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How To Avoid Meeting Madness And Reclaim Your Time

(February 13, 2023 Newsletter)

At the end of a meeting with a client last week, we each opened our calendars to schedule the next meeting. While she was searching for an open slot, she muttered to herself, “What is that meeting? Oh, I have no idea.”

That, right there.

Have you had that moment recently? The answer is most probably – yes.

Meeting overload is a serious problem for people leaders. One of the biggest shocks that my clients face in new leadership roles is the influx of new kinds of meetings. And those who are longtime supervisors report that it’s gotten worse since COVID as remote work has shifted communication and collaboration patterns.

Two common causes for meeting overload:

Low accountability. Sometimes people feel that the only way to force others to respond is to get them together in a room; at best, the person will do their part 10 minutes before the meeting and, at worst, will use the meeting time to do it.

  • If that’s the case, start by modeling the accountability you want to see: decline meetings in advance (see below) but be visibly reliable and consistent in your pre- or post-meeting contributions.

Misusing company values. Over-indexing on “inclusiveness” “teamwork” or “collaboration” can be caused by niceness cultures, but wanting people to feel involved can come at the expense of efficiency.

  • If this is the case, it requires courage (or a hefty stock of political capital) to be the first to say “no, thank you” to a meeting that you know isn’t a good use or your or other people’s time. Refer to the value in your explanation:

“I’m ok not being included in this one, but thank you for thinking of me.”

“I want to be a good team member by using the time to catch up on things people need from me while you’re discussing X. Let’s divide and conquer.”

“It’s great that we’re collaborating, but I think we can accomplish our goals with 15 minutes, not 30.”

If you want to free up some of your time, consider the following:

1. Do not accept calendar invites without agendas or a clearly stated purpose.

2. If you’re unsure why you’re invited, reply and ask – “What will my role be on this call?” “What will be needed of me?” “How do you expect I’ll be useful on the call?”

  • If your active contribution is not immediately clear, push back firmly until you get clarity.

  • If your active contribution will not be needed, offer to contribute your part in writing in advance or ask for a summary afterwards.

3. If you have an ongoing meeting that doesn’t feel like a good use of your time, determine – is it just you (you’re not needed), that the meeting isn’t run well (a different structure or leader would increase effectiveness), or that the meeting could be replaced by async info sharing.

  • Raise your concern with the meeting organizer. It may not be a fun conversation, but it will be worth it in the end. (Reach out if you’re nervous to have that conversation and want to prep together)

  • And what if you’re the meeting organizer? Great news - you have the power to adjust the invite list, structure, and cadence. Send out a memo with clear explanations of (1) what wasn’t working, (2) newly stated goals, (3) what to expect, and (4) how to prepare from now on.

How to get started:

Review your calendar for this week and pick ONE meeting you want to decline, reschedule, or shorten. Test out one of these strategies and let me know how it goes.

Want to know more?

For more on this topic, listen to Priya Parker give Brené Brown a meeting makeover in one of my favorite episodes of Dare to Lead. They pick apart and reorganize an inefficient team meeting step-by-step.


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