Today we’ll continue the series on interruptions and time wasters. To really focus and get more done while working less, you need to change the way you approach each day. The third set of interruptions and time wasters are meetings, people stopping by and problems others could solve.

I know meetings are nearly sacred, but are they necessary? Often meetings can be replaced with a telephone call, an email, or even avoided altogether. Sometimes there is a benefit to a focused meeting. It might be for the purpose of a consultation or training to get others up to speed. It might be for a brief brainstorming session to solve a problem.

If the meeting is simply to update others and give status reports, to set scheduling, or it’s the regularly scheduled weekly or daily meeting, perhaps it could be taken care of in a short email to the team members. Most of what needs to be communicated in these settings can happen more effectively in other ways. Meetings take time from everyone, whether they have something to contribute or not.

The 80/20 Principle applies to meetings. Only 20 percent of your meeting provides 80 percent of the benefit. What if the meeting was limited to that 20 percent time and you could get on with the day rather than sitting there the whole time?

Decide if there are more efficient ways of communicating with your team than having a meeting. Many effective business owners have been able to do away with most of their meetings. In a tight economy we especially need to challenge everything we do. I’d rather have my team being productive, helping customers, working with prospects, or being innovative than sitting in meetings.

Not all meetings are bad, just most of them! When you have meetings, have a tightly focused agenda, stick to it, and end on time. Make sure that everyone who is invited is absolutely necessary. Don’t you waste other peoples time.

What about people stopping by? Employees, customers and vendors all want a piece of your time. Many business owners and managers are proud of their “open door” policy and never turn anyone away. Well, that open door works two ways. It lets people in and lets your time and effectiveness flow out.

To often we greet someone stopping by with a “hey, hows’ it going” which leads to a conversation that has nothing to do with the reason they stopped by. Conversation is fine but if you want to get more done while working less you’ll have to limit the amount of idle chatting.

Wow, that sounds like all work and no play, but is it really? There are times for chatting and getting to know others. And that is an important thing to do, but do it over lunch or after work. If you want to focus and be effective with your time, you have to respect it, as do others. You set the standard. If it’s okay for you to get involved in conversations that have nothing to do with the project you are on, then it’s okay for all your team members to do so.

Be polite with others, and tell them you are on a deadline to get this or that done, and ask them what they need. It will shorten the conversation or interruption. The other good technique is to take questions or meetings at only set times each day. Perhaps you’ll set aside two one-half hour blocks of time during the day for this. Anyone who needs to see you will need to plan on visiting with you then. Less interruptions and you and your team will accomplish more.

Now what about the last item for today, problems that others could solve? How many times do people come to you with a question they already know the answer to? Often they either lack the confidence to act on what they know or you’ve created an environment that doesn’t encourage people to think for themselves. None of us like errors or mistakes, but will we allow our employees the freedom to fail? If not, you’ll get to micromanage everything – a total waste of time.

I’d rather allow my employees a level of autonomy within certain guidelines and allow them the opportunity to make a mistake and learn. In the process they become more confident and more capable. If you micromanage people you’ll never escape this time trap. Most business owners don’t think they micromanage, but you do if you don’t allow decision making by your team.

If you come down hard on an employee for failing, when they took initiative, you have told them “don’t make anymore decisions, bring them all to me”. Personally, I’d rather bear the cost of a few mistakes from time to time to have employees who take initiative, and have more time for they things I want to do. How about you?

There are no perfect solutions to time problems. Take these ideas and try them. Doing nothing keeps you right where you are. Isn’t it worth making some changes, looking for what will make you more effective, and for what frees up your time for things you’ve always wanted to do?

If you have some other ideas that might help or have questions, share them in the comments.