Updated: Apr 25, 2019
Batching Days: Designated days each week that are assigned to focus on specific projects or tasks.
Timeboxing: A designated and fixed time period allocated to complete specific tasks or planned activities.
Whenever I teach these two productivity and time management hacks for Executive Assistants and their executive business partners, the most consistent response is "This is impossible!" Usually, when an EA makes that statement they simply don't know that they can control the process and determine the most efficient use of their executive's time.
Each time I hear an Executive Assistant make that statement, my response goes something like this. "I would like to challenge your thinking on that a bit. Why is it impossible?"
Do you own the calendar? Yes.
Do you decide what happens when and what meetings are high and low priority? Yes.
Do you manage the calendar and decide what goes where? Yes.
"Okay, so help me understand why is it impossible?"
I have said it before, but it bears repeating. As Executive Administrators, you own the calendar, but you have to be intentional in your calendar management. Only you have the power to effect real change in time and meeting management. The concept of timeboxing or batching is not a one size fits all fix and it has to be flexible, but establishing the structure makes the difference. You can implement changes that will revolutionize how your executive partner works and that will ultimately impact the broader organization! If you don't think it is possible or that you have the ownership or power to make the necessary changes, then it won't be. If you decide that you are willing to be an agent of change, you can and will revolutionize your team and increase productivity across your organization. Trust me when I say that everyone is thinking the same thing when comes to meeting culture, but the difference is that you are the key to actually making it happen. That puts you in a unique position as a strategic business partner and a vital asset to the business.
"How many hours in a week should be focused solely on the business with no meetings?"
Most people answer this question about the same. They all start at 20 hours a week, but that just seems crazy to them. They go down to 10 hours, but that too feels like a luxury. So, they settle at 1 or 2 hours a day - if they are lucky! What just happened? Well, they just crumbled under the hopeless weight of the meeting culture and gave up on having the power to change it. They might not have the power to impact the overall company meeting culture, but as EAs we do.
We have access they don't have. We have influence they don't have. And again, we literally own the tool that is making their work life miserable.
Recently, I started supporting a new executive, and after taking time to analyze his calendar, I suggested that we start batching his days. At first, he looked at me and said "That would be amazing. Can you do that"? I couldn't help but laugh. Yes, of course, I can do that. Now, it was going to take effort, and it was going to be a change for the organization, but it was what was best for my executive business partner and the organization, so I set the wheels in motion. How did I do that? I am so glad you asked.
Here are the three ways to begin implementing batching days and timeboxing for your executive business partner.
Find out what how they would like to have their ideal week structured. This might take some time - your executive business partner probably never considered the possibility of intentional meeting management. Next, take time to sketch out what the week would look like and how you can re-organize the calendar. Then meet again and show them the new weekly structure. It is critical to get them on-board in the adoption phase, so make sure to get them invested. This might look different depending on where they are in the org chart. If they are in the C-Suite, then these changes might have a more significant impact (which is terrific), but if not you can still use this concept to make the necessary changes that will make a positive impact on the team.
If you a C-Suite level Executive Assistant then you hold the ultimate key to this change. All organizations cascade information from the head down. Pull your EA team together and discuss how you are going to create an intentional meeting culture. Does the CEO's staff meeting need to move forward in the week so the rest of the org can cascade the information down to their teams? How can you align and synchronize calendars from the top down so that things can flow well together? If not, then schedule the time to meet with your administrative team and discuss how you will work around the conflicts that you cannot control. Afterward, explain the process with your executive business partner at your next 1:1 meeting and get their input. Finally, decide on a process to implement and communicate the new meeting process or cadence to your teams. In case you were wondering, I did just suggest that you get out of your silo and speak with the other EA's on your team and strategically plan out your company meeting culture together. If that doesn't qualify you a strategic business partner, then I don't know what does!
Most teams are thrilled at the idea of having more time to work and less time in meetings. Engage them and keep them in the loop as you are working through the process and then communicate to them during your staff meeting on how the executive's calendar will be managed. Encourage them to do the same with their own schedules and discuss how you are going to change the culture collectively. As many times as I have had these conversations, I have never had anyone who pushed back on this. Why? Because everyone is wishing someone would finally make the meetings madness just stop. Throughout the process, I am engaging them and asking for input (read input, not demands) and they understand that effective calendar management at the top means effective calendar management where they are. Instead of getting pushed back, I generally just get flowers. Either that or the world's longest hugs.
I have been teaching this for years, so I have a lot to say on the subject! I could keep going, but I am going to leave it here for now.
Curious on how I use timeboxing? Check out my YouTube video on how I organize my week.