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Category: Behavioral Economics

How I Became More Productive After Leaving Big Corporate

A few days ago a friend mentioned during a call that he cannot understand how I can do so much. Writing books, consulting work, publishing newsletters, workshops, blogging, all the while having a life as well.

This was not the first time that people mentioned this. And I must frankly admit, that I don’t feel that I am productive. I actually think that I am a big procrastinator, and things are not moving as fast as I’d like because I feel I am not spending my time properly. The first time somebody asked me about that I was surprised. Me? Productive?

But then, tallying what I have done the past three years since I started my own consulting practice, it’s undeniable. I have a track record, if you just consider the numbers. I wrote eight books with a total of 1,600 pages, while reading probably 100 books and a couple of hundred studies for research. I wrote and sent out 60+ newsletters for my subscribers, published 300 blog articles and guest comments for newspapers and other blogs. Furthermore I created materials for six full day workshops on intrapreneurship, creativity, innovation, parenting and gamification, gave 200+ talks on those topics, all the while doing consulting, hackathons and workshops with clients. In addition I also organized a dozen Silicon Valley tours, and two dozen meetups and conferences. All within the last 3 years.

Looking at this list, I felt superhuman. So why do I feel like a procrastinator? (which by the way is not bad, as Adam Grant argues in his latest book Originals).

Big Corp

For fifteen years I worked for a big software company as developer, development manager and senior innovation strategist. It certainly was a very interesting time where I learned a lot, got many opportunities, and made a lot of friends. Almost three years ago I finally decided to take the leap of faith and start my own consulting practice.

Only recently I fully realized what the single most important reason was that kept me from showing similar productivity. A project with a client required me to attend team meetings and have individual calls for coordination. I haven’t had them for quite some time, so only I went into these calls I noticed how much of a time and energy drain they were. There was no real need for me to be in the meetings. Most of the agenda didn’t affect me. And some of the individual calls tended to be unfocused without a clear agenda. In addition I felt my energy took a dive and my brain wasted energy that I didn’t have after the call had ended.

Meetings and bad memories

And that brought back the memories from my time with big corporate.

All hands and team meetings

Many meetings were all-hands or team-meetings where you were expected to be to get information, but more often than not those one hour meetings contained information that you could boil down to 5 minutes. Lot of time was lost because of technical issues, waiting for somebody, or just the fillers and small talk between handing over the microphone. Not to mention that questions from others were often so specific for the person that they were of no importance to the rest.

Approval and warm body count meetings

Another type of meetings just had me invited because the organizers wanted nothing else than my approval for something where I didn’t have any say anyways, or to have me as expert for a certain specific part that would have required me only for 5 minutes. Some meeting organizers seem to feel the meeting becoming more important the more people participate, but they usually become the opposite.

I would even say a meeting becomes less useful, the higher the number of participants, and the more everyone is supposed to have a role, such as talking – or as meeting organizers call it “give a status update.” Meetings tend to be replaced for proper preparation. Instead of writing a document with a status update or so, just call a meeting.

Quick update meeting

Sometimes you end up with high maintenance employees (or clients) that want to get on to a quick meeting to understand the impact or relevancy for them or the project. Those are insofar irritating as they add no value except holding hands for that person. And they are time consuming and nerve wrecking, as one always feel you need to oblige and calm them down.

Scheduling chaos

Most meetings were scheduled in a way that they were not in a block, but throughout the day with time gaps between them that lasted half an hour or maybe two hours, but never really enough to do some deep thinking and continuous work. Considering that any disturbance to work focus takes up to 15 minutes to be fully focused again, one can see how much time one effectively work productively.

Addiction to meetings

Now honestly, getting from tons of meeting to none is not easy. Meetings can be important, and one may crave for meetings. After all it’s social connection, meeting people, talking, taking your mind off, and of course also receiving information. And I don’t want to forget to mention: meetings can be immensely satisfying for people who feel important and desired, when due to their expertise or rank they get invited a lot. It may seem that without oneself the company cannot achieve as much. This can be addictive. The first weeks I kind of felt alone, unwanted, lost. But I tell you something: this feeling wanes once you realize how much you can get done.

My productive new life

When I compare my old calendar with the one I have today, I easily have 3 hours more per day that I am not spending in meetings. Over the year these are 750 hours that I have at my disposal. This may differ for each of us, but with a 40-hour-week this means north of 10 weeks per year of stuff that can be done. Of course with nearly three months won one can easily become very productive.

I also got more control over which meetings to take and for what time I schedule them. They are now blocked in meeting days, while other days are completely left open, so that I can work without intrusion. Given the productivity lost through those interruptions and the low productivity of the filler-hours between meetings, I might double the productive time.

This does not mean I don’t have any meetings, or only productive ones. But I got to control the schedule, the agenda, and the duration. AND: those meetings are mostly one-on-one.

The time that I waste purposefully with Facebook or chats did not increase, but by saying good bye to the big corporate meeting machinery I do real work. And that is absolutely worth it.

This article was first published on LinkedIn.