Adopt “The Sacred Hour” To Maximize Time With Your Boss

Your boss is probably a busy person; I know mine—past and present—is. In between meetings, projects, phone calls, and managing other direct reports, there’s probably not a lot of time left for you, no matter how much of a rockstar employee you are. Without carefully “managing up,” your own projects that require supervisory input can become stalled. I’ve found that the best way to maximize this situation is to adopt “the sacred hour.”

The sacred hour is the regular meeting (usually weekly or every other week) between you and your boss. I’ve always had one, and early in my career I learned how to maximize it. During this time, my supervisor is completely focused on me, my concerns, and what I need from him/her to keep progressing with my work. A successful sacred hour is the result of preparation, conditioning, and follow-through.

I never enter our weekly meeting without a prioritized list of discussion topics. This list is developed throughout the week—whenever I think of a question, encounter a problem, or come to a point in a project that requires review or approval, I make a note of it. I utilize a private appointment on my Outlook calendar for this purpose, ensuring that I won’t forget my list (the list reminder pops up at the same time as the meeting reminder) and that I can refer back to prior lists as a refresher or to carry over items. I also attach documents that might need to be reviewed, or drag in copies of emails that need follow up. When meeting time comes, I either print the materials or take my iPad to the meeting to review the items. Often I rattle through them at lightning speed, but the focused time allows for a surprising level of productivity.

My list is usually prioritized in this manner:

  • Quick status updates – basically FYI items
  • Easy questions – at least, I anticipate they’ll be easy to answer
  • Problems – be sure to brainstorm solutions beforehand
  • Big-picture questions and pie-in-the-sky ideas – these are easy to carry over from week to week

Gathering and prioritizing information to discuss with your supervisor helps you both stay on track. You’re less likely to spend this time gossipping or complaining (if you keep looking at an item on your list and realize it’s really just gossip or a whiney complaint, it’s likely to fall off the list before the meeting). With this list in hand, you’ll never forget to discuss something, and if you run out of time you’ll know right where to pick up when you’re with each other again.

My boss knows to expect a list when I arrive for our meeting, but he also knows that he won’t receive an email or impromptu visit from me every time I have a concern—instead, it will be noted on the list. This significantly reduces the volume of email that flows between us, so when I do send an email it’s assumed that it’s something that can’t wait until our meeting and is reviewed promptly.

Early in my new position, I was in a meeting with my boss and he had to look for an email of mine. I saw him searching through Outlook and realized that my email volume was WAY too high. In a new position (new to me and new to the company), it can be tempting, and often necessary, to over-communicate. That visual, however, was all I needed to know that it was time to start respecting our sacred hour and halt the onslaught of emails about little things that could definitely wait.

Depending on the supervisor, this conditioning may be even be reciprocal. A long-time supervisor of mine had similar habits (I actually probably learned this from her), and I could expect that she would have her own list for each meeting in response to mine. We almost always finished those meetings with a sense of accomplishment and the peace of mind that we were fulfilling each others’ needs. Often, the lists were similar, leading us to believe we had developed some sort of special sensory communication skills.

During our meeting, my list is front and center, and I check off items as they are covered. If something requires follow-up, I make a note and include a deadline. These notes become the record of what we talked about, and follow-up notes are transferred to my to-do list.

As our next meeting nears, I review the notes from the prior meeting and make sure I’ve completed my tasks or am able to provide an update. Any item that is still in progress is carried over to the list for our next meeting. It’s a constant reminder for myself of all that I’ve committed to doing. Without that list, I’m sure some undesireable tasks would fall to the wayside, which is not a work habit I want to form.

What strategies do you use to maximize time with your boss and increase productivity? Please share in the comments! Special thanks to Cindy Kane, Jennie Brand, and Kelley McCarthy for sharing their thoughts and feedback prior to publication of this post.

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25 Comments on “Adopt “The Sacred Hour” To Maximize Time With Your Boss

  1. Thanks Liz. This is one of
    The first jobs where I have weekly meetings with my boss (and also monthly meeting with my unit’s director. This is a really helpful outline so I can make the most of these meetings.

