This is the third article in a series about time-blocking. If you missed them, you can go back and read about the 6 reasons time-blocking might not be working for you, and how to time-block, practically and realistically.

Does your work calendar look like a solid wall of meetings? Or perhaps it looks a bit more like Swiss cheese, which just a few small holes dotting an otherwise solid block?

If so, you’re not alone. Lots of my clients face a calendar that is so full of meetings there’s no time for actual work. But when I ask how many of these meetings are worth the time, the answer is far from “all of them”.

Just because you have a sense you’re in too many meetings, however, doesn’t mean that you know what to do about it. Heck, sometimes you don’t even know where to start!

But never fear because I’m going to provide you with a step-by-step guide for how to do a meeting audit so that you can claw back some of that time for yourself, to do your actual work.

Step 1: Start tracking!

Sometimes it can be hard to know which meetings are worth your time. And when we’re not sure, that means it’s time to start tracking!

So, if you look at your calendar, and you just aren’t sure what you can get rid of or move, or it feels like everything is necessary, then I want you to start with a little meeting tracking before you move onto the meeting audit steps.

Here’s how:

For a couple of weeks, every time you attend a meeting, if you leave the meeting feeling like it wasn’t a good use of your time, or it could have been shorter, etc., then just change the color of that meeting on your calendar to grey (or whatever color isn’t already on your calendar). It’ll be your secret code.

Then, when you look back at your calendar after a couple of weeks, it’ll be easier to see patterns in terms of what meetings don’t feel worthwhile in their current form.

Step 2: Remove meetings you don’t need to attend at all

Once you’re clear on which meetings are worth your time in their current format, and which ones aren’t, it’s time to figure out if there’s anything you can remove.

You’re going to get the most impact to your calendar and time by making sure the right recurring meetings are on your calendar as they take up time, week after week.

  • One way to think about this is if you’re not both getting something and contributing something to the meeting, it might not need to be on your calendar at all.
  • Likewise, are there status update, or other info-only meetings that could be turned into an email?
  • Finally, are there meetings where you need the info, but you could deputize someone else to go on your behalf? Is there a co-worker, or direct report who could summarize for you, or can you simply reply on the meeting notes?

Once you have a list of meetings that you don’t think should be on your calendar going forward, then it’s time to think through whether you have control of these meetings, or whether you’ll need buy in from others to make these changes.

  • Make a list of the conversations you need to have and add them to your task list.
  • Don’t remove yourself from the meetings until you have buy-in from others that these changes will affect. (It’s not a good look to make these decisions without regard for others and, depending on your role, you may need to tread lightly.)

Step 3: Reduce the remaining meetings

After you’ve removed the meetings that don’t need to be on your calendar at all, it’s time to see if you can reduce the time that the other meetings take up on your calendar. In order to reduce meeting time you have 2 primary levers: frequency and length.

  • Of the meetings that do need to stay on your calendar, which can be reduced in length? “Parkinson’s Law” tells us that work expands to fill the time allotted. So, ask yourself (and potentially your coworkers):
    • Could we get through in 45 minutes what we usually cover in an hour?
    • Likewise, could 20 minutes work in place of 30?
  • Of the meetings that do need to stay on your calendar which can be reduced in frequency? Ask yourself (and potentially your coworkers):
    • Does this meeting need to be weekly, or could it happen every other week?
    • What about other timeframes?
  • Once you have a list of meetings that could be reduced in length or frequency, then it’s time to think through whether you have control of these meetings, or whether you’ll need buy in from others to make these changes.

Step 4: Treat your calendar like Tetris

Now the right meetings are on your calendar, for the right length and the right frequency, and it’s time to “Tetris” your calendar!

If your calendar looks like Swiss cheese, you may want to make more room for deep focus work and larger blocks of time to work on larger project. If the only non-meeting blocks on your calendar are 30 minutes or less it can be really hard to get into deep work during the workday, and you may find yourself working late into the night because it’s the “only time you can get anything done”. If that’s you, let me give you some suggestions for how to create longer blocks of time during the workday itself:

  • Do back-to-back meetings work for you? If not, how much buffer do you want/need?
  • Do you want a “no meeting day”? (Not sure? Check out my article about this.)
  • Block and prioritize the time you need daily for “actual work” (communications, projects) instead of trying to fit the work in between the meetings.
  • Theme your days (certain types of work, projects, clients on certain days), to the extent possible, to help avoid context switching.
  • If you’re a manager:
    • Move all your 1:1s back to back (with whatever buffer you need) on the same day each week.
    • Consider a block for “office hours” where you schedule any ad-hoc requests on your time.

Step 5: Rinse and repeat!

Due to the nature of meetings being additive over time, just because you’ve done the meeting audit once, doesn’t mean your calendar will stay nice and clean forever. (Sorry to break it to you!)

So, now’s the time to add a recurring task to your task system to run through the meeting audit steps every 3-6 months (whatever makes most sense to you) to help you keep your calendar in check.