How to stretch your workday by 20%

Is the executive leader you support especially busy? Does that leader not have time to attend all the meetings they’re supposed to participate in? I have some insights for you.

Hi, I’m Peter Nichol, Data Science CIO.

One of the challenges we all experience is that we’re over-committed. We have too many meetings and too many things to do, and there are only so many hours in the day to get all those tasks completed.

One of the techniques I used just last week was to optimize my supervisor’s time by reviewing our communication model’s effectiveness; i.e., I assessed the meetings we attend. Often, we step into new teams, or we’re on a team, and we assume the status quo is acceptable. There are X number of meetings we have to attend. We don’t look at optimizing our communications. We’re too busy running from meeting to meeting.

It’s a wise idea, every so often—whether that’s monthly or quarterly—to assess the meetings you’re participating in. Ask yourself if you’re making decisions in those meetings, or would an email suffice. Is it possible that sending out an email update would generate similar awareness to attending a meeting? Ask yourself, “Am I required to be at this meeting because I’m making active decisions?”

One technique I developed over the years is to continually reassess my communication effectiveness and the effectiveness of meetings for executives I support.

  1. Start by making a list of all the meetings that your supervisor (CFO, CIO, CTO) attends in which you’re also in attendance. There may be 20 or 30 meetings per week that both you and your supervisor jointly attend. It’s probably not required that you both attend every one of these meetings.
  2. Make a list of who’s usually in attendance at these meetings and identify who’s making decisions.
  3. Then, classify these meetings into two groups: Group A meetings are meetings that the supervisor must attend. Group B meetings are meetings you can take over and provide updates in writing post-meeting. This follow-up could be in the form of a simple, bulleted email or be more formal, such as complete meeting minutes. The goal is to alleviate the burden of that leader by attending some or all of these meetings.

Taking this approach has two main benefits. First, it elevates your role in the environment and offers you some additional visibility as you attend these executive-level discussions. Secondarily, it helps free your supervisor from attending non-value-added meetings.

After making a list of meetings, I discovered there were almost 25 meetings that my supervisor and I both attended. Many discussions were deemed to be necessary and couldn’t be flat-out canceled. Each one of these was a meeting in which decisions were being made. However, after a more detailed analysis, I discovered that we didn’t both need to attend every meeting.

As a result of that analysis, I was able to offload most of those meetings from my supervisor. I then quantified how many meetings occur, whether they’re weekly, daily, bi-weekly, monthly, or whatever, and started to total up those meetings. The result was I had a common denominator of how many total meetings we had that overlapped. Then I took all the meetings and calculated the monthly time that each one consumed. This created an “hours per month” metric that was common and relatively generic. This allowed me to quantify and compare apples to apples in terms of savings and, ultimately, the hours avoided.

Maybe you can’t free up the supervisor’s time for all the meetings you both jointly attend. However, if you could eliminate even half of those meetings and free up 15 or 20 hours a week, that’s almost 50% of the time. Maybe, you’re unable to gain that degree of efficiency, and you’re not avoiding 20 hours a week; perhaps it’s more like 20 hours a month. Even so, that’s a lot of freed-up time for an executive to use to focus on more strategic initiatives. This enables the leader to spend more time planning, thinking, and being more strategic. If your supervisor isn’t in the weeds, they’re going to be thinking ahead and removing roadblocks for your department.

Interested in an example of how these concepts are applied? Here are the before-and-after results of an exercise I conducted recently with a senior leader:

The facts

  • 28 meetings analyzed
  • 12.78 average people in each meeting
  • 2-41: the range of meeting attendees
  • 24 total meetings monthly
  • 42.4 hours in meetings monthly

The results

  • 12 total meetings avoided monthly
  • 32.4 total hours avoided monthly
  • 50.0% of meetings avoided
  • 76.4% of hours avoided
  • 144 total meetings avoided annually
  • 388.8 total hours avoided annually
  • $58,320 in cost avoided annually

As you jump into the new week, start by reflecting on the communication styles you’ve enabled, and count the meetings you’re attending each week. Think for a second, and ask yourself, “Am I needed in this meeting? Are there meetings my supervisor and I both attend that I could pick up to make his life or her life a little bit easier?”

Hi, I’m Peter Nichol, Data Science CIO. Have a great week!

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Peter is a technology executive with over 20 years of experience, dedicated to driving innovation, digital transformation, leadership, and data in business. He helps organizations connect strategy to execution to maximize company performance. He has been recognized for Digital Innovation by CIO 100, MIT Sloan, Computerworld, and the Project Management Institute. As Managing Director at OROCA Innovations, Peter leads the CXO advisory services practice, driving digital strategies. Peter was honored as an MIT Sloan CIO Leadership Award Finalist in 2015 and is a regular contributor to on innovation. Peter has led businesses through complex changes, including the adoption of data-first approaches for portfolio management, lean six sigma for operational excellence, departmental transformations, process improvements, maximizing team performance, designing new IT operating models, digitizing platforms, leading large-scale mission-critical technology deployments, product management, agile methodologies, and building high-performance teams. As Chief Information Officer, Peter was responsible for Connecticut’s Health Insurance Exchange’s (HIX) industry-leading digital platform transforming consumerism and retail-oriented services for the health insurance industry. Peter championed the Connecticut marketplace digital implementation with a transformational cloud-based SaaS platform and mobile application recognized as a 2014 PMI Project of the Year Award finalist, CIO 100, and awards for best digital services, API, and platform. He also received a lifetime achievement award for leadership and digital transformation, honored as a 2016 Computerworld Premier 100 IT Leader. Peter is the author of Learning Intelligence: Expand Thinking. Absorb Alternative. Unlock Possibilities (2017), which Marshall Goldsmith, author of the New York Times No. 1 bestseller Triggers, calls "a must-read for any leader wanting to compete in the innovation-powered landscape of today." Peter also authored The Power of Blockchain for Healthcare: How Blockchain Will Ignite The Future of Healthcare (2017), the first book to explore the vast opportunities for blockchain to transform the patient experience. Peter has a B.S. in C.I.S from Bentley University and an MBA from Quinnipiac University, where he graduated Summa Cum Laude. He earned his PMP® in 2001 and is a certified Six Sigma Master Black Belt, Masters in Business Relationship Management (MBRM) and Certified Scrum Master. As a Commercial Rated Aviation Pilot and Master Scuba Diver, Peter understands first hand, how to anticipate change and lead boldly.