Not waving, but drowning


I don't know how much more I can take. I work long hours and spend most of my day in meetings. Senior management just announced they want managers to take on more projects and improve their productivity. I feel like I can barely keep my head above water as it now stands. What should I do?

Ellen, Seattle

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Lisa Haneberg's Answer:

Managers are in a tough spot these days. The global business climate rewards the companies that are most competitive and productive. Your senior managers are likely right, everyone will need to improve output to stay competitive.

Becoming more productive does not mean working more hours or trying to cram more into each day. To experience a productivity breakthrough, most managers will need to completely rethink how they spend their days.

  • Unproductive meetings – gone. Refuse to attend.
  • Nice to do tasks – gone from the to-do list. You don't have the time.
  • Extra projects – no. Focus only on those projects that will drive the business forward.
I'll elaborate on a couple of these points. What does a productive meeting look like? Some people say that productive meetings have agendas and note takers and action items that come from them. I say that's bunk. A productive meeting is one where great business conversation helps move the business forward.

I once did some work for a large organization of about 10,000 employees. The senior executive team – the eight top executives – met every two weeks for two hours. No topic ever got more than 30 minutes of time and most had much less – five or ten minutes. Their agendas were packed with many tiny conversations. What a waste! This meeting was filled with eight intelligent leaders and they never had meaty conversations about the business.

Cut the amount of time you spend in meetings by half or more. Go to only those meetings where great conversations about the business occur.

I'd also like to address the topic of extra projects. It has been my experience that many companies take on too many projects at once. There are almost always projects that ought to be killed. How many projects can your organization execute well? Focus on a smaller number of projects and do them well.

You might be thinking: This is all fine and dandy, but I am not in control of the number of projects I manage or the number of meetings I attend.

Well, here's my advice – take control, but do it from a position of ownership and accountability. Talk to your manager. Acknowledge that you want to improve productivity and results and that you feel the department would most benefit from greater focus. Partner with your peers to create a more results oriented work environment. If together you can cut the number of meetings and new "nice to do" projects, you will go a long way to improving productivity.

I once told my manager (the president) that I was not going to go to update meetings because I knew he expected me to be spending my time in ways that most benefited the organization. Worked like a charm – he agreed with me that the meetings were not a great use of time. A couple colleagues did the same and soon we had many fewer meetings being scheduled. It was a beautiful thing.

One more point – this is also the right approach to helping you have a better work-life balance.

About our Expert

Lisa Haneberg
Lisa Haneberg

Lisa Haneberg is the author of six books, numerous articles, and is an expert in the areas of management, leadership, and personal and organizational success. She consults and speaks in the areas of organization development, management and leadership training, and human resources.