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Looking back at corporate life, it becomes apparent: I don’t miss meetings.
One recruiter I encountered left me with a moment I will never forget. They reached out to me on LinkedIn. They wanted to catch up for coffee to talk about how I could help them with their business. They knew many of my closest friends, so I decided to say yes.
What followed is bizarre.
They introduced their personal assistant (the ultimate sign of privilege). We went back and forth trying to find a time. It became exhausting.
“He can’t do all of next week. Actually he’s booked the week after too. Let’s try for four weeks.”
I scheduled and prayed for the meeting to go ahead like a good little productivity nerd. The day came. One hour before I get a phone call. “He’s had something come up and has to reschedule.”
We do the dance again to find more time. We get another slot. The time comes … and guess what? Emergency board meeting. I scheduled the meeting with his PA one last time (three’s a charm). It got to the day. I was nervous. I had to travel on a packed train to his office. I got there. The walls were pretentiously mahogany. The waiting room furniture was trying to make a loud statement. My Ikea programmed brain didn’t see the big deal.
The man in the penguin suit finally arrives, fashionably late of course (to show status). We walk to his office. It’s not an office. It’s a room larger than my entire apartment that overlooks the city.
“I work in finance and like writing,” I said.
What came next was a lecture about how big his house was, the new Porsche he bought, and how he spends a lot of late nights in the office. Thankfully, he says, he “married the right one” who lets him remain endlessly busy.
He wears busyness as a badge. He’s insanely proud of living a life in back-to-back meetings.
“People really struggle to get meetings with me. That’s when you know your time is valuable.”
After the long-winded intros, the meeting time is up. His PA rudely interrupts the meeting to whisk him off to another meeting. It requires a round two. While the conversation put me to sleep, the promise of an opportunity I would want to hear about made me curious, so I agreed to a second meeting.
I did the scheduling dance again with his PA. We canceled several times. The meeting never happened. I gave up from scheduling exhaustion, caused by the busyness pandemic.
It’s too hard to do business with busy people. They’re too busy to get anything done, therefore the outcome will never be reached. Save yourself.
The Buddha’s empty calendar
My former boss is the opposite. Bank bosses are supposed to be busy — not him. I called him Buddha because he refused to be busy and always sounded chill. You could attempt to place an appointment in his calendar and it would mostly be empty. Even if he had a meeting, he was always happy to look at dropping out.
The trick he used was cool: if he didn’t want to attend a big-wig meeting then he would simply send a junior like me in his place. Our team was represented, and I got exposure to more responsibility and senior stakeholders I’d normally never get to meet.
The coolest part is, because his calendar was always quiet, you could have coffee with him at will to talk about life. He would sit there and listen. It’s no wonder he became a sought-after leader. People heard stories of his leadership and were lining up to work for him. I got to work for him. It wasn’t like working for him though. It was more like a partnership where you always felt important, and his calendar made you feel like it.
His ad hoc calendar set him free. It gave him time to think. His creativity levels were through the roof. He’d be given the most impossible business problems to solve and find a way. People would ask, “how’d you do it?”
Only I knew his secret: an empty calendar that gives him time to think.
Bragging about a calendar full of meetings is a tragedy
You’ve met people like old mate recruiter in the intro. They brag about how busy they are. They spend time telling you they’re busy when they’re, well, supposed to be busy.
Most of the time they’re not busy at all. They just love the illusion of being busy. Busy makes them feel important. Busy says, “my parent’s lack of love towards me as a child is okay because now I matter and my calendar says so.”
Busy is covering up for a deeper problem. Busy is insecurity. Busy is a fear of facing the truth. I became busy when my health spiraled out of control. Being busy in meetings helped me to block out the noise in my head that made it feel like I couldn’t trust gravity to keep me on solid ground.
Bragging about being busy is silly. Busyness produces less results, not more. Meetings are the worst form of productivity. The “doing” gets done outside of meetings. Doing happens when you have time to think.
Doers schedule thinking.
Praise empty calendars
Let’s not forget productivity is about getting the right things done. Your calendar doesn’t reflect your results in life.
Bragging about being busy is a disease that covers up the real problem: a poor understanding of what matters in life.
Outcomes matter. Time to think matters. And time with your family is fundamental for a happy life. A lot of meetings can be cancelled. Meetings can become emails or 1-1 phone calls. Or, like my former boss, you can use meetings as a way to train future leaders and to expose them to new ideas.
A back-to-back calendar uncovers a leader who is lost. People with time on their calendar solve the real problems, have time to think, and inspire others.
Say no to more meetings by saying, “I’m planning on sitting this one out.” It works like a Houdini death-defying escape trick. Most people will never question you after that phrase. If you are questioned, treat it like a hostage negotiation.
The win rate to get out of meetings is higher than you think. When you do, your productivity comes back and your calendar becomes free.