  2. Great points Liz. I’ve been getting better about dragging email and docs to my Outlook appointments. I use Evernote as my note taking software and keep my topical list and meeting notes in one Evernote so I have a single location (I suppose it’s two locations noting my outlook comment above, hm) with a running list of previous meeting notes, to-do lists, etc. I separate the Evernote with dates. I have access to Evernote on my computer throughout the week and then pull it up on my iPad in the meeting. To-do items get moved to my calendar as meetings with myself to complete, or at least start, the work. The point I need to improve on for me and others is deadlines. Without the deadline I’m noticing things wallowing on the list.

    As a supervisor I’m learning to turn off my computer monitors and focus on the person. I also try to close with a quick review of our discussion so we are on the same page, topics for next time, and work items for both of us to accomplish (with more definitive deadlines). Outside of meetings I’m managing my time differently too which is helping me be more focused.

    • I use Evernote occasionally in my iPad, but I’m totally not taking advantage of its sharing capabilities. I need to look into that more.

      One challenge I face in my new position is that we don’t have wifi in the office (because of all the sensitive financial data we work with), so I can’t be uber connected on all of my mobile devices.

      I’d love to hear more about how you’re managing your time differently outside of meetings.

  3. Great information! I once had a boss who’s time was ultimately monopolized by the “problem” employees, so my 1:1 time was precious. I would prioritize what I needed to cover so that I could get as much as possible taken care of during that time. Thanks for sharing Liz! I passed this post along to my supervisees as well.

  4. Liz,

    Reframe this from “meeting with your supervisor” to “going to class” and I think you just created a success strategy for students (undergrad and grad)!

    Great stuff that anyone can apply to their professional life. Nice work!


  5. Great post! I learned similar habits from an amazing supervisor. Something else that she did and I employ now is the concept of open circles and closed circles. There are topics that may be of ongoing discussion, especially for those of us who work with student behavior concerns. When an issue would come up, it became an item on both of our lists with an open circle. Each week, I would know to come back with updates. We would close the circle once the issue was resolved. It was nice to be able to keep those items on both of our radars so that I didn’t leave realizing I had forgotten to update on something important as other issues and questions came up.

    The point you raise on making time to talk about big picture ideas and plans is critical. This is what shows you are invested in the department and committed to finding ways to continue to add value. No one is going to approach you and simply give you special projects to take on. Utilizing this time with your supervisor can allow you to gain his or her investment and fine tune plans before taking them to a larger group or committee.

  6. Great post, Liz. Perhaps this is unusual in the student affairs realm, but I’ve never had a job where I had regular one-on-ones with my supervisor. The face time is something I personally crave, because I know it would improve communication, productivity, and growth. Besides a simple ask, how would you (or anyone else) suggest creating buy-in to schedule and protect a “sacred hour?”

    • This is a really great question – I’ve always had the 1:1’s built into my jobs in student affairs, and I requested 1:1’s at my current job. I’m going to throw this question out to Twitter and see if we can get a discussion going.

  7. I had 1:1’s for a while with an previous boss and Iooked forward to that time every week for talking things out. I have mentioned to my new boss that I’d like to implement them now with her as well. I especially found helpful that you made sure not to bring up whiny or gossip topics, and that you use your iPad to bring the topics with you instead of printing everything. I’m also going to think about the volume of email I’m sending to several people that I ask for help at with various projects that I’m still getting my footing in. Great post!

    • I’m glad you liked it! I used my iPad at my old job, but can’t at the new one (no wifi for data security reasons). It worked well for years, though.

      Thanks for reading!

  8. Outstanding article. A previous supervisor much preferred emails – we met once every 2 or 3 weeks for big picture items. My current supervisor and I communicate much the way you discuss – thanks for sharing!

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  10. Wonderful suggestion, Liz. I plan to steal this and use it not only with my boss, but one or two employees whose time I waste or who waste my time with interruptions that are mostly unnecessary or could be combined to one meeting and fewer interruptions.

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