What if you could eliminate meetings from just one day a week? What about two days a week? How much more productive would you be without having to dash from one conference room to another, back to back?
For Walker & Company CEO, Tristan Walker, this isn’t just a dream, it’s his hard-fought, hard-earned reality. Sitting at the helm of a beauty industry disruptor can feel like fire fighting — everyone wants you for something and there is almost always a crisis. 12 hour days are not out of the ordinary for start-up founders, well, except for Walker.
“I wake up at 6 a.m. every morning. I’m at my gym by 6:20, then I’ll feed my kid before he goes to daycare with my wife. I’m usually at the office by 8:30 a.m. and that’s when I first check email,” Walker told me. “Then I’m usually home between 6 and 6:30 p.m. every day. Every night I will feed and put my son to bed.”
Wait, huh? How does he do that?! I’m not even a CEO and I can barely set those kinds of boundaries.
Yes, “meeting-free days” — plural.
“I actually don’t have email on my phone. I don’t want to be tethered to it, so I check email when I’m in the office. Usually Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays I try to take zero meetings so I can get work done,” said Walker. “Tuesdays and Wednesdays it’s usually back-to-back-to-back meetings.”
Packing two days full of meetings is the price he pays for the three days of relatively uninterrupted work. And while you may think that this is something only a CEO can do, think again. Establishing meeting free days is something we can all do by fiercely guarding our Google calendar and making some compromises.
Before we dive into how to establish a meeting-free day, let’s take a look at the benefits. According to Walker, it’s about minimizing distractions and exercising discipline.
“I was always notoriously bad at process because I’ve always been a big-thinker kind of guy. In order to be most effective in my job, I have to really understand process. I try to be very disciplined and diligent as a leader for my team so that they can build something world class.”
Plus, it offers dedicated time for brainstorming, project execution, revisions, and perfection.
- Make the Commitment: “To start, I blocked off every Wednesday on a recurring basis on my calendar. That way, when people used my online scheduling system, Wednesday simply wasn’t an option,” writes Saunders. “Making a meeting-free day a recurring event instead of picking the day week by week increased my chances of setting boundaries and following through.”
- Retrain Others: “Discuss your strategy with close colleagues and your boss. That conversation can include why you see this as an important part of your schedule and what people can expect from you not only in terms of meetings but also in terms of communication, such as when you will (or won’t) be available on email. The goal is uninterrupted focus.”
- Pick Your Work Wisely: “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.”
- Ignore Routine Tasks and Email: “You’ll feel awkward when you first take on the meeting-free day. 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.”
Remember, establishing a meeting-free day isn’t elitist or selfish, it’s a success and survival tactic. As an employee, no matter at what level, you have to put processes and systems in place that help you do your best work. Adopting the practices of 24-7 workaholic colleagues isn’t smart, nor is trying to conform to the work style of your boss. You have to create a work style that is best for you. If you’re swamped and dread looking at your calendar of non-stop conference calls, consider a trying out meeting-free day.