The Tyranny of Outlook

Last week, as I rushed, apologetically, to start a meeting five minutes late, the person with whom I was meeting nodded knowingly and said, “hey, it’s OK.  That’s the tyranny of Outlook.”

Thank goodness for a bit of perspective.

As I reflect on the ineffectiveness of trying to transition from one meeting to the next in a matter of seconds, I’m contemplating a different approach.  One idea is to schedule all of my meetings to start at 10 past the hour.  (I think this would work better than scheduling them to end 10 minutes before the hour, because then they’d just run over).  10 minutes to shift gears, or to prepare, to take a step back, and also not to run late.

Manually retooling each outlook meeting would create more work, and it would probably take a while to explain to everyone that I’m serious that I really want to start at 10:10 (or, more importantly, 4:10).  Most important would be my holding up my end of the bargain by being on time for 95% of the meetings.

Has anyone out there tried these sorts of scheduling hacks?  What have you learned?

5 thoughts on “The Tyranny of Outlook

  1. Hmm, if you’re using a tool that forces you to schedule meetings at certain times, perhaps you’re not using the best tool.

    Anyway, my approach to this very real issue is two-fold.

    First, make sure you’ve scheduled breaks between meetings. This article goes into more detail:

    Second, once workable breaks are in place, obtain agreement on a groundrule about starting and ending meetings on time. (Sure, you can’t impose this on outside attendees but at least your people will be there.)

    If you want to focus attention on the time a meeting is supposed to start it’s better to choose a wacky time like 9:07. That’s great for a one-off, but the novelty will wear off over time. The two steps above will yield better results.

  2. My strategy has always been to schedule the “wacky time” that Adrian suggests. But Adrian’s right, the novelty does wear off. Integrity with myself and others during the scheduling process AND when it’s time to begin and end meetings is the only thing that can be sustained over time.

  3. @DanMezick’s book The Culture Game ( goes into some of these meeting hacks in detail.

    But overall, giving in to the “tyranny of outlook’ is a recipe for ineffectiveness, both at a personal and an organizational level. We all need space to process, reflect, & follow-up after any meeting worth having.

    In Google Calendar, there is a “Speedy Meeting” setting that defaults half-hour meetings to 25 minutes and hour meetings to 50 minutes. This works in theory, but in practice there is some real effort required to make any meeting effective:

    First, as you mention, there has to be a “we will end this meeting on time” conversation. Second, a meeting purpose & outcome should be agreed to in advance of the meeting. This shouldn’t be hard, but I still find myself saying “yes” to meeting invites with vague subjects! Finally, take 5 to 10 minutes after each meeting to capture a quick summary (Evernote!) with any insights, action items, or explicit next steps and send it to everyone in the meeting. The sooner after the meeting the better.

    Some days I’m good about this, some days… wait, I’m late for a meeting!

  4. I am lucky enough not to have a real job that requires scheduling meetings, in Outlook or any other tool (although my husband & I share Google calendar, and that’s incredibly limited to only starting events on the half-hours). But after 13 years of marriage, I have fully embraced what my husband calls “Transition Time”. It used to mystify me that he couldn’t end one task and immediately start another like (ahem) me. But his need for at least 10, usually 15, minutes of “transition time” between EVERYTHING has allowed me to better plan for our family AND all of the event planning I do.
    For years, I have planned large-group retreats and they have always run perfectly on time because I’ve always accounted for 15-30 minutes of Transition Time between every speaker, meal, break, etc. People always tell me how relaxed, yet ordered, unhurried, yet structured, these retreats are. It’s not that I am an exemplar Type A event planner. The secret is all in Transition Time. It is magic, and I have my husband to thank for it.
    I would imagine that Transition Time would be helpful for any business person as well! Can’t wait to hear how you figure this out.

  5. I’ve recently instituted 45 minute meetings in place on one hour and I have them start at 15 past the hour. I didn’t find myself explaining the timing explicitly – it helps on both ends as folks tend to run 5-10 minutes late and that then puts you in the vicious cycle of being late for your next meeting, etc. It’s working a lot better as its forces both parties to be more focused on the highest priority items. It’s helpful to have the 15 minutes after or before a meeting to do those little things like grab some water, use the restroom, jot down a couple of to do’s or even take care of any of the 2 minute follow ups that can then fall to the bottom of the to do list. I’m also experimenting with 30 minute meetings…you can cover a lot of ground in 30 minutes. I think our most recent call was 30 minutes and it was def productive! 🙂 It’s only been a couple of months…but it’s helping a lot!

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