The 6 Causes of Overscheduling–And What To Do About Them

Let’s talk about meetings. Are you wishing you could spend more time in them?

I didn’t think so.

Most people managers have entered the era of back-to-back-to-back-to-back meetings—and that’s on a light day! Apart from being a time drain, this crazy schedule makes people tired and grumpy. Not exactly a recipe for success.

Indeed, research shows that high performers in every field do exactly the opposite. They go through a perform-renew-perform-renew cycle that gives them a break every 90 minutes.

Busy octopus

Do you take a break every 90 minutes?

Again, I didn’t think so.

In the immortal words of Yoda, overscheduled you are.

Let’s put our heads together about how to change this.

Step One: Assess The Current Situation

The leaders I coach describe six major habits that lead to overscheduling:

  1. Scheduling meetings that don’t have to happen. This includes everything from work groups and task forces that lack a clear purpose to standing meetings that have lost their rationale for existing.
  2. Scheduling meetings for more time than you need. Parkinson’s Law says that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” The longer you schedule a meeting, the more time you’ll spend in that meeting.
  3. Wasting time in the meetings you do attend. Have you ever calculated the percentage of meeting time that adds value (productive conversations about important topics) versus the percentage that is wasteful (unfocused conversations, tangential topics, and unnecessary conflict)? Waste consumes a big piece of the pie.
  4. Assuming you need to be at every meeting. “If I don’t go, I may miss something important.” Or so you think. Have you ever actually calculated the cost of missing something? Simply multiply the cost of the missed experience by the probability of that experience occurring in your absence. Now compare that to the opportunity cost of failing to accomplish something else instead of attending that meeting. Which cost is larger?
  5. Being physically present—and absent in every other way. Because you are afraid of missing something, you go to a meeting–or call into the conference line. But you really don’t need to be there and have other things to do, so you work on your laptop most of the time.
  6. Assuming other managers need to be at meetings you have called. There is great value in ensuring that conversations reflect a wide range of perspectives. Excluding people for the sake of excluding them is a lousy practice. But that’s not what we’re talking about here. My point is that you may be inviting more people to meetings than are needed either to add value or to ensure a feeling of inclusion. Let’s be blunt: when other managers attend your meetings when their time would produce greater value elsewhere, you are partly responsible for their wasted time.

Step Two: Declare Waste

This is the simplest yet often overlooked step. Turn to a colleague, friend, or significant other and say, “I’m wasting too much time in meetings–and I’m going to change that.”

Step Three: Open Your Calendar And Ask Tough Questions

I like to stick my head in my clients’ calendars from time to time. Naturally, we do it together, but it doesn’t happen unless I request it. That’s why I say I “stick my head” in their calendars. It is an unusual act. Other than my clients and their executive assistants, nobody looks closely at these leaders’ calendars. This is strange, because their calendars provide a powerful window into where they are placing—and not placing—their attention.

When we look at calendars, here are the questions we ask:

  • Which meetings did you call? What purposes do they serve? Is there another way to accomplish these purposes? If not, what topics could be taken out of these meetings or done more quickly? What happens during them that you would call waste? What if you were to shorten the meetings, postpone them, or hold them less often? What if you were to make a deal with participants: if you give me one hundred percent of your attention (no electronic devices), then I’ll reduce the meeting time in half?
  • Which meetings are on your calendar but you don’t know why they are? Is it possible that you were invited accidentally, as a courtesy, or to avoid offending you or your boss? What’s the next action you can take to answer these questions?
  • Which meetings might provide good developmental opportunities to your staff? Is it really essential that you show up or could you delegate leading these meetings to them?

Step Four: Make One Change

Pick one thing you’re going to change about your schedule. Do it today.

Episode 8: Kerrie Halmi on Women’s Leadership And Strategic Networking [The Amiel Show]

There’s something special about women’s leadership–and it’s not what you think.

If you’re a woman, women’s leadership can feel like my world–or, perhaps, our world. It’s the planet you inhabit 24/7. If you’re a man, women’s leadership can feel like their world. It’s a distant planet you occasionally visit.

So, which is it?

Both. Women’s leadership is all of our world. When women lead skillfully, our organizations prosper, and all of us within them experience greater engagement. When women lead poorly–or aren’t matched well to opportunities–we all lose.


