Meetings are an inevitable part of most workplaces. While meetings can be useful for collaboration, planning, and decision-making, they also take time away from other important work tasks. For many professionals, meetings make it challenging to find enough uninterrupted time to complete projects and other to-do list items. However, with some strategic planning, it is possible to get things done between meetings.
Today we will explore how to be productive with your to-do list when you have frequent meetings and provide examples and additional tips for prioritizing your tasks, breaking down projects, scheduling work time, and staying focused when you do have time between meetings. With some thoughtful preparation and time management, you can avoid constantly pushing tasks to another day and still find opportunities to make progress on your goals.
Getting Stuff Done When You Have Lots of Meetings
Here is some practical advice for professionals who struggle to complete their to-do lists and other important tasks because they spend so much time in meetings. While meetings are unavoidable in most jobs, you should not wait for the perfect, uninterrupted work day to get things done.
Instead, try the following:
Break larger tasks down into smaller, manageable pieces that can be tackled between meetings.
Proactively schedule blocks of work time into your calendar for project tasks. Try to protect these blocks as much as possible.
Prioritize your tasks so you know what to focus on during any time you have between meetings.
Don't let meetings entirely sabotage your productivity. With strategic planning, you can still make progress.
By approaching your to-do list in this more incremental, planned manner, you can avoid feeling like meetings derail your ability to get things done.
Expanding on Key Strategies
Professionals who want to improve their productivity between meetings should consider the following:
Schedule Work Time Strategically
Block off longer stretches of time for tasks that require deeper focus. For example, schedule 2-3 hour blocks for working on a complex report or presentation.
Take advantage of parts of the day when you tend to be most productive, like first thing in the morning.
Schedule work time right before/after meetings you already have booked.
Cluster meetings together to create longer stretches of open time on your calendar.
Rank your tasks by importance and deadline to focus on top priorities first.
Within a project, start with steps that will have the biggest impact.
Schedule time-consuming tasks for when you have longer open blocks.
Be willing to reschedule lower priority tasks if needed.
Get a Head Start
Try to get the ball rolling on projects even if you only have 15 minutes. Outline the presentation or start gathering research.
Process emails and to-dos right after meetings while the discussions are still fresh.
Spend the last 5 minutes of a meeting planning what you'll work on immediately after.
Silence notifications and close unneeded apps and browser tabs.
Block time on your calendar to focus if needed.
Let colleagues know when you are heads-down on a project and should not be disturbed.
Work in Small Chunks
Break down large goals into single tasks that can be tackled in 15-30 minutes.
Use tools like Trello to create checklists you can quickly work through.
Keep track of what you accomplish between meetings so you can easily pick up where you left off.
Have Transitional Rituals
After finishing a meeting, take 2 minutes to review notes, update your to-do list, and shift gears.
Between meetings, set a timer for 5 minutes of deep breathing or meditation to refresh your focus.
Maintain energy by taking a short walk outside or stretching.
By combining these types of strategies, you can make steady progress chipping away at your goals and priorities, no matter how scattered your days are. The key is having structure and intention in how you use the time that is available. With practice, you can learn to avoid procrastination and stay laser-focused even during short blocks of time between meetings.
To further illustrate how these techniques can work, let’s walk through some detailed examples:
Example 1: John has a presentation he needs to create for an upcoming regional sales meeting. Rather than wait until he has a full day with no meetings to dedicate to it, he breaks the project down into specific chunks:
Research market data and trends (1 hour)
Write section covering current sales statistics (30 mins)
Complete intro slides with agenda (20 mins)
Write notes for main presentation content (1.5 hours)
Revise/edit slides (1 hour)
He schedules 60-90 minutes time slots over the next two weeks to work through each chunk between his recurring update and planning meetings.
Example 2: Alicia has a long list of tasks that includes everything from finishing expense reports to contacting new clients. She ranks them by priority, putting time-sensitive deliverables like the client outreach at the top. She also groups related tasks, like batching administrative items she can tackle efficiently together.
When she has any open time slot of 25 minutes or more between meetings, she picks the top uncompleted item from her ranked list to work on. This ensures she makes the best use of the limited time she has available.
Example 3: Marcus has recurring meetings Mondays and Wednesdays. He schedules focused work time on his calendar Tuesday and Thursday mornings. Before each meeting block, he reviews his tasks and goals and plans what he wants to accomplish during that block. He gathers any relevant materials and jumps straight into the planned task right after each meeting ends to maintain momentum.
Professionals today inevitably spend a lot of their time in meetings. While meetings can make it challenging to find time for independent work, with intentional planning it is possible to be productive between meetings. Break down larger goals into doable chunks. Prioritize ruthlessly. Schedule work time strategically around your meetings. Limit distractions and transition purposefully from meetings to focused work. If you leverage all the small bits of time between meetings, you can avoid the endless frustration of a mounting to-do list and steadily make progress, even on your busiest days. With some practice, you can learn to thrive within the reality of frequent meetings.
Jonathan H. Westover, PhD is Chief Academic & Learning Officer (HCI Academy); Chair/Professor, Organizational Leadership (UVU); OD Consultant (Human Capital Innovations). Read Jonathan Westover's executive profile here.