In this episode, I share the #1 piece of time management advice I received from Mark Cuban.
What you’re going to learn:
- Mark Cuban’s #1 productivity tip
- How to facilitate efficient meetings (even when you’re NOT the facilitator!)
- What Dustin Moskovitz’s (co-founder of Facebook) meeting schedule looks like at Asana (his new productivity company)
“Mornings are when we are cognitively at our best, so we should be doing our deep thinking work before noon.”
“The wrong people dominate meetings.”
“People will spend more time discussing the trivial items because they think they have an opinion on it and less time on the important items because they’re afraid to say something stupid.”
Would you like to 10x your productivity and stop feeling so overworked and overwhelmed? Welcome to the extreme productivity podcast with New York Times best selling author and Inc. 500 entrepreneur Kevin Kruse.
Kevin Kruse: Welcome, welcome, welcome. I am Kevin Kruse and I am sharing tips and advice from my new book, “15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management,” where I interviewed over 200 highly successful people and boiled down their productivity habits so that you can 10x your productivity. The last episode, I gave you the 9 steps to cut your email processing time in half. Today, I’m going to share what Mark Cuban told me was his number one productivity tip.
First, I want to send you a quick start action plan that includes the one page planning tool that millionaires use to schedule their day. All you need to do is send a text message to 44222 with just the word achieve. Head on over to the website productivity-podcast.com and put your email address in there if you’d rather get the free download that way. I cold emailed Mark Cuban asking for an interview, asking him to just tell me his number one secret to time management. Now a lot of people discount Mark Cuban and the other billionaires I reached out to as saying they have nothing to learn from them because they’re billionaires. They got lots of servants, and maids, and butlers, and staff, or admins, or whatever. It’s a different, they just can’t relate.
I actually think that is very limiting thinking because yes, of course, Mark Cuban and other people at his level have larger teams of people to get stuff done, but he also has a tremendous amount more than all the rest of us have to look after. I mean, he owns the Dallas Mavericks, he owns Landmark Theaters, he’s a TV star co-hosting, investing on Shark Tank. He’s written books, he’s invested in and is guiding dozens of start-ups and tech companies. He’s always being interviewed on TV, on the news programs, on the financial programs. He’s a husband. He’s a father with three young daughters. This guy has responsibilities and obligations and things to watch at a magnitude that are much greater than most of us can ever imagine.
Yet, given all of that, he got back to me faster than any other person that I reached out to. I probably reached out to over 800 people. Almost 300 got back in touch with me, most of them within a day or two. Mark Cuban responded to me in 61 minutes. I was shocked. What is Mark Cubans advice? What’s his number one piece of advice for time management and productivity? Well, in typical Cuban style, very direct, very short, kind of funny. He says, “Never take meetings unless someone is writing you a check. Never take meetings unless someone is writing you a check.” What’s very interesting about this advice is I talked to seven billionaires, most of them made some reference to the evils of meetings.
Highly successful people live by the 1440 rule. There’s 1,440 minutes in a day, make them all count. They know, more, because of the value of their minutes that sitting in meetings and taking care of business in meetings is a very inefficient way to do it. I bet you don’t wish you had any more meetings right now. Right? Here are the common problems with meetings. We spend so much of our time in meetings, especially if you’re a corporate employee. Here are the common problems. Here’s why meetings stink so badly. Here’s how to also fix them.
First of all, most meetings start late. Either the facilitator, whoever called the meeting is lax or late herself, or important people stroll in late so you can’t really start the meeting on time until everybody gets there. It starts a horrible cycle. If you show up two minutes late and then sit there for 10 more minutes waiting for everyone else to get there, well the next time that meetings called, you’re going to show up 10 minutes late because you know it won’t start on time. You don’t want to sit around the conference room for 10 more minutes. It creates this horrible cycle.
The fix is of course, to start and end meetings on time. If you are the one calling the meeting, start the meeting immediately on time. If people walk in late and you’re mid-sentence, oh well. They can get up to speed, they can ask someone who was already there what’s going on, and they’ll remember that you start your meetings on time. End your meetings 5 minutes early. A lot of people have back to back commitments, that’s why they show up late to meetings, and you’re going to gain respect and become a change agent by saying, “Hey, the meetings going to run until, from 1:00 to 1:55, or 1:50. Don’t take up the full hour or the full half hour. In general, your set for yourself. Try not to book back to back meetings. I talked about the CEO of LinkedIn who always put 30 minute buffer times in between meetings and calls just so that he can not be on that never ending hamster wheel from one thing to the next where you can’t even process or digest the information, or make a calm, well thought out decision.
