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Warby Parker’s Co-CEO: Why it’s okay to say ‘no’ to your boss

June 9, 2015, 3:30 PM UTC

The Leadership Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question “What’s your best advice for staying productive at work?” is by Dave Gilboa, co-CEO of Warby Parker.

“No” is an excellent word—get comfortable using it
Many jobs in today’s corporate environment consist of arriving at the office, attending back-to-back meetings, and going home. But sitting through endless meetings doesn’t translate into being productive. Meetings are not work. In fact, they are interruptions and distractions from actual thinking and real productivity.

So how do we get sucked into this routine? Office culture conditions us to say “yes” to every meeting we’re invited to: meetings give us access to information, being invited makes us feel included, and if we have nothing on our calendar during that time, why not attend? But this is a dangerous habit—one that clutters calendars, interrupts workflows, and scatters attention. Research has shown it takes up to 25 minutes to return to a task when interrupted, and meetings are simply very long interruptions. One of the most effective tools I’ve learned in staying productive has been to say “no” to meetings and other unnecessary demands at work.

At the end of each week, I review all of the meetings I’ve attended and rank them from zero to two. Zero means the meeting was not a good use of my time, and if given the choice again I would have skipped it. Two means it was a useful meeting, and I want to be spending more of my time in those types of discussions. One falls somewhere in the middle, and I view it as a meeting I can attend unless there are other priorities. Then I look for opportunities going forward to eliminate zeros and find more twos.

Another practice I’ve found useful is to schedule 90 minutes of unstructured time for myself every day—these are blocks of time in my calendar that can only be moved in case of an emergency. During this time I’m able to take a step back and think about projects, walk around the office or outside, and review pieces of work in depth–without any distractions. This has been invaluable for me.

Change your environment
For years now we’ve seen the rise of the open-plan office environment. For the most part, this is a good thing. Open office plans enhance collaboration, encourage spontaneous interactions across departments, and help cross-pollinate ideas. They also ensure that team leaders and executives are exposed and in touch with the rest of the organization.

The downside is that open offices are distracting and noisy. To alleviate these drawbacks, we’ve incorporated different environments into the new Warby Parker office—ranging from an open atrium designed to be a gathering place to a wood-paneled library where talking is not allowed. Quick, spontaneous conversations can take place out in the open, and dedicated thinking can be done in the library or in small nooks stationed around the office. These diverse settings give employees a chance to move around and align their surroundings with the task at hand.

Optimize your life outside of the office
Being productive in the office starts outside the office. Taking care of yourself—both mentally and physically—is critical. If you show up to the office stressed out, grumpy, and exhausted, you may as well not show up.

Once in the office, there’s no escaping the avalanche of stressors and distractions throughout the day—rushing to meet deadlines, keeping up with never ending emails, responding to last-minute requests, getting social media alerts, and more. The amount of noise entering your life every day is not controllable. But what you can control is how you react to this noise. Staying healthy, eating right, exercising, meditating, and getting plenty of sleep are all activities that lead to higher focus and energy levels. I find that starting my day off with a run and quick meditation allows me to deal with even the craziest days without stress, exhaustion, or diminished focus.