With summer fading and only a few weeks before the new academic year, University leaders may be experiencing mixed emotions.
It’s tough at the top of universities. From stories about VC pay to news of declining overseas students and reports of EU research funding slowing – there is a lot to be concerned about.
But it’s often rather more mundane issues that fill leaders with dread, such as…
As you look ahead to September and October, does your heart sink as you see day after day already booked up with meetings? Will the pace will be relentless until Xmas? Days of back to back meetings followed by evenings catching up on emails?
Are you thinking “There is nothing I can do except knuckle down and get on with it and hope I last to Christmas.”?
Stop! You are the leader. If you can’t change if who can?
Forget new year’s resolutions in January, this is the time of year that leaders in education have the best chance of changing things and if you don’t change things now then you can forget it later in the academic year. After all it doesn’t get less busy as the year goes on does it?
If you are dreading your diary then chances are your colleagues are too so you can, as a leader, help them as well. All of you are losing essential thinking time through diary pressures and you must take control.
Try this five-step process. If you have a PA, share this with them and work together on it:
Step 1: Decide to take control.
You are the leader. Meetings only get in your diary because you say yes to them or at least don’t say no! You may have a PA or Exec Officer who is able to book things in your diary, but ultimately they are only putting in things that you are saying yes to or, more often, not saying no to. Talk to your PA and let them help you to take control. They will probably be relieved and delighted that you are doing this. They may have been trying to tell you to do so for some time.
Step 2: Prioritise.
Print off your diary and get the coloured pens out. Red meetings are essential – you would (or should) lose your job if you didn’t go. Amber meetings are quite important but you could miss the odd one and delegate it to someone else providing they consulted you beforehand and reported to you afterward. Green meetings are good to go to but not essential. Blue meetings are a waste of your time and you don’t know why it’s in the diary.
Make any meeting without an agenda automatically a blue and refuse to go to it until you have an agenda and a clear purpose. Be tough on yourself. Are you really needed? What would happen if you didn’t go or if the meeting didn’t happen?
Cancel all blue meetings. Cut down green meetings severely, cut half of the amber meetings and keep the red meetings. Share your decisions with your PA if you have one. They are likely to be tougher than you.
Step 3: Reduce.
Reduce the time allocated to every meeting in your diary. Make all 1 hour meetings 45 minutes or even 30 minutes and see what happens. Meetings tend to fill whatever time you allocate to them and shortening the slot can force us all to focus our time and make decisions faster. Many of us are simply in the habit of booking one hour meeting slots – who said it has to be that way?
Step 4: Phone.
Consider whether any of the meetings could become phone calls. What could be discussed in 15 minutes on the phone might become 45 minutes if a face to face meeting is booked in. Clearly some things are better discussed in person but many of us have the tendency to make something which could easily be handled in a phone call into a meeting. Try picking up the phone far more often – people like to hear from the leader in this intimate way too.
Step 5: Protect time.
Once you have been through these steps then you will have gaps in your diary. Immediately block these out if they were a meeting and label them thinking time. Thinking time is not a luxury, it’s essential if you are to be a good, healthy leader.
With these 5 steps you can take back control of your diary and gain invaluable thinking time. Remember, do what no-one else but you as leader can do – don’t waste the time sitting in meetings that don’t move the organisation forward. Halpin works with leaders and their PAs to redesign their diaires and their working lives. Contact us if we can help.
The things University leaders dread most about the new academic year. Part 1. Their diaries.