Another big problem is that the wrong people are often in meetings. The prevailing wisdom seems to be, “When in doubt, invite them.” This wastes the time of the person who was invited if they don’t really need to be there. They might not have the professional courage to say no thanks, or they might want to show up for the free coffee and donuts. Also, if the person’s in the room and then feels compelled, like they have to participate, even if they don’t really have an important role, well then they’re going to be taking up time, asking questions or going down tangents that aren’t really necessary. The fix is just to have that mindset of, “When in doubt, leave them out.” Steve Jobs was legendary for throwing people out of meetings. He would be in the middle of a meeting and if he’d notice someone was in the room, maybe hasn’t been contributing anything, and he’ll ask why they’re there. If they don’t have a good reason, he’ll say, you should leave and they’d have to pick up their stuff and walk out right in the middle of a meeting.
There’s also something, the third reason is called, “Parkinson’s Law of Triviality,” also known as the, “Bike Shed Effect.” This law states that organizations spend the most time on trivial issues and the least time on the most important issues. Why is it called the bike shed effect? The story goes that there was a committee put together that had to make several decisions related to an expensive and risky nuclear power plant. Now, the approval of the power plant went really quickly. There wasn’t a lot of discussion in the meeting. There wasn’t a lot of debate. Those votes, those decisions, happened very quickly. Then it got time to talk about the commuter bike shed. The bike shed that would hold the bikes for people who were commuting via bicycle to work. All of a sudden, that bike shed topic took up more time than all of the other nuclear power plant topics combined. All of a sudden, everybody felt they had a say in how big should the bike shed be, where should it be located on the property, what color should we paint the bike shed?
People, when you get into groups and group think, the group will spend more time discussing the trivial items because they think they have an opinion on it and less time on the important items because they’re afraid to say something stupid, or they’re just out of their league. The fix on this is again, it goes back to facilitation. There’s some extreme ones. Jeff Bezos at Amazon. He opens his meetings by handing out the paperwork and having quiet time where everybody sits in the room and will read for 30 minutes before talking about the report, or the slides, or the memo, or whatever it might be. When he was asked about this, he said, “Listen, the prevailing wisdom is you distribute the material ahead of the meeting so that people can read it on their own time, and that’s respectful of everybody’s time. Then you discuss it and make a decision in the meeting.” He says, “We all know, nobody reads the material ahead of time.” You go into the meeting, say you’ve all gotten the material and reviewed it, now let’s talk about it.
As you’re trying to make a point, or make your argument, everybody is quickly reading, or scanning, or skimming the bullets in front of them. Not really listening to you, and they’re not getting the full information in the report or the memo. That might be an extreme thing to do. The Bezos approach. I use to do things like, when I was young and dumb, I would call a meeting of the top people in my company and I would have circulated the financials for the quarter, and then I would either lecture reviewing the financials and they were probably thinking of something else and half asleep. Or I would say, “Okay, I’m sure you’ve all read the financials, let’s talk about them. What went well, what didn’t go well.” It was crickets, or I would see them flipping through quickly trying to get up to speed.
Later I learned to really be a facilitator. I would still send out the emails ahead of the meeting for those who would read them, who wanted to get them ahead of time. Then, as soon as we got in the meeting, I would break the room up. There weren’t that many of us, but I would say, the three of you, I want you to look at just the revenue side of the profit and loss statement, and the three of you, just look at the cost side of the profit and loss statement, and the three of you, just look at the balance sheet and cash flow. Let’s just take 15 minutes and huddle in our little groups and analyze your assigned section, and then we’ll report out. Then all of a sudden there was more time, and people took that seriously. I’m really really going to review sales, and sales by product, and our sales growing or not growing, and by segment, and by customer, and what can we do to increase sales. They’re really diving into that topic and saying some smart things when it’s their turn to share out, and it’s their job to brief their colleagues in the room.
Similar for the group that’s on expenses. Are they going up, are they going down, what’s the percent, what, should we implement some cost cutting measures. There were some good quality time because I put it on them and gave them some time to do the work right in the meeting.
Four, meetings are often scheduled at the wrong time. Most people don’t even think about it. It’s just, “Hey, when can we get everybody together.” Meetings can end up breaking up the work day in illogical ways. This is especially a big problem for knowledge workers and software engineers who really need to be in the zone. Get into that flow state to do their best most productive work. If they’re right in the middle of the zone and all of a sudden, oops, it’s 10:30 in the morning, I’ve got to now get up from my desk and go into a meeting for an hour, and then go back and try to get back into that flow state, it’s really, really harmful. The idea is, the fix for this is to just block off certain times or day as meeting free.
