Yesterday, I posted five rules for successful meetings because it seems like so much productivity is wasted needlessly every day because of poorly run or poorly organized meetings. As leaders, it’s our job to remedy this situation and having solid rules to follow is a good start, but what if you don’t belong in those meetings at all? How can you avoid them and maintain your credibility? For me, it’s a matter of two questions.

Leaders call a lot of meetings. Probably more than we should, but bigger than that, we get called to a lot of meetings and many are a total waste of what could be really productive time. Because I felt pulled in thousands of directions, I started looking for answers of how I could reclaim my calendar and take back my time. I found that hours were wasted in meetings that I didn’t belong in but went out of obligation because I was invited. Removing myself from this problem wasn’t nearly as difficult as I imagined. I simply starting asking two questions of every meeting invitation I received.

Question One: What’s My Role In This Meeting?

Having a clear understanding of what is expected of us only seems logical. Asking this question before I accept a meeting request allows me to fully understand what’s being expected of me. A lot of time, I was being invited to meetings where I had no formal role, but they wanted to “keep me in the loop”. This is nice of them, but it’s also, usually a large waste of my time. Other meetings, decisions were being made where my input would be helpful or needed and asking this question allowed me to do some research and be prepared. It became my goto question before I accepted anything. If I had a formal role, I went and I was prepared. If I didn’t, I asked Question Number Two.

Question Number Two: Do You Need Me There, Or Can I Catch Up From The Minutes?

A simple little question. Do you really need me? I found that a lot of the FYI meetings I was being invited to had no specific outcomes and very seldom stuck to my one hour rule. They had already made it clear that in this meeting, I didn’t have a formal role, so there I sat, listening as decisions weren’t being made. For those meetings where I was invited just to stay in the loop, I started asking if they really needed me and to my surprise, the answer came back, most of the time as no. Now, this is where less secure people would fear not being needed anymore, but I had already established that I had no role, that I was there for information only, and that I planned to follow up with the minutes. On these occasions, I skipped the meetings, read my email and got real work done. The best part, no one was angry because I had permission.

I’m all for being a team player. I value collaboration and want to work with others. I also limit my time, as best I can to what I do well. By learning to ask these two basic questions, I’ve found a way to do both and I’ve never been more productive. Give it a try and tell me if you don’t free up your calendar for what you’re great at doing.