A few problems here:
- It’s first thing in the morning. I mean – seriously?
- Traffic = people missing the meeting. If this isn’t a big deal, why were they invited?
- Just as scheduling at the end of the day means no time to do anything after the meeting, scheduling at the beginning means no time to do anything before the meeting. Gathering notes, verifying the agenda, double-checking actions items = rushing in late.
- Not everyone is really awake that early.
(One shout out to the one manager I had that scheduled the weekly team meeting for 7:30 Monday mornings: look, we can all recognize when you’re marking your territory. Can’t you do it by changing the cover sheets on the TPS Reports or something? Don’t make me deal with a meeting at 7:30 Monday morning.)
The Perfect Meeting Time
So what are we left with? What I feel are optimal meeting times – 11am or 1pm. Basically all you’re doing is making lunch a little longer, from a mental perspective. There is time to prep before the meeting if necessary, and time to take care of critical action items afterwards. They are good breaking points for the day, and if you have developers it might even get them to look up, stretch their legs, and clear their mind a bit (a developer that’s been working since 9am will be near useless by 4pm if they don’t take a break – this is basic human physiology)
…this is just my opinion. I started out by indicating that folks have different preferences, and that’s true here. If we’re talking about a team lead or manager scheduling meetings for his or her team, they should put in the effort to figure out what works best for everyone (or as many people as possible). A tool that can help a lot here is strategic use of Outlook.
Many people just use Outlook scheduling to mark out their meetings. (Be at the client’s office at 11am, done at noon). Try to encourage your folks to fill up their days – if meeting offsite, be sure to schedule travel time to and from. Schedule time after a customer meeting to organize notes and pursue action items. If they have a preferred time of day to go through their GTD or TBYL or other organizational methods, mark those times off on the calendar.
By managing their day with scheduled appointments, then a manager can more freely use Outlook’s Free/Busy scheduling tool to find good times for meetings. But this does only work if people keep their calendars current.
The primary issue here is remembering that you have a team of people whose workdays you are affecting when you schedule a meeting. It’s not all about you.
Outlook Abuse 101
One final tip, on the subject of Outlook. This is a trick I learned in sales – if you are trying to get in touch with someone, and it seems they are ducking your calls, schedule a conference call with them. In Outlook-heavy cultures, if they have the defaults set, then when a meeting request shows up in their inbox, it is marked as “tentative” and put on their calendar. Then, fifteen minutes before the scheduled time, a reminder will pop up on their desktop or phone. And at the appointed time they will dial into your conference number.
This has never failed me.