How to Stop Multitasking

Ninjas are Polite!

Here at Think Productive Australia we feel very strongly that meetings must be productive, or we will not hold them. That is why we offer Workshops to help teams to make their meetings “magic”!. Like you, we have experienced the tide of invitations that wash up in the email inbox, most of which you really don’t want or need to accept. Maybe it is because we know the meetings will be extremely dull.  More probably, we are up to our eyeballs in work, and just don’t have the time to attend. There are times that it is right  just to say “No” .  Here are some ways to do that without getting up the nose of the person who invited you. Let’s start with looking at the meeting itself.

Is It Important?

Firstly, as much as you would like to opt out, you cant decline all meetings. A lot of them are actually important. You can, however, be strong about the plethora of meetings that really don’t need your attendance.

First decide if the meeting is of value. Then whether or not you should be the one to attend. Be mindful of any tendency to accept all the invites because they make you look and feel busy! If you like to binge on low priority tasks, unproductive , but important sounding meetings are a huge temptation.

There are key questions that will identify whether the meeting is valuable or not.

  • Is there an organized structure to the meeting, with a clear purpose and agenda?
  • Is the topic of conversation important and timely?
  • Will the right people be in the room?
  • Is there contextual information available in advance?

Will Your Attendance Add Value?

If you decide that the meeting is indeed important, the next question must be “are you important to the meeting?”. Experience probably tells you that you are invited to many meetings simply to make you ‘aware’ of what’s going on in a certain area, or to update you on the progress of a project. You can ask for this in a structured email in advance of the meeting. This will let you decide whether to attend or just ask for a copy of the minutes.

The Ideal

Big meetings usually happen to fix a problem, or discuss a significant new issue. An influential  group meets to generate ideas or produce a solution. If the meeting is more routine think about some alternative formats for the meeting. Instead of formal sit-downs try options  such as standing-up!,   or at least a technique to keep the meeting short.


Saying No


Ways to Say No

If you want to make the grade as a true Productivity Ninja you are going to have to be ruthless. That means you say no to more meetings – especially the dull ones. Saying No, as we know, isn’t the easiest thing to do. It carries some risk, so here are some tips on how to politely decline your next meeting:

1) Define Your Own Schedule

As a leader you will have a schedule of regular meetings with teams and colleagues. Be strong about insisting that issues which crop up fit where possible into that regular schedule, rather than create new “one-off” meetings. Let people in the office know you have a schedule outlined. They are less likely to look for a meeting outside that framework unless it really is an emergency. Be ruthless about booking calendar slots for personal productivity and “heads down activity”. You need to plan your weekly review, strategy planning, performance reviews, even research and “catch-up” reading time. That way these slots will not show up in shared calendars as available for others, (such as the CEO’s Assistant!) allowing them to hijack your time.


Productivity Ninja Calendar


2) Just say No, but Kindly

There’s nothing wrong with saying no. More people should be saying it. It shows that your time is important and your co-workers will usually understand that. For example, “I am sorry but I have a clash of commitments and can’t make the meeting. I am happy for you to go ahead in my absence, but would like to see the minutes as soon as they are available.”

3) Suggest a Different Option

Meetings take huge amounts of time out of your productive time.  You are entitled to suggest ways to get the same result more efficiently. For example, ask for a shorter meeting, on the basis that the organizer summarizes the issues and questions in advance. You can also give your apologies, but make the offer of a 10-minute phone call in advance with the meeting chair. This will contribute your viewpoint without attending the actual meeting. You may decide to send someone the meeting on your behalf. Make sure they are qualified and you’re confident they can add sufficient value. Remember that 10 minutes briefing them will give a better result for everyone, and save you the other 50 minutes. It has the added bonus of providing a good development opportunity for your team.

4)Find The Right Excuse

Be honest and about why you can’t attend. Everyone recognizes conflicting pressures. But assert yourself in defense of your work-life balance too. Employ in your support those corporate commitments that have been made to employee well-being. You should probably avoid telling others that you find their meetings dull! So apologize that you’re not going to be able to make it, and make sure you commit to two things.  Firstly take time to look at the agenda and paperwork. Pull out and comment on anything which is mission critical for your team so poor decisions are not taken in your absence. Secondly read the minutes. If you are really too busy to do even these two things (and that is entirely possible) then delegate the task to one of your team.  Ask them to pull out and summarize any key issues for you.



By Richard Green and Miles Singleton
Richard is the Chief Financial Officer for Think Productive North America, and Miles is Think Productive UK’s Editorial Content Producer.

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