There is a workplace ritual in which despite being somewhat outdated, frequently unnecessary and often inefficient, we continue to participate. This ritual consumes an average of six hours per week of employee time and 23 hours of senior management time. It generates work before and after taking place, causes participants to lose focus from their work, and can even cause anxiety for those who are included (or excluded). What is this modern equivalent of medieval workplace torture?
It’s the meeting.
The evolution of the meeting highlights the gratuitous nature of most workplace meetings that happen today. From the beginning of human history up until fairly recently, people met more as a matter of importance versus convenience. It’s highly doubtful that cave people spent the equivalent of six hours out of their work week in meetings, talking about what to name the hunt (or some other trivial item) instead of just hunting. But because it’s so easy to communicate and collaborate now, we continue to meet more and more, talking about and around the work instead of working.
Evaluate organizational meeting management
Let me state that we are not advocating abolishing meetings in your organization. We live in an amazing time where a team member across the world can join a team meeting time zones away – and the group output is better because of her being able to contribute.
We are however, advocating that you evaluate how and on what topics your organization meets. And to accomplish this, we’re inviting you to take the 5-Day No-Meeting Challenge.
We’re asking you to take five days – either on your own or encourage your teams to do the challenge as well. It applies only to internal (not customer) meetings. One-to-one or small group interactions on an as-needed basis are acceptable, but only when absolutely necessary. The goal of the challenge is one week with more decisiveness, focus, productivity and perspective on how to more meaningfully collaborate with your team.
I recently took the challenge myself. Here’s what happened.
I got more work done. Seeing my calendar completely blank was initially a bit daunting, but once the realization set in that I had a whole week to just do my job, I became almost jubilant. Articles that had previously been only concepts were written. That item that on my to-do list for months was finally accomplished. On average, I only spend roughly five or six hours a week in meetings, but clearing my schedule made me aware of the time it takes to prepare for meetings and how my schedule is affected afterwards. Typically, I’ll spend 30 minutes thinking about a meeting before it happens – reviewing materials, putting together thoughts in advance, etc. Then afterwards, there are usually action items that fall on my plate that end up altering my schedule and impacting the time spent on other work.
My work was deeper and more focused. Not having to prep, attend or take action post-meetings allowed for deeper, more focused work. According to a study by Gloria Mark, it takes approximately 25 minutes to return to a task after an interruption. You could argue that meetings aren’t necessarily distractions – and some do aid in the production of work vs. inhibiting it from happening – but the fact of the matter is that not having to even consider something taking me off task helped me focus. We all know the feeling of being deep in the middle of a task, catching the time on your screen and knowing you’ll have to stop what you’re doing to attend a meeting (in fact, I have a meeting in 20 minutes and I’m knee-deep in this article!). Focused work is smarter, better quality work. Without these intermittent distractions looming, I could also ruminate in how I was accomplishing the task and if I could be doing it better.
I gained perspective on what I actually need to meet on. Our team is small, and we operate remotely for the most part, so fortunately we have less meetings than those who work in a traditional office setting. When I talk to clients and friends about their typical work days, it never ceases to surprise me how often meetings are held in office settings. However, in clearing my schedule with my small team, here are some things I noticed:
- Some of the things I was taking off my calendar were items we weren’t really in a good place to meet on anyway. We either didn’t have the bandwidth to do anything about what we were meeting on or could have individually progressed a project further before coming together.
- Some of the scheduled meetings could simply be decisions made by the person who had the authority. It was good for us to get input from others, but ultimately not necessary for the work to be done.
- I didn’t need to be in some of the meetings I was invited to. I didn’t have an active role in some of the meetings, nor was I responsible for any output/decision in the meeting, so my presence wasn’t necessary.
Fortunately, our team is already pretty good about managing meetings but even still, my week without them sort of felt like taking a vacation while still being at work. The biggest benefit I saw from the challenge was really knowing what I should and shouldn’t be trying to meet on – and that pushing things out that aren’t consequential to priority work is beneficial to my time and the quality of my work.
Small changes in meeting management for big impact
If you can’t commit to a week without meetings, here are some other ways to reap the benefits of the challenge.
- Try and schedule all meetings during a certain time of day, for example after 2:00 pm. Expecting distractions during a certain time clears the brain for more focused work outside of that time block.
- Set clear expectations on the outcome of meetings. The simple act of doing this can end up cleansing your meeting schedule once its discovered that some meetings have no real purpose.
- Be honest with yourself on what meetings you (and your team members) need to attend. We all want to feel included and provide our opinion, but if it’s not truly valuable and necessary for a project, we should consider declining some meeting invitations and not including everyone on the team. If you are a leader, trust your team to march on without you and only bring you in on the critical decisions. Leaders – you may also be interested in an article Richard wrote about wasting time, and how to set a protocol to spend less time in meetings.
- Evaluate what meetings can be turned into decisions. Do you really need a meeting to discuss what hue of red should be used in the brochure? Or can you or a team member make the decision and move the project forward? Encouraging decision-making versus collaboration when applicable is highly valuable for everyone on your team.
If you do participate in the challenge, we’d love to hear about how it went! Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your experience.