I remember sitting in a productivity seminar in an Entrepreneurs' Organization Conference in Chicago a few years ago when the speaker asked a series of interesting questions. The first was: "Who in the room is habitually late for everything?" The second was: "Who in the room prides themself with being on time?" Then he asked: "For those of you who are always late, what do you think the impression you leave with people is?" The answers around the room were, "I'm busy, important, successful, value my time, etc."
Next the speaker asked: "For those of you who are always on time, what do you think about people who are late for meetings?" The answers they gave included: "rude, inconsiderate, poor planners, not very thoughtful, selfish, disorganized, etc." You could have heard a pin drop.
Lately it seems like the word busy has become synonymous with the words important and successful. I double-checked a thesaurus and those words are not synonyms of busy.
Here are some ideas on how to become more strategic with your time.
Colour-code your calendar: Use the feature in Outlook or iCal that lets you colour code your schedule based on the type of activity you are engaged in. That way you can see at a glance where you might not be booking enough time to get from one place to another, or where your schedule might be out of balance.
Book a 15-minute buffer between meetings: Instead of butting multiple meetings up against each other where you haven't left time to even use the bathroom, give yourself 15 minutes of breathing room to complete your notes from the meeting that has ended and prep for the next one. To help everyone else stay on track, use the following phrase when you are nearing the end of the meeting, "We have 10 minutes left before the end of the meeting; how can we use that time most efficiently?"
Conduct a time audit: Look back at your calendar over the past month (two weeks is not a big enough sample). How much of your time was spent on activities which have leverage—both for you (focusing on your strengths) and for your organization? There's even a time-audit app for the iPhone called TempusDiem that will allow you to do a time audit on an ongoing basis.