Time is one of the things we unfortunately can’t get more of.
As the amount of information we have to deal with is accelerating, our time seems to be shrinking.
Here are 12 ways for giving back, and being respectful of, other people’s time:
1. Schedule shorter calls and meetings
We have written here before about calendar management. One of the ways that time gets wasted is by booking more time for meetings than necessary.
For example, Google calendar and other booking tools often default to 1 hour. That’s a really big chunk of time and is rarely necessary.
By default, schedule 10-15 minute calls, and 20-30 minute in-person meetings. Having shorter periods of time makes people skip small talk and get straight to the point.
This makes conversations amazingly productive and people don’t feel like you are wasting their time.
2. Book less time initially, go deeper as necessary
Always start by booking a short discovery meeting instead of a long one. Get on the same page, identify key issues, and schedule follow ups.
With this approach you accomplish several things – first, everyone is on the same page about the scope of the problem and the big picture.
Secondly, you figure out separate follow ups that need to be done and schedule additional meetings as needed. No time is wasted, and everyone is feeling productive.
3. Try to discuss one topic per meeting
A lot of meetings meander because people move from topic to topic. Try to have a rule of one topic per meeting. If you can get into a habit of doing this, you will be very productive.
Need to discuss multiple topics? Break them into separate, shorter meetings.
With this strategy, it is a lot easier to stay focused, reach a conclusion, and come up with the next steps.
Here is a system that I’ve been using for holding office hours at Techstars that works remarkably well. Divide a chunk of your calendar into time slots of 20 minutes each, and allow people to book you for 20, 40, or 60 minutes.
The key — only 1 topic is allowed regardless of how much time is booked, so it is up to whoever is booking to think through how much time is needed.
4. Always have an agenda, and plan time per topic
For most internal meetings you can actually have 1 topic per meeting, but this strategy doesn’t work with, for example, board meetings.
In the event you must have a longer meeting, set the agenda and set the time allowed to discuss each topic on the agenda.
Unless you do that there is a chance that a topic will drag on and you will never get to other topics. As a result the whole meeting may run over, and attendees may leave feeling unproductive.
If you are out of time, sum up the takeaways and schedule a follow up. Don’t spend more time than you are budgeted.
5. Prepare and send materials in advance
Meetings are remarkably unproductive when people aren’t prepared.
Getting everyone prepared is difficult, because it involves asking for more time.
For example, if you are running a board meeting, it is much better to send materials ahead of time so that the board members have time to review.
Another great strategy that Jeff Bezos introduced at Amazon is to set aside time at the beginning of the meeting to review the materials. Either way, people need to invest more time to prepare to be productive in the meeting.
It is also helpful to ask people to write stuff down ahead of time. This way everyone can think things through and really prepare. The culture of writing things down is an effective tool, and helps avoid wasting time.
6. Summarize each meeting, and next steps
Set aside the last 5 minutes of the meeting to summarize what was said, and map out the next steps. Unless you do this, people will walk away from the meeting without a sense of progress and with the sense that time was wasted.
If there is a follow-up meeting, be clear on what the topic / agenda will be and who is responsible, and communicate this to everyone. This way people will feel engaged, have a positive attitude, and feel like the team is making progress instead of feeling like their time was wasted.
7. End calls and meetings early and give time back
One of the most wonderful things you can do during a meeting or a call is to end it early.
If there is nothing to discuss, if you got through everything, then wrap it up. Say, “We are done, I am giving you (however many) minutes back.”
Get into the habit of doing that and people will LOVE you.
I make a point of repeating this a lot during the Techstars program – I am giving you time back. I am respectful of and grateful for your time. By doing so, I hope that founders will start respecting their time, my time, and other people’s time more.
8. Don’t be late
This is an obvious one, but it is important.
People who are constantly late aren’t aware that they waste other people’s time. There is no situation or reason why this would be okay.
If you happen to be late, always apologize and make it clear that you respect the other person’s time. This may seem like a small thing, but it really matters.
9. Don’t cancel or reschedule last minute
Another pet peeve is cancelling the meeting last minute or on the same day. I am guilty of doing this a few times myself, and it is really bad.
Canceling last minute is especially unacceptable if the person has to travel to meet with you, because you have just potentially wasted hours of their time.
If the meeting is a call or a Google hangout, cancelling last minute isn’t ideal, but is not as bad, since technically you are giving the person time back. Still, it is not great because it throws people’s plans and routine off.
10. Don’t ask for last-minute meetings
I’ve written a whole post about this topic. When you ping people last minute and ask to meet, it creates a bad vibe.
First of all, people most likely already have plans, so by reaching out to them last minute, you are implying that they aren’t busy.
More importantly, these unplanned meetings are rarely as productive. This is particularly true if the meeting is meant to be a working session, or there are specific asks. Last- minute meetings aren’t great because the other person doesn’t have the context and isn’t prepared.
11. Send less email
Email is a beast. The more of it you send, the more of it you get.
Just making a bit of an effort to reduce the volume will help others and yourself stay organized. See what you can cut out, and see what doesn’t need a reply.
Most importantly, quickly move people to bcc when it makes sense, and avoid unnecessarily cc-ing people on your emails. Those add up to a massive waste of time.
12. Use asynchronous communication and Google more
While Slack and texting are great in some respects, they cause constant context switching.
The loss of context is super costly, because after the interruption, people have to get back to what they were doing and that takes time.
Before sending a text, ask yourself, do I really have to ask this question? Can you find the answer on Google or internal docs?
If you do have to ask a question, how urgent is it? Does it need to be immediate? If not, use asynchronous communication channels, such as email or tools like Voxer.
Be mindful of interruptions; they are total productivity killers and causes of stress.
And now, please share with us your productivity tips and ways you help others save time.
Engineer, Immigrant. Vegan. 3x Founder, Managing Partner @2048vc. Previously ran @techstars in NYC. I write #startuphacks: http://alexiskold.net .