No Time for Your People? How to Create More Space in Your Day: Ask Madeleine

Important date or concept for busy day being overworkedDear Madeleine,

About 80% of my work day is spent in meetings.

I’ve got no time to regularly connect with my staff of 15, although I know it would be beneficial.

Can you suggest what I might do?

No Time



Dear No Time,

Boy, as someone who has spent the last twenty years in a corporate environment, I can really sympathize with your dilemma. It looks like you have two problems: a meeting-choked schedule and a high number of direct reports.

Your Meeting Situation

Let’s tackle the meetings first. I have a couple of suggestions:

  1. Change the meeting situation in your organization
  2. Change the way you deal with meetings

If you think of meetings as time wasters, you’re not alone—many people in organizations share your complaint. Patrick Lencioni covers the topic of painful meetings in his book Death By Meeting. You can read how he analyzes different types of meetings here on his website.

Death-By-MeetingBut, collectively, we all have created this problem. Consider becoming a voice for change—and change the way meetings are conducted in your organization. Push for clearer, more disciplined agendas as well as shorter time frames. Change project updates and problem solving meetings to Blackjacks—meetings that last a maximum of 21 minutes.

When you facilitate these meetings, either require that everyone stand, or make them bi-weekly, or both. Set a goal to reduce your meeting time percentage from 80% of your day to 25%—the average in organizations.

On the second point; Review the meetings you are attending. Do you really need to be at all of them? Which ones are you multitasking through? This is a clue.

You have 15 people reporting to you. Can any of these people attend some meetings on your behalf and email you a four-line summary of what you need to know? This will reduce the time you spend in meetings and serve to develop your people by helping them to build new relationships and expand their own knowledge base. 

Your High Number of Direct Reports

Fifteen direct reports is a lot. In some environments, the more direct reports you have, the more perceived power you have. In others, a huge crew is simply a burden—especially if you are expected to develop and grow your people. A quick review of the blogosphere (okay, I know this is not exactly scientific, but I am mixing it with 25 years of experience as an executive coach) reveals that the ideal number of direct reports is between 7 and 9. This will make sense when you consider the next point.

At The Ken Blanchard Companies we advocate that all managers meet with their direct reports weekly—or, at a bare minimum, bi-weekly. These meetings should be driven by the direct reports; i.e., they craft the agenda and come prepared to get what they need from you. More on this topic here.

In closing, it’s important for you to see your time as a limited resource. The more senior you become in your organization, the more you will need to do a brutal cost/benefit analysis of how you spend your time. Take a look at your meeting situation. Are there areas where you could save time? Take a look at your current number of direct reports. Does the size of your staff affect your ability to really devote the time necessary to direct and support your team members’ success? Remember that their success is critical to your success—and to that of your organization.

Perhaps now is the time to take control of your daily calendar so that you have more time for your people. I’d be willing to bet that you—and your direct reports—will notice a positive difference right away.

About the author

Madeleine Blanchard

Madeleine Homan-Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!

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