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Boss overloaded? Worried it will reflect badly on you?

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Question: “I support the CFO and VP of Corporate Services in a company of about 200 employees. My boss is a great guy, but he’s not happy about back-to-back meetings every day, nor does he appreciate the heavy use of e-mail. How can I help connect him to those who feel the need to meet with him without increasing his appointments or his e-mail? I fear this overload on him will end up reflecting badly on me come review time, even though I meticulously manage his calendar and e-mail.” — Marie


First, learn what's important to him. You work for him, not necessarily for the people trying to get on his calendar, and just because this person thinks it is important, doesn't mean it's important to your boss. Second, I've learned that a lot of 60 minute meetings, only need to be 30 minutes so push back when you can and, third, often meetings could be delegated to someone else. Who does he trust? When someone requests a meeting, try to figure out if it could be delegated to one of his direct reports. Also, I would request access to monitor his email. That way you could clear out the clutter and draw his attention to the things that are most urgent.

Unfortunately, we have become a society depending upon the use of e-mail. There are days when I feel all I do is answer e-mails. It's great that you manage his calendar and e-mails, however, are there issues and people you can meet with and/or perhaps you can refer some of people wanting to meet with him to other individuals. Just because someone is looking to meet with your boss, doesn't mean he has to meet with them. I know I take on a lot of people for my boss and it really helps her out. There are other times I find out exactly what they want to meet with her about and I direct them to someone else who can help them out. She totally appreciates the fact that I save her so much time by simply weeding through the items I can handle and/or give to someone else.

There's nothing worse for my boss than to start the day with a meeting, therefore I block out his calendar with "Work Time" for the first two hours (7-9am) to allow time for him to settle in and get started. Then I block lunch time (12-1pm) so he can actually take a break and eat, and block at least 1 hour at the end of the day (4-5pm); on Fridays I block from 3-5pm so he can get out early on occassion. My boss know has 6 work hours each day for meetings and he doesn't feel overwhelmed with back-to-back meetings. As gatekeeper, I make very few exceptions to use the blocked times for meetings unless my boss asks me to book that time for a specific meeting.

Regarding email, I also manage his Inbox and sort messages by topic/project and place them in separate folders. I handle all requests that I possible can and place those emails along with my responses into a "Betty Handled" folder. I leave only urgent messages and messages that don't fall into a specific category in his Inbox.

If you want to try these methods, my suggestion would be to speak with your boss outlining the plan and ask him what his preferences are for blocking his calendar and handling his email.

This used to happen at my work. We have a practice administrator and she has about 5 departments she controls and each department has a manager. She is as close to a VP as you can get. There are a few key people that meet directly with her without question but for the most part you and they know who they are. Meetings with them are just scheduled. Then there is the majority, which what we do here is the manager of the department that the "meeting seeker" most likely needs to meet with is whom the meeting is schedule but still only after stating the nature etc. The manger meets and collects information and is the direct contact for this person. After the meeting if it is something the VP should be included on she reviews the information and she decides if they deserve chair time with her.If so that is schedule but then the manager is still the contact for this person. So her email is not given to anyone that she doesn't personally give it to. And for staff here emails are sent to their direct manager with the same principles. It really worked for us, she does only what only she can do and everyone else does the rest. So I agree with Alicia, other people they trust should really help with the burden.

Back-to-back mtgs and emails come with the executive's position. A copy of my boss' incoming emails bounces to me. I print out those that have attachments (of importance). I also flag those that require immediate attention. At the end of the day, I inquire to see if my boss looked at specific emails. As for mtgs, we use Outlook to schedule, so I may add some extra time to a meeting -- if it's an hour, block an-hour and half. I also schedule myself at least once a week onto the calendar, during which time we just review things on the desk to move it out. Usually I don't need a full hour, so I close the door when I step out. Though my boss has an open-door policy, I sometimes close the door saying "I think you need 15 minutes." When staff see the door closed they usually just keep walking by or ask when they can schedule time. If I cannot prioritize my boss' time, I always ask; and we work together. I respond to certain emails on behalf of my boss BUT communitcation with your boss is key! Get to know the players well enough to know if they really need to meet with your boss or you can delegate responsibility to others (including yourself). Certain managers have a "standing" meeting once a week for one-hour, so they hold all their questions/thoughts for that time period. Since they know they only have one hour, they are usually organized. Sometimes I tell people to send email and I’ll be sure the boss sees it and I just print it and let my boss know the person wanted to meet on the email topic. Okay, that’s one more email, but 5 min. to read an email vs. 1 hour of mtg time, especially when it turns out a mtg isn't necessary? It makes me the gate keeper and sometimes unpopular, but I know my boss appreciates it. It can be a lot of work on your end -- good luck.

Asking your supervisor for their meeting preferences and sticking to them is key. I have a list of my boss's preferences and also use my judgement, like Betty mentioned, i.e. I don't book any meetings early Monday morning or late Friday afternoon unless absolutely necessary. I also try and keep the lunch hour free, or offer to pick up lunch if I can see he has a lot of meetings that day. My boss likes 30 minutes before and after each meeting as a "breather", and travel time to/from meetings needs to be included in the meeting time so that he doesn't come back from an offsite meeting and go straight into another meeting. I rarely email my boss; instead I keep a list of things I need to check with him about that I bring to him when I see he has some down time. My boss also has standing weekly meetings with his direct reports, like Joyce's boss, which allows them to save up their issues to discuss with him in person. When he goes on vacation I screen his email and weed out anything he doesn't need to see. Hope this helps.

I have read six other comments to answer your question...all very good. Therefore, I shall make my suggestion brief: Meet with your boss for 10 minutes at the end-of-the day to go over any questionable meetings. This will enable you to become familiar with his preferences, way of thinking and more. After meeting with your boss in this way, you will be able to make the decision on your own and not have to meet with him. Keeping it simply!

All of the previous comments are a variation of what I do for my boss. Plus, I do my best to keep one day a month meeting free, so my boss can work from home uninterrupted (we're working on weaning from the blackberry on those days).
One of my first items with any new boss is to find out who is (or will be) asking for time on the calendar and the impact they have on my boss' responsibilities. This allows me to prioritize rqts and mtg attendance. Our discussion also includes the boss' preference and priority for meeting with people 1:1. Then, I take the initiative and send Outlook meeting notices to those people for the next 3-6 months (depending upon frequency) so people know they are on my boss' radar and are not being ignored. When an emergency arises that requires they meet prior to the scheduled time, I ask afterwards if the originally scheduled meeting is still necessary (about half the time I can take it off the calendar). When scheduling 1:1 mtgs with my boss' peers, I alternate whose office they meet in.
My goal is to have back-to-back meetings scheduled in my boss' office, so I am ushering people in and out and I don't have to worry about travel time. When my boss must go from meeting to meeting in other campus locations, I block 15-30 minutes before & after as "Lee Way" depending upon location and the odds on the meeting running long or the potential for "hallway talks" on the way back to their offices.

Marie, I would talk to the people I support directly and find out what their preferences are since they have to deal with their schedules. I confirm time between meetings they would like, discuss priorities on a daily basis. For example, the CFO here requested 15 minutes between meetings and then we would discuss which were priority meetings if I didn't already know and which he could attend for a certain amount of time. I would have to either call his home or cell and go over the schedule for about 5 minutes, which helped us both.

I use the same techniques mentioned above, and would like to add one more - my prior boss appreciated it if I scheduled a phone call rather than a meeting. Especially with internal staff, many of the "meetings" they requested could easily be handled with a 10 minute conversation on the phone. He took care of those while running around for his other meetings.

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