Dustin Moskovitz, he’s the co-founder of Facebook, and his new company is the productivity company called Asana, project manager and software, and he said, he told me, he says, “Pick one day a week, that you and your team can focus on getting individual work done without any interruptions like meetings. At Asana we have no meeting Wednesdays established to encourage flow and productivity across the company.” I’ve got a friend who runs a hospital not far from where I live and Kate has no meeting Fridays. The last day of the week, there’s no meetings. It’s a chance to get caught up before the weekend comes. The great Rory Vaden, entrepreneur with over 100 employees, he laughed when I told him this. He says, “We only have one day a week when you’re allowed to hold meetings. That’s Mondays. The other days are for doing things.”
Maybe that’s extreme, maybe you can’t block off an entire day, but can you implement a rule at least on your team that says, guys, in general, let’s do our meetings in the afternoon. Morning should be for our most important task time, or MIT time. Mornings are when we are cognitively at our best, so we should be doing our deep thinking work before noon. We want to work on what’s strategic before the day gets away from us. Hey, when in general, if you’re going to call for a meeting, try to schedule it for 1:00, 2:00, 3:00 when we’re half asleep and burnt out anyway. You know, look, if you’ve got a boss that you can’t control, you can work on that. Maybe you can’t control all those meetings, but try to get out of the meetings when you can or let people know that you’ve got certain times that are already allocated to different projects.
Finally, the wrong people dominate meetings. That’s the other common problem. In any group that gets together, the over confident people will tend to dominate the conversation, the extroverts tend to talk more than others. Quite often, now I am an introvert, and I’ve done this a lot. I sit there, and I might silently be thinking, that person just said the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard, but it’s just not worth my effort to speak up. Or I have a different opinion but I don’t feel like blabbing on or cutting anybody off, I’ll just send an email later to the boss. A good facilitator, the fix is, if you’re the facilitator, and if you’re not, you can guide the facilitator, it’s to call out on everybody in the room. You cut off the people that tend to dominate the meeting, and you get the people who are quieter, say, “Hey, Kevin, you’ve been a little quiet, what are your thoughts on this issue?”
I know, if you’re not the facilitator, you might have some limitations. You can still be a change agent. If I’m in a meeting and the two people next to me start whispering back and forth and it’s bothering me and not helpful in the meeting, I’ll turn around and say, “Hey guys, do you mind if we have one meeting because I really do want to hear what you guys are saying, but I also want to hear what they’re saying at the same time.” You just need to politely keep everyone on it. If someone’s droning on and on, or they’re on a tangent, even if you’re not the facilitator. Can’t you raise your hand and say, “You know, I just noticed we got 10 more minutes and we’re only half way through the agenda, maybe we can put that issue on hold, maybe we can table it until the next meeting. Maybe we can put it in the parking lot and come back if there’s time left.” A lot of people just aren’t trained in how to facilitate a meeting so they’re not thinking, they’re not watching the clock, they’re not managing the dialog.
Even if you’re not the official facilitator, dive in and help. What do we do with this? How can we apply it right away? Again if you’re not the boss, you might have some limitations on this. If you’re running your own company, you have your own team, you’ve got a lot of control on this. Look, take Mark Cuban’s advice. Don’t call meetings unless no other form of communication will do. Try to get out of the meetings you’re invited to. Say no, say you’re busy. Say hey, can someone else who’s going just brief me afterwards, or can you just send me the minutes instead. If you do go, show up on time and leave on time. Train the facilitator and everybody that, hey, even if they’re running late, doesn’t mean they’re going to get your time late. Don’t be afraid to be the unofficial facilitator. People will thank you for it, people will respect you for it, it’s a sign of leadership, it’s a sign of professional courage. You’ll see that their behaviors change very quickly.
Fight the power, fight the meetings. That is the lesson of the day. All right, as usual, I’ve got a one page, ready to print poster for you called “Maximize Your Meetings.” You can download it instantly, print it out, tape it up on your conference room door, put some copies on the conference room table to … Do it anonymously if you need to just to send everybody the message that meetings are wasteful usually but by making a few changes and switches, they can have a dramatic positive impact. If you want this Maximize Your Meetings info graphic, just text the word achieve to 44222. You can always visit the website productivity-podcast.com. Make sure you subscribe to the extreme productivity podcast in iTunes or Stitcher because our next episode is when I’m going to share how millionaires schedule their day.
Until then, remember, master your minutes to master your life.