What would you do on a day with no meetings?

Freedom, for a bit
photo courtesy flickr user Genista

(MoneyWatch) As a self-employed sort, I'm always amazed by the sheer volume of meetings on my corporate friends' calendars. A woman at a financial services company recently calculated her meeting load at 70 percent of her time, and it could have been 100 percent if she wasn't fighting back. A man who'd left his financial services company a few years ago recounted the horror of looking at his calendar for a week and seeing 50 hours of meetings stacked up.

Collaboration is great, but the problem with heavy meeting schedules is that it becomes a vicious cycle. People schedule a meeting because a meeting becomes a deadline. If you don't schedule a meeting, your project will fall behind others in importance, just because there isn't a meeting on the calendar. Eventually, you don't know what to do with blank space other than check email.

And so, this vicious cycle led me to pose a question to corporate types: what would you do on a day with no meetings? You look at the landscape for the day and see nothing but open pastures. What would you do with it?

Some people laugh. Some people say they'd take the day off, or use it to catch up on those tasks like scheduling dentist appointments that need to happen during work hours, but can't when you're in back-to-back meetings.

Of course, some companies, recognizing the value of this open space, have tried instituting "Meeting-free Wednesdays" or forbidding the scheduling of meetings before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m. These can be good ideas, and if they work for you, great, though the challenge is that sometimes you do need to meet before 10 or after 4 or on Wednesdays, or otherwise enterprising sorts figure out that everyone is free then, and dare people to refuse the meeting request. It becomes a game of chicken of how tight you hold to the policy.

Regardless of whether your company holds such a policy, I think it's worth making a list of the things you'd do on a day with no meetings. By creating such a list, you can get a good sense of the things you're not making enough time for in your professional life. Once you know what these tasks are, you can start scheduling them in -- just like you would with meetings. Meetings seem important because they happen at certain times and involve other people. But you can schedule deep work for certain times too, and have that "other person" be the strategic thinker you want to be.

What would you do on a day with no meetings?

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Genista