Working breakfasts, lunches, and dinners

When I sat down to write today’s post, I intended to write about how excellent client service blends into client development. I’d planned to suggest some tactics for extending the relationship so you become a “trusted advisor” (to borrow David Maister‘s phrase). One of the tactics I’d planned to suggest was, not surprisingly, taking clients to a meal.

And then I read an article that my coach sent me from last week’s New York Times: Oh Joy! Breakfast With the Boss. To give you the flavor of the article, here’s a snippet:

PLEASE do not invite me to breakfast.

It’s not that I don’t like breakfast. To the contrary, I could happily eat eggs or cereal at every meal. But I write about life-work balance, and it feels a little contradictory to conduct an interview, or attend a conference, or give a speech, when everyone involved had to sacrifice sleep to attend.

I have similar qualms about working dinners. After a long day of work, why follow it up with more work?

. . .

There has been a shift in the role of these meetings-with-food over the years. In the 80’s, a 7 a.m. appointment was a sign that you were so important you had to start before dawn. We called them power breakfasts back then, and Masters of the Universe wanted to be seen at their regular table at dawn.

More recently, however, they’ve come to feel like yet another symptom of an overstuffed day.

But because working meals are important for many lawyers, it seems to me that the question become how to incorporate those meals into a schedule that fits the way you want to live. Whether you’d rather cram as many work functions as possible into your day or whether you’ve dceided to make dinner with your family a priority, is there a way to incorporate working meals and personal plans? Absolutely. Here’s how.

1. Plan intentionally. If you “go with the flow,” someone else will be determining the balance of your life. Instead, spend a few minutes every month deciding what commitments (business and personal commitments) are non-negotiable for you. Don’t forget to include time you spend on true recreation. Mark those on your calendars, and then consider what else you’d like to add in.

2. Exercise your discretion. When you have an opportunity to attend a work gathering, whether it’s a working meeting or business socializing, at times outside the ordinary work day, consider carefully before accepting. What will you be saying “no” to if you say “yes” to this event? Is the event important? Is it urgent? Do you want to do it? There’s no single “right” answer here that means you should or shouldn’t attend. The questions will lead you to your decision without dictating it.

3. Limit yourself. You either have learned or will learn soon that energy is not infinite. Adding morning and evening business commitments to a packed schedule can constitute self-sabotage if done without attention to the effects on your energy level. One client I worked with decided to limit herself to 2 evening commitments each week and never to schedule a morning meeting before 9 AM on the day following an evening commitment. Although she reduced the number of hours she devoted to work in this way, she increased her productivity during working hours as a result.

Are you happy with the amount of time you spend on working meals? If not, what changes will you make?

2 replies
  1. peter vajda
    peter vajda says:

    Hi, Julie,

    This one caught my attention. One principle which, for me, is important to remember is that more activity, more hours does not automatically equate to better results. In fact, more activity – the added morning and evening engagements – can lead to burnout and rustout and presenteeism (so tired, strung out, exhausted, overwhelmed and angry) that one shows up at work but really isn’t “present” in one’s experiences).

    Intention, attention and no-tension….are also critical as you poin out. If one is dragged to before-work sessions and after-work sessions, and is passive-aggressive about attending these sesisons, there’s no question the subtle and silent anger and resistance one experiences as a result of being asked (willingly forced?) to attend such engagements will adversely affect one’s attitude and performance not only at work but mostly likely leak out at home and in other relationships. Being passive-aggressive, feeling the victim, is not an emotionally safe place to be.

    Thanks for this post.

  2. Julie Fleming-Brown
    Julie Fleming-Brown says:

    Peter, thanks for your comment.

    I think you have a particularly good point in that more hours don’t necessarily generate better results. There’s a point of diminishing returns, and in my view, one of the best things a busy professional can do is to learn how to recognize when that point is approaching rather than to watch it sail by and then have to deal with the consequences.

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