For professional athletes, world records and gold medals are won and lost in hundredths of a second. The arrival of an ambulance one minute late can be the difference between life and death.  Happily, most of us in compliance aren’t under that extreme time pressure, but we still need to make every moment count.  Whether through meeting requests, being cc’d on endless email chains, or accepting invitations to pick your brain over coffee, your days can quickly be filled with unproductive tasks that take you farther from your goals. 

Turning down meetings and getting off of email chains can be hard, but you can find more time if you employ stealthy techniques.  Here are three hacks to help you take back your time. 

Schedule Meetings and Phone Calls for 15 or 20 Minutes

Have you ever noticed that most meetings are scheduled for 30 minutes or an hour?  It’s just assumed that blocking off half hours or full hours of time is needed.  Instead of scheduling for the default amount of time, think about the amount of time you want and need to give the meeting or call.  If you think you’ll only need 15 minutes, schedule for 15 minutes.  If you think you need 20 minutes, schedule for 20.  By scheduling shorter meeting times, you’ll signal to those coming to the meeting that you mean business and that you intend to take care of it in the allotted time.

To really up the ante on this technique, be sure to include an agenda for the meeting or call.  You can use bullet points for this – simply include them in the body of your calendar invite.  By planning the meeting’s agenda and the length of time allotted for it, you’re setting yourself up to get through the meeting quickly.  A bonus?  Other people will be grateful that you’ve given them time back as well!  

Use the Little Spaces

How many times have you ended up with a few minutes between meetings, or sat waiting for an appointment to start?  It’s easy to take that time to play on your phone, but instead of wasting that time, use it to get micro-tasks done. 

Keep a list of things you can work on in short bursts.  Maybe you can outline a small section of the new Code of Conduct?  Or read three pages of that report from Information Security?  By keeping a list, you’re more likely to use the time completing productive and important tasks.  Steal those little pieces of time when you can be preparing to use them when they come up.  Those little pieces of time add up to many hours, and those hours will make you more productive.

Batch Whatever You Can

Think about your recurring tasks.  Do you have to write a monthly email, blog, or newsletter on compliance topics? Do you regularly present to groups, such as the HR and Audit function? Whenever you have a recurring task, consider whether you can do a bunch of them at once.  This technique is called “batching,” and it works brilliantly for creative work.

Let’s say you’re giving live training on privacy several times this year, and the session will be tailored to the specific job activities of each group.  Instead of amending the training before each session, take the privacy training slides an amend them all at once, saving each version with a title representing the group that is taking the training.  By doing this all at once, you’ll take advantage of being in the zone, plus you’ll free up time later in the year to make you even more effective.

Remember that although time is free, it’s also priceless.  Spend it accordingly.