On some weeks, you have a long to-do list, and on top of that, an even longer list of meetings you’re “required” to attend. Those meetings aren’t going anywhere, but neither are the tasks you’ve committed to completing. So naturally, when you find an opportunity to skip one of the meetings, you should take it, right?
In some cases, yes. For example, when you’ve been invited “just in case.” Or when you know it’s just a status update meeting and you don’t need the updates.
But there are some pretty bad reasons for backing out of a meeting, too. And by bad, I mean you’re going to lose your team’s respect, and possibly, even opportunities if you use one of these excuses.
1. You “Need” to Grab Food
There are few things on the face of the earth that motivate me as much as a meal. I get how real hunger pains are, especially in the middle of a long stretch of meetings. But as empathetic as I am to you when you’re desperate for a snack break, it’s a terrible excuse to pump the brakes on an important meeting.
And I know you know this—yet I also know that there are people who use this excuse when they’re backing out.
Pack one of your desk drawer with easy-to-grab snacks—preferably ones that won’t be grating for everyone else to listen to as you eat them.
2. You Have an “Urgent” Errand to Run
I have a handful of weddings to go to this summer, which means I have a handful of errands to run every week. And of course, all those errands, usually involve stores with very specific hours. While you hate to cancel so last-minute, you just don’t know when you’ll pick up your suit from the tailor if not right now.
Do a quick assessment of your day and put all your assignments in priority order. Is there something else besides this meeting that you can put off? Could you stay later in order to get everything done? What about coming in earlier?
It might be inconvenient for you, but it’s better to stay an hour later, than anony or delay all your co-workers because you can’t attend a meeting.
3. You Have Too Much Work to Get Done
There are days when you feel like you simply have too much to do—and I get that. And on those days, attending meetings can feel like a waste of your time. But at the same time, skipping this meeting can create more work for the people involved in it—and that’s not necessarily fair.
Ask your manager for help deciding what’s most important for you to do—the tasks on your to-do list or this meeting. If it’s truly impossible to get it all done and the meeting is more important, ask for a deadline extension on your other work.
You might be thinking, “This is great, but what if I’m the exception to what’s above?”
Alright, I’ll work with you here. If you absolutely need to cancel, here’s the email you need to send to attendees. Of course, customize based on what the meeting’s about and what your role is in it.
I can’t attend today’s/tomorrow’s meeting. I know this is last minute and I apologize/I know this will delay our progress and I apologize.
[Note: These are optional lines]
Is there any [data/reports/insights] I can send in advance to help move the conversation forward?
If any decisions need my input, I’ll answer them ASAP on [email/Slack/text message].
Could we get this conversation started on email—happy to lead the charge on that.
Meetings get a bad reputation, and in a lot of cases, it’s warranted. Nobody likes to have their time wasted on something that could be easily resolved over email or quickly at your desk. But the fact that you dislike them isn’t a good reason to start backing out at the last minute—especially if they fall into the “important” category.
Instead, make a bigger effort to both remove meetings from your schedule that truly aren’t needed (this article can help with that) and organize your weekly schedule in a way that allows for lunch breaks and pockets of time to deal with personal issues.
Getting organized isn’t always easy—but it’s definitely worth it
Photo of person leaving meeting courtesy of Morsa Images/Getty Images.
Richard Moy is a Content Marketing Writer at Stack Overflow. He has spent the majority of his career in talent management, including a stint as a full-cycle recruiter and hiring manager. In addition to the career advice he contributes to The Muse, he also writes test prep and higher education marketing content for The Economist. Say hi on Twitter @rich_moy.More from this Author