The Quantified (Work) Life: A Focus on Meetings

13 November 2017

Everyday, I have the pleasure of working with extraordinary, smart, and busy people – they are my coworkers, acquaintances, and clients. While everyone is different, there are certainly commonalities that emerge. Here are two that I can say with complete unscientific and unsubstantiated certainty: Those people (myself included) all agree that they have too much email and spend too much time in meetings. Today, I’d like to lend a bit of data to backup my claim, and perhaps reinforce a couple of time management practices that may prove helpful.

The subject in question here is yours-truly; I started a data-collection experiment back on February 10th. Specifically, I started collecting summary meeting information on my calendar (truth be told, I didn’t know what I was going to do with the data, but I figured it was cheap and easy to collect, so why not).  The basic collection premise was this: using Microsoft Flow, each time an event was added to my calendar, it would log that event in a spreadsheet for me. This was something I had largely forgotten about until the end of the year snuck up on me – a time of year I spend a small sliver of time reflecting about the past year and thinking about where I can improve next year.

Thankfully, the data collection was working without a hiccup, and had faithfully collected the 2,715 events that had been added to my calendar since early February. The only problem was that Flow’s ability to get events in February was pretty anemic – they’ve since improved it, which meant I’d have to do a bit of data cleansing. I actually did this by (you guessed it) writing another flow – the purpose of this other flow being to iterate through the Excel file, interrogate each of the events on my calendar, and track some meaningful pieces of data that weren’t previously captured (e.g. Duration of the event, did I attend the event, and does the event still exist). For those interested, here’s a quick screenshot of that analysis flow below. Note: I didn’t have to use Flow to do this, there’s about 1,000 different ways to do this, but it just felt right to use Flow to analyze its own captured and dutifully stored data. I also cross-referenced the appointments that were still on my calendar (which is a subset of the full data tracked by my collection-flow) through a CSV export – the results between the CSV and Flow analysis was within 0.997% of each other.

jeremy williams meetings

Analysis and Results

Information gathering started on February 10th and goes up to the morning of November 10th. That yields about 194 business days. As my calendar contains all-day events for days off and holidays, I will not be removing holidays and days off from my analysis here (my analysis is intended to be thematic and broad-based time-trends, so I won’t need to offset my denominator of 194 here by any additional days since they’re already accounted for as event in the calendar.) Also, any all-day events that I attended were counted as 8 hour events (not always the case, but good-enough for this analysis). 

jeremy williams meetings

Next Steps

So now we have quantified what the bulk of my year looked like for meetings. 8.7 hours/day in meetings – that’s not a lot of (unscheduled) free time.

Now it is important to mention a cultural aspect that I share with some of my coworkers, namely Brandon and Paul, I schedule a lot of things on my calendar. If I need to focus on something (e.g. writing this post) I’ll schedule time, if I need to travel to a Client’s location, I’ll schedule time). I do this for a couple reasons:

  • As we have now quantified, my calendar tends to be pretty filled on any given day (makes for an infinite loop of sorts – I can’t free up my calendar because I’m busy blocking it up to free up time)
  • I can’t expect my coworkers to know how long it’ll take me to get from point A to point B – so I block the time as ‘Working elsewhere’ or ‘tentative’ so that they’re aware I may not be fully available during that time.
  • I need to go back in time and remember what I was doing on a weekly basis – good ol’ timecards

So in my particular case, I’m not overly surprised by the results – I spend a ridiculous amount of my day in scheduled time-blocks, and (for the most part) I’m okay with this. It allows me to plan my day, reserve time for the important, and make the judgement calls when needed. However, if you feel unhappy or otherwise disappointed in your calendar to productivity ratio – here are some tips:

  • Schedule time blocks where you’re not available - this could be for personal reasons or business productivity reasons. Consider this your gift of time, to yourself.
  • Actively manage the number of meetings you’re in – if you find yourself invited to a lot of meetings, make sure that you’re actually needed and that the organizer, if it isn’t you, has followed some good meeting facilitation practices (clear agenda, the right people, pre-/post-communication).
  • Set an example for others – as a corollary to the point above, if you are facilitating a meeting make sure you have a good agenda, need to have the meeting, and have clear roles/responsibilities.
  • Measure your change over time - analyze, review, and course-correct as appropriate.

And to close this out, my (personal) goal for next year is to aspire more towards Brandon’s rule of thirds, which means I’m hoping to decrease the hours of my day spent in meetings. I haven’t quite figured out what that goal is, but I’ve already made a calendar event for next November to re-analyze my calendar and report back.

Jeremy Williams is Senior Director, Productivity & Collaboration, at Rightpoint. Follow Jeremy on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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