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Could a meeting free day boost productivity?

An article published in Harvard Business Review suggests that tweaking your schedule to include one meeting-free day per week can help you to stay on task and even boost productivity – not just on the one day, but over the course of the week.

Writer Elizabeth Saunders notes that the meetings themselves aren’t the only interrupting part of the day. Rather, you have to consider that you typically have to wind down a task 10 or so minutes ahead of the meeting, as well as potentially prep for the meeting; attend the actual meeting (and we all know how long those can go!); and then spend the 15-30 minutes following the meeting to tie up loose ends and get yourself back on track with your own projects.

By giving yourself one meeting-free day per week, you reduce what she dubs “context-switching” and instead just work. 

In order to successfully implement this strategy, she recommends the following four steps:

1) Make a commitment: In the beginning, it feels cumbersome and awkward to just say no to meetings on a particular day, especially if you – or the people you meet with – have a tight schedule. However, Saunders recommends committing to the day that you have chosen by blocking off the whole day on any publically-available calendars or by telling people that it simply isn’t an option for you.

2) Retrain others: In order to really carve out the day, you’re going to let the people closest to you know what you are doing. That means looping in your boss, as well as your colleagues. Saunders warns that some people will respect your plan, while others won’t, or simply will fail to understand what you are doing. She notes that sometimes, on very rare occasions, you will have to break your own rule – such as if a boss who is supportive of your choice still requests a meeting on that day – but for the most part, it will be up to you to gently remind others of your policy and stick to your guns.

3) Pick your work wisely: Saunders notes that “you’ll get the most out of your meeting-free day when you use it for the right type of work. Work on projects that require focus and high-level thinking, such as writing, strategic thinking, analysis, coding, designing, or a project with a lot of complexity.” This typically means picking a big, involved project that you’re working on, as opposed to using the day to knock out the shorter items on our to-do list. As she notes, “the goal is to have the urgent wait as you make room for the important.”

4) Ignore your email: As part of the meeting free day, Saunders suggests taking it one step further and also planning to zone out of email, save for perhaps checking it when you first get into the office and a few minutes before you plan to leave. She notes that “there may be some initial discomfort at ignoring or delaying emails and daily tasks so you can focus on your planned project. But once you get in the groove and realize how great it feels to get so much done, it will get easier.”

Despite the pros associated with such a plan, Saunders notes that a meeting-free day isn’t the best option for everyone. For example, those who have trouble staying on task, tend to get bored easily or just can’t focus for whatever reason, a meeting-free day will actually be counterproductive as they are more likely to use their time to procrastinate because they don’t have natural deadlines during their day. Further, extroverted folks are more likely to feel the need for social stimulation, and will thus spin their wheels on social media or simply strike up conversations with colleagues.

Do you think a meeting-free day would work for you? Let us know in the comments.


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