with greg layton

The Inner Chief is for leaders, professionals and small business owners who want to accelerate their career and growth. Our guest chiefs and gurus share powerful stories and strategies so you can have more purpose, influence and impact in your career.

Listen on

G’day Chiefs,

In today’s minisode, I want to save you some time. I want to talk about saying no to meeting requests and initiatives when your plate gets way too full.

You know the score, you’ve accepted a meeting invite for a few days’ time. Then you turn up to the meeting and there’s no agenda, no plan, no defined outcome, and you probably weren’t even needed or the meeting could have been replaced by an email. You think, “Why are we doing this?”

Or, worse, this meeting shouldn’t have taken place because the correct people aren't in attendance, or you don't have the data or information in order to make this meeting effective, or it's not a priority right now.
These are really common, so here are just a couple of really simple processes and rules that you can put into your daily life, as a leader, that will make your life better and everybody look good.

Do we need the meeting at all?

One of our core principles at Chief Maker is that a meeting is the performance theatre of an executive. For an athlete, it's the pitch or the court or the track; for executives and leaders, it's meetings and we've got to be really good at it. But we start far too many meetings without the rules of the game in place and as a result, our reputation suffers.

My advice is that when an invitation drops into your calendar, don’t just hit accept. Look at the details of the meeting – is there a really good agenda and a purpose for the meeting and some outcomes? Do you even have time to get the information, the data or the reports to help the invitees make a decision? Are all the right people in the room?

If any of that is missing, I would check with the person who’s invited you by giving them a quick phone call to confirm what the meeting is about, who else is coming and what the intended outcomes are. Could it even be solved right now in two minutes? See if you can actually remove the meeting. I'm a bit of a fan of the smallest number of meetings as possible to get a job done, and the shortest meetings possible, like 20 to 25 minutes. That way you can get back to doing the work, having more quality conversations with your people and working at level. Approaching it this way, you will actually come across as someone who's helping that individual run good meetings.

Set your own boundaries and save time

What you don’t want is to lose credibility around meetings and initiatives, so it’s important to run the rule over your own meetings and make sure you are all set up properly. I guarantee you, if you look at your calendar for the next two to three weeks, there will be 20% of meetings that you can cancel or reduce in time and that might give you back say five hours a week.

What would five hours a week extra mean for you? It could allow you to work on strategy, on people, on coaching, on relationships with stakeholders. And that's the value-add. That's where you want to be spending your time, as opposed to meaningless, off-priority meetings that aren't set up properly.

It’s not about saying no, it’s about managing priorities 

Meetings are one time suck, but having more ‘priorities’ and initiatives land in your inbox is another. So you’re working at capacity, and then you get asked to take over a project. You’ve got a full plate already, you’re really, really busy. But you are acutely aware that you don’t want to seem like you’re taking the easy path here and trying to hide from work. So how do you say no in that moment?

Here's the trick. It's not about saying no, it's about getting your boss to prioritise the work for you.

The first point here is that you absolutely MUST have a plan on a page (PoP) that outlines a really clear understanding of the plan for your department and your priorities. If you don’t have one, then please build that. You could also join the Chief Maker Mini MBA and we can guide you through that process.

Remember that your boss is your number one customer. Once you have a PoP, go to your boss and ask, “I really want to deliver as much as I can for you. Here's my plan. Here's all the priorities. Here's what we are doing, and here's how everything is tracking. You've just added one more thing into this, and it's going to take this amount of work. That tips us over from a resource perspective. Can you just help me prioritise what we're doing here and look at some of the timelines?”

If you can show them the above in a really clear way – in a spreadsheet or a Gantt chart – then you're asking for their guidance and wisdom about priorities, not about whether or not you should or could be doing something. If you can engage them in the prioritisation process, you're treating them like a customer and that actually makes a really big difference.

Be sure to emphasise that you want to do a great job with high quality and nail things. Speak their language. You're a professional services firm of one who wants to deliver an incredible piece of work for the company for whom you work. When you do that and you get your boss on the same page as you, life is better. It's less stressful, it's more fun and you get a better flow.

Remember, you’re not really saying “no” or trying to dodge work; you’re actually trying to be better for the company you work for. You’re putting them first.

Chief, if you follow these three tips, you are going to have a much more enjoyable job and career, and people will seek you out for your advice, your wisdom and your counsel, and your track record and entourage will keep building for you.

Stay epic,