In Episode 8 of The Amiel Show, Kerrie Halmi and I discuss:

  • 8:15 Why it’s useful for women to build their leadership skills together with other women
  • 13:30 How to advocate for yourself and get sponsors to do the same
  • 23:00 How everyone benefits from women in positions of leadership
  • 26:00 Men supporting women’s success in corporate America
  • 30:30 Why and how to strategically network
  • 42:00 The power of “superconnectors”
  • 49:30 What Kerrie is deliberately practicing in her life

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Episode 7: Bob Dunham On Reliable Promises And Listening For Commitment

Amazing things happen when you remove your blinders and see what it actually takes to coordinate action with others. First, you focus on how we make commitments to each other through conversation. Then, you realize that listening isn’t about being nice. It’s about producing reliable promises. Finally, you take seriously the notion that your public identity–or “personal brand”–depends on your understanding of others’ concerns, the offers you make to address those concerns, and your emotional mood as you walk down the hallway.

Bob Dunham has been introducing leaders and coaches to these points for three decades–and helping them practice their way to excellence. In Episode 7 of The Amiel Show, Bob distilled these lessons into an hour of actionable insights. Bob and I discussed:

  • 2:00 Our blindness that action starts with commitment
  • 7:00 How understanding conversations demystifies innovation
  • 13:00 Bob’s rapid success as a manager by evoking reliable promises
  • 21:00 The conversation for action, listening acts, emotions, and body language
  • 33:30 Getting people to say “yes” is an absolute disaster
  • 40:00 Having opinions but no evidence
  • 51:00 Personal brands and influencing senior leaders
  • 57:30 What Bob is personally practicing in his life


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Resolving Conflict: The One Thing You Need To Know [Ask Knockman the Magnificent]

It’s that time, friends. Knockman the Magnificent is here to answer your questions.

If you’re over 30, you may recall Carnac the Magnificent, the Eastern mystic on The Tonight Show who could divine unknown answers to unseen questions. He looked like Johnny Carson but wore a turban. His trick was to hold hermetically sealed envelopes up to his head and “ascertain” the answers to the unseen questions within.

Knockman the Magnificent is similar. He provides answers to important questions and aims for your funny bone. But there are three differences:

Knockman pic

  1. The questions come from you, not a sealed envelope, and are about real issues and concerns
  2. Unlike Carnac, Knockman is a genuine mystic. He is inspired by the great 18th Century Jewish mystic, Nachman of Breslov, who believed each person has the potential to be virtuous and happy
  3. Unlike Carnac, Knockman is a pragmatist interested in producing useful results

Here is your first chance to ask Knockman a question, and he will give you his answer in a special episode of The Amiel Show.

What’s one thing you want to know more about successfully resolving conflict at work?

Flipping Complaints to Commitments (Jedi Leadership Tricks)

As you spend more time watching how you interact with others, you may notice something about your conversations.

Specifically, that you bitch and moan about things that bother you. Maybe not every minute, but probably a few times a day.

What’s the problem with bitching and moaning? After all, everybody does it.

flip pancakes

Three things:

  1. You feel lousy. Maybe not at first, but within a few minutes, kind of like eating french fries with ice cream—something I loved doing after high school soccer games at Wendy’s fast food restaurant.
  2. People see you differently. It’s the weirdest thing: even though we all complain, when we hear somebody else doing it, we quickly make a judgment about them. You can lose credibility that you worked so hard to build up.
  3. It dampens the mood of your team. When people hear you making negative comments, it affects their emotional state. This is because, as brain science teaches us, our nervous systems are intertwined. Your periodic complaints about, say, how IT or HR let you down, can shift others into moods of resignation, resentment, or fear.

Episode 6: James Flaherty on How People Change and Where Excellence Lives

James Flaherty taught me how to coach, created the organization where I met my wife, and challenged me to grow myself as a person.

That’s quite an influence for one person, don’t you think?

In Episode 6 of The Amiel Show, I had the privilege to talk with James about some big stuff I’ve learned from him. We discussed:

  • 3:00 So much of our experience is an interpretation versus a fact “out there”
  • 8:20 Why self-observation is as important as 360 feedback
  • 13:30 Truly changing involves our bodies, social worlds, and language
  • 24:00 Excellence is evoked in relationship rather than something we create alone
  • 30:30 Aristotle’s notion of excellence, including all parts of ourselves
  • 35:45 What’s up with emotions in our culture
  • 43:00 Executive presence happens in the body
  • 51:50 What James is deliberately practicing to develop himself

Listen to the Podcast