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Please, Let’s Have Fewer Meetings at Work

by: Shiv Sharma
Please, Let’s Have Fewer Meetings at Work
Meetings, am I right? Is that why they called it a "bored" of directors? *groan*

People hate meetings.

It’s an open secret of the corporate world. Hell, it’s a bit of a stretch to even call it an open secret. It’s a fact. 

It’s a fact that few would challenge. Simply look at some of these statistics:

  • There are only 2-4 people involved in 73% of meetings – Hive
  • Only 37% of meetings in the US have an agenda – Hive
  • 73% of people multitask in meetings – Hive
  • Professionals spend on an average 2 hours a week in pointless meetings, arguably costing the US economy a whopping $399 billion in 2019 – Doodle
  • 72% of professionals spent more time in meetings than they did 5 years ago – MIT Sloan Management Review
  • Organizations spend 15% of their time in meetings – Bain & Company
  • 60% of employees feel that preparing for a status meeting takes longer than the meeting itself – Clarizen 

You can even calculate the cost of each meeting that you have using this calculator. For example, if the average monthly salary of 10 people attending a meeting is $7000. Then a two-hour-long meeting would cost you more than $900. 

Too many companies have spent too much time and money to make meetings more productive. However, this post isn’t about that. We won’t talk about how to have better meetings.

We’ll simply discuss how to have fewer meetings. 

1. Avoid follow-up/status update meetings

If you’re planning to schedule a meeting and its agenda has the words – status update or follow-up in it, there are probably better ways to do it. 

Meetings are most productive when they are action-oriented. For example, if the meeting agenda is specific and calls for a decision to be made (finalize Q1 product roadmap, approve marketing budget, approve new branding guidelines), it aligns everyone from the start. It also makes it easier for people to figure out whether they need to join the meeting or not. During the meeting, it helps streamline discussion and avoid off-topic chatter.

There’s almost always a better way to have status updates than in-person meetings. Especially now, with the emergence of online collaboration tools. For example, at Taskworld we use our own tool for follow-up on projects. Since the updates are in real-time, we rarely feel the need for in-person follow-up meetings.

fewer-meetings-using-taskworld

Even if you don’t use an online collaboration tool, something as simple as an email can be better for status updates than meetings. 

2. Avoid recurring meetings

We love setting recurring meetings on the calendar. It gives us momentarily satisfaction of feeling on top of things. But do they actually work? 

Unavailability of members or simply a change in priorities, there can be many reasons why recurring meetings can lose their significance. 

A familiar sight during recurring meetings

Like Dan Kim mentions in his post, a lot of managers schedule recurring meetings and feel that they can be canceled on the day if they’re not needed. Unfortunately, other than making people relieved that they now have time for actual work, this doesn’t help much. It blocks time on people’s calendars and forces them to schedule work around it.

For example, if you had a meeting from 1 -2 pm, and then another recurring meeting at 3 pm. Chances are that you won’t be super productive from 2-3 pm. (you’ll most likely be prepping for the 3 pm meeting or won’t work on a bigger task. By the time you’re getting focused, it’s already time for the next meeting).  So if the 3 pm meeting is canceled just before it starts, you’ve still wasted your time on it. 

3. Schedule zen-time on your calendar

Bureau of Labor Statistics conducted a study of 2000 full-time employees in the US. This revealed that an average worker is only productive for around 3 hours a day. 

Productive work happens when you’re uninterrupted and fully using your mental capacity to solve a problem, study, create something at work. It’s what many researchers call deep work, focus hours or zen-time. It’s this deep work that gives you a sense of satisfaction. A feeling that your day was productive. 

Unfortunately, although our calendar is full of meetings and business lunches, we rarely allocate time for deep work. Which is unarguably the most important part of work. 

purrfection requires uninterrupted focus

Block time on your calendar for this zen-time when you can fully focus on your to-dos. This will help your team become more considerate towards each other’s limited time. 

4. Don’t feel guilty about declining meetings

Organizations should develop a culture where declining meetings isn’t considered rude. In fact, your default state for any meeting invite should be – No. This would ensure you’ll add value to any meeting that you accept. Gradually this will help everyone in your team understand whom to invite in which meeting.  

When meetings have fewer and relevant people, they’ll become more productive without putting in any extra effort.

If you’re unsure about attending a meeting, simply ask yourself these two questions…

  • Does this meeting have an agenda?
  • Can I add any value to it?

If the answer to any of the above is No, you should probably consider declining the invitation. If you need some tips on politely declining a meeting, check out this HBR (Harvard Business Review) post

5. Don’t feel guilty about leaving a meeting midway

Occasionally you’ll join a meeting and realize midway that the rest of the discussion isn’t relevant to you. At this point, most people feel compelled to sit through the end because it’s not considered polite to leave midway. Some people pull out their phones/laptops and continue their work, not realizing that unlike leaving a meeting midway, this actually is quite rude. 

It’s not rude to leave meetings in the middle

 

There’s nothing wrong with leaving a meeting if you feel you’re not adding any value to it. Elon Musk is a huge advocate for it. He publicly urged his staff to walk out of a meeting or drop off a call as soon as it’s obvious that you’re not adding any value to it. 

elon-musk-productivity-avoid-meetings
Source: Getty images

6. Don’t fall for no meeting workdays

If you’re considering introducing no meeting workdays, first of all, it’s a good sign because you’re acknowledging that there’s a need to reduce meetings at your workplace. This approach, although honest in its intent might do more harm than good. 

No meeting workday typically means dedicating one day a week where no one is allowed to schedule any meetings. It sounds great, so what’s the problem?

According to Forbes, this doesn’t address the root cause of having too many meetings, which we addressed briefly earlier. In many cases, it simply postpones meaningless meetings and crams them into other weekdays, creating more stress and frustration. 

It’s also very hard to sustain. Even if one team doesn’t follow it, it doesn’t work for the rest. It’s also not very viable. For example, if Wednesday is a no meeting workday at your office, but an emergency came up the same morning that requires an impromptu meeting; no one will wait until Thursday to do so.  

What are your thoughts on meetings? Has your company tried some interesting ways to reduce them?

Since it’s the Taskworld blog, we’ll leave you with a list of to-dos 🙂

avoid-meetings-to-do-list

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