Management Life isn’t short. It’s finite.

Assume They Have Something To Teach You

The daily morning calendar scrub goes like this:

  • Open the calendar and look at the entire day.
  • Note the number of meetings and the amount of unscheduled time. If unscheduled time is zero, die a little inside.
  • For each meeting, ask the internal question, “What do I need to do be prepared for this meeting?” and act on the answer. Re-read a spec? Glance at our Q2 goals? Make sure action items from the prior meeting are done? Or just known? This is essential pre-caching that I don’t want to do in the meeting because in any meeting, I am wasting the time of the other human’s time remembering why we’re having the meeting.

When all the resulting actions from Step 3 are done, I’m almost done. There is one final subjective assessment that I make for each meeting. How much value is each meeting going to create? How productive will this day be? This aggregate assessment remains with me the entire day.

Subjective. It’s super subjective, but I want to know before the day starts whether this day is going to full of high energy forward progress or a morass of marginally interesting minutes.1

The marginal meeting. It needs to be there, so I must figure out an angle to increase the value. I’ve got one hack that works consistently: assume they have something to teach you.

It works like this. Hypothetical scenario – a recruiting meeting. Someone who is interested in working at my company who is a referral from a human I trust. The problem is, they want to work in a different part of the organization. While I know little about the other team, I do know there are no open jobs there and won’t be for awhile.

This meeting is of perceived marginal value because I’m not interviewing this person for a gig because there is no gig. Also, I’m not qualified to interview this person because their skills are different than mine – a different team. I do trust my referral friend, and I want to do them a solid. I am also responsible for representing my company which is why this meeting is on my calendar.

More importantly, there are no marginal minutes. It is my personal and professional responsibility to bring as much enthusiasm, curiosity, and forward momentum to every single minute of my day. When I find myself in a situation where the value is not obvious, I seek it because it’s always there.

“Hi, Cathy. How do you know Ray? Interesting. How’d you two end up working together in such different parts of the company? No way. I never imagined that legal and engineering would end up working together on that? Tell me that story.”

With three questions, I’ve found a story that will teach a lesson. Cathy is telling me about the time that she and my friend Ray end up co-writing a code of conduct for their company. I’d never written one, I understand the value, and here is someone sitting here who can teach me how it’s done. Splendid.

Life isn’t short. It’s finite. As a leader with a finite set of minutes, it is your job to find the stories. They will teach you.


  1. As an aside, for this piece, I’m working under the assumption that each of those meetings must be on my calendar. It is with distinct professional glee that I decline meetings where it is not important I am there, or it’s unclear to me what value will be created. Your mileage may vary using this strategy. 

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4 Responses

  1. Great story