Atomic has been very busy the last two quarters, including executive-level stuff like an influx of sales opportunities, hiring a new managing partner, and buying a company, just to name a few things. Which makes it very difficult to get time and attention with the powers that be.
As Atomic’s Marketing Coordinator, I run into this frequently, since I report directly to Carl Erickson, our president. When things at Atomic are especially busy, Carl is in meetings or on the phone most of the day, making it a challenge to get the input I need. To keep projects moving and make the best use of Carl’s time and mine, I try to keep our meetings as short and productive as possible. Here’s how I do it.
1. Meet on a regular schedule.
Carl has his schedule planned out days or weeks in advance, so I made myself part of that schedule — every Monday morning from 9:30 to 10:30. To be honest, we rarely start at 9:30, and we often end up rescheduling to fit Carl’s calendar, but the meeting always happens. When he’s traveling, we have them over the phone. We’ve even had them via chat when one of us is home sick.
Scheduling our weekly meeting somehow changes them from “something we should do” to “something we need to find time for.” And that makes all the difference.
2. Update your agenda throughout the week.
When something comes up that I want Carl’s input on, I add it to my “Questions for Carl” Evernote document, which I use at our weekly meeting agenda.
Some of the agenda items are simple questions, but many are more complicated. For every in-depth discussion topic, my agenda includes:
- A list of basic facts about the situation, including pieces of information I’m waiting on and when I requested them. (Including these facts is essential, because it may be over a week before we actually get a chance to talk about a topic, and I will probably forget something important.)
- Links to any related documents, discussions, emails, etc.
- A list of questions for Carl to answer or options for him to choose between.
I try to do as much research as possible, imagining the questions Carl might ask and trying to find answers before the meeting.
3. Review and prioritize your agenda before the meeting.
Just before the meeting, I review my agenda and order the items by priority, in case we only get part way through my list (which happens more often than not). These are my general priorities:
- Quick questions. (“What title did you choose for the presentation you’re giving next month? I want to Tweet about it.”)
- Reminders of actions I need him to take. (“Did you have a chance to…? Can you do it yet today?”)
- Things that need to get done during the coming week. (“We need a blog post to announce our acquisition. Here are the points I think it should touch on. Do you have any additions?”)
- Things that need to get done in the next few weeks. (“I’ve been looking at CRM systems in preparation for our web redesign. Here are the pros and cons of each.”)
- Ideas, big projects, etc. (“I have an idea for a whitepaper, and I’d like your input.”)
If a topic is complicated, I re-familiarize myself with it by reading the related emails, documents, etc. so Carl and I can have a fruitful conversation.
4. Be as efficient as possible during the meeting.
As Carl and I go through my agenda, I focus on being concise and organized, leaving out extraneous information. During our discussion, I take notes right in my Evernote agenda doc so the questions and answers are together.
As I get toward the big-picture stuff at the bottom of the agenda, I try to gauge Carl’s stress and attention levels, and I consider my own. If he seems in a hurry to move on, or if I’m feeling frazzled, I leave the big stuff until the next week. Abstract conversations are the most fruitful when you both have your head in the game.
After the meeting, I review the items we didn’t get to. If they’re simple, I try to think of someone else who could give me an answer. If they’re large and we never seem to have time for them, I think about scheduling a separate meeting just for that topic.
5. Between meetings, make every interaction count.
When Carl is at his busiest, I try not to ask for his time between meetings. But when I have a question that can’t wait, or something that needs his review ASAP so I can move on, I do the following.
- I think about how to phrase my request as clearly and succinctly as possible, so I don’t end up rambling or backtracking because I forgot something. I often write down my main points on a note card.
- If Carl’s in the office, I wait for a brief break between meetings and phone calls. If he’s elsewhere, I’ll text him.
- I make a specific request for his time: “Can I have three minutes to go over ____ with you?”
- If he says yes, I explain the situation and make a specific request for information or feedback.
- When I have the information I need, I thank him and let him go.
This may seem overly complicated, but it’s worth it. When I ask Carl for three minutes, I want him to know without a doubt that I’ll use his time wisely. Why? Because then he’s more likely to say: “Yes.”
Caveat & Conclusion
I’d like to add one caveat: neither Carl nor I are chatty, and we both love being efficient, so this is a great system for us. If your boss loves making small talk at the start of every conversation, doing all the things in this list might offend them. Interactions with your boss should fit with their (and your) personality and work style.
How do you keep projects moving when your boss gets really busy?
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