Managing time is very challenging for nurse leaders in today’s environment. A colleague recently told me that she had little time to do work because most of her time was spent in meetings. Many of the meetings had no clear outcome, and she was not even sure why she was being asked to attend them. I was struck by a Harvard Business Review Blog posted by Elizabeth Beth Saunders last week. In this block, she urged leaders to break their addiction to meetings in order to have more time to do clear strategic thinking.
The Meeting Addiction
Sometimes leaders believe that the only way they can stay in the loop in their organizations is to personally attend all the meetings that are scheduled. It is true that for some leaders attending meetings will be the core of their work. But most leaders have a vast array of other responsibilities that get pushed to the side as they attend often lengthy meetings with no clear goals. A good exercise that we used in one organization that I worked in was to calculate the cost of a meeting in terms of the time of participants. We found that were few meetings that we could honestly say that there was a positive return on investment.
Saunders offers the following decision tree that leaders can use to make the decision whether to attend the meeting.
Breaking the Addiction
Saunders suggests that your new default should be to choose the least “costly” time investment that still accomplishes the end goal. Always ask for the agenda in advance. Perhaps the meeting could be attended by another staff member or maybe you only need to be present for part of the meeting.
She also suggests that leaders should avoid being the ones who convene unnecessary meetings. Good meeting management skills are important. She recommends that you don’t schedule a meeting for something that you can solve in a phone call, and don’t make a phone call for something that can be communicated in an e-mail. If you must schedule meetings, she urges that you challenge yourself to make them leaner. Try out 30-minute or even 15-minute meetings, and set a goal to finish early. If you find you consistently need more time, you can increase the meeting length in the future, but often with increased focus, you won’t need it.
There are nurse leaders who measure their value by how many meetings they are invited to attend and feel insulted when they are not in the loop on everything. While going to a lot of meetings may make you feel important, but it’s not a good way to allocate your time. You need to give yourself permission to decline meetings. A good exercise to use to help break your addiction is to review each meeting on your calendar for the previous month and then use the above decision tree to determine whether you really needed to be there.