In previous productivity steps we planned our work (Step 1), put systems in place to keep our people informed and in sync (Step 2), and rolled up our sleeves to get work done (Step 3). Now, we turn our attention to Step 4, Sustaining for Maximal Productivity. 

So often, we get excited about a new process but lack the tools, commitment and/or mindset to see it to completion and long-term integration. This is particularly true when there are multiple elements to it and a number of people involved. Just because we decided to become more productive and took initial action towards that end does not guarantee long-term success. (Change-management guru John P. Kotter has written that 70% of change initiatives in organizations and businesses flop. See more about managing healthy change here.) The goal of this fourth step is to empower you to keep going in the face of expected setbacks and maintain the requisite level of wellbeing required for succeeding over the long haul.

To sustain our productivity gains, we need to become more protective of our time. And perhaps the biggest time suck that we experience, from executives all the way through the organization, are meetings.

According to HBR, many executives feel overwhelmed by meetings. This is because, on average, they spend nearly 23 hours a week in them! Compounding matters is that these meetings are often ill-timed, poorly run, or both (no wonder people consider about 50% of meetings to be a complete waste of time). Some 90% of people report daydreaming in meetings, and 73% admit that they use meeting time to do other work.

We all get sucked into meetings that we don’t want to attend or conversations that offer little upside. To be productive and energized over time, we need to be able to learn to say no to as many non-critical meetings as possible. This will obviously require tact. But you always need to keep a few key considerations in front of you. 

  1. Your time is your most precious asset. It must be guarded carefully. 
  2. If you allow yourself to be pulled into unimportant meetings, you will lose critical time needed to advance important tasks. 
  3. People who think that you are available all the time will start to devalue you (if they haven’t already.) 

Here are some strategies to help you decide if you should decline a meeting.

  1. Block out your calendar – Prevent people from commandeering your calendar by blocking out time to do your most important work and marking yourself as unavailable. 
  2. Ask for an agenda – It’s fair and reasonable to ask to see what the meeting will focus on before committing to attending. At the least, doing so will likely ensure that the meeting has a clearer purpose and is more efficiently run than it otherwise would have been.
  3. Suggest alternatives – Sometimes, a memo, quick conference / Zoom call, or one-on-one discussion can take the place of a formal meeting.
  4. Be visible and contribute early on – If you do have to attend a meeting but want to be able to exit quickly, make sure that your presence is felt early on. Make a strategic comment or contribution that will etch in others’ minds that you were present, in body and mind. It’s also wise to inform the organizer in advance that you may leave early due to a conflict or other commitments.  

The need to protect your most valuable resources, time and energy, sits at the core of a time management framework called “The ‘4 D’s’ of Time Management.” In this framework, each “D” refers to a different reaction to a possible project, depending on its importance, urgency and other considerations. You might recognize the 4 D’s as part of the Eisenhower Matrix, which is based on how urgent and important each task is.

  1. Do it – These tasks that are both urgent and important, such as a time-sensitive customer request or a looming deadline. This also includes knocking out 2-minute tasks, those tasks that can be done quickly without railroading other work.
  2. Defer (or Plan) it – We should defer (as in properly plan for) tasks that are important but not urgent. These things need to get done but can delayed until a later time and perhaps date. A meeting with a sales associate, for example, may be able to wait until the upcoming team meeting that’s already been scheduled (with the 1:1 occurring beforehand). This is also where your strategic and visionary pieces fit.
  3. Delegate it – This is for a task that is somewhat time sensitive (urgent) but can and should be handled by someone else (not important for you specifically to do). An example would be delegating the process of identifying, ordering, and installing a new collaboration software. You are ultimately responsible to get this done, but you have chosen to delegate the primary research and leg work to an associate.
  4. Delete (or Eliminate) it – Something that is neither urgent nor important, such as some of the email in your inbox, should be immediately deleted and given no time or attention.

In subsequent articles, we will continue to focus on ways to sustain our productivity gains so that we continue to achieve long into the future. 

Naphtali Hoff, PsyD, is an executive coach who helps busy leaders be more productive so that they can scale profits with less stress and get home at a decent hour. Register for his free productivity webinar at

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