Five Steps to Avoid Meeting Overload

If there was one thing you could change about your workday (whether working remotely or in the office), I bet it would be "have fewer meetings." 


You're not alone.


An Analysis of meeting data by Lucid found that in the U.S. alone, there are between 36 and 56 million meetings every day. And at what cost? A "State of Meetings Report" by Doodle found that the cost of poorly organized meetings in 2019 reached $400 billion in the U.S. 


There's no question the COVID-19 pandemic is making us all work differently, and one of those differences could be the number of meetings we host or attend. 


Maybe this is an opportunity for all of us to rethink our approach to meetings so we can regain a sense of focus, control and effectiveness. 


Scrutinize the Need 

Pause and think: Is the calendar invite you're about to send to those 12 people really needed? A Bain Insights article in Forbes suggests we practice "Zero-Based" meetings:


"Some meetings focus on decisions. Others don't, and you can get rid of them. The key—the scalpel that lets you separate the important from the unimportant—is a good understanding of your group's critical decisions...If a meeting doesn't bear on one of these decisions, give it the ax."


That criteria may be too harsh for too many. Another option is to think about what the meeting might be costing your company. This tool from Harvard Business Review (HBR) is a quick, easy way to do that.


Invite Contributors—not Attendees 

Depending on your culture, it may feel normal to invite many people to a meeting, just so everyone is "in the loop." While that may feel considerate, it could also be a waste of time and money. Best practice is to invite only those people who have a role in the decision at hand.


Always Have an Agenda 

Everyone says it; few abide by it. But what if the agenda was not a typical, bullet-point agenda. This HBR article suggests:


Instead of designing your agenda as a laundry list of topics to be broached, consider creating your agenda as a set of questions to be addressed. In its simplest form, the meeting exists to answer a set of compelling questions in an allotted time."


If you're on the receiving end of a calendar invite and you don't see an agenda at all, speak up. Ask the requester what the purpose of the meeting is and to present an agenda. If they don't -- not even a simple one that's in the meeting request -- don't go.


Schedule Focus 

Everyone needs chunks of time during their day to work uninterrupted. Meetings can be one of those interruptores. So inoculate yourself by strategically blocking your calendar to work on the important tasks for your week.


Perhaps this can be extended company-wide by creating a "no-meeting-day" during the week. If everyone knows Thursdays at your office are restricted for meetings, you can plan your work-week accordingly.


Pad Your Schedule 

Nothing is worse than back-to-back meetings, day after day. Not only is it an energy killer, it's rare every single one of those meetings is necessary (see tip #1). To help alleviate this situation, protect yourself by either blocking time on either side of existing meetings on your calendar, or use technology to your advantage. 


Saxum uses the Google Suite of tools, and Google Calendar has a setting called "Speedy Meetings" that allows you to trim every calendar invite by 5 or 10 minutes. Your 30-minute meetings become 25 minutes, and your 60-minute meetings become 50 minutes. 


You may feel overwhelmed with meetings, but ultimately the change in behavior starts with you. 


"Meetings end up on our calendars in two ways: because we accept them and because we create them. It's at these decision points that we can do things a little differently to take back our calendars and give ourselves (and our co-workers) time to be prepared and productive." (Muse)


Posted by Jeff H Risley

I love marketing, business development and helping companies grow. I am the Chief Strategy Officer for Saxum, an integrated marketing communications agency.