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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Productivity

This Is How 4 Leaders Fixed Their Company's Meeting Overload Problem

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If you’ve worked in an office, ever, you know that meetings are the black sheep of work tasks. We love to hate them and we strive to eliminate them forever, and yet we continue to have them—over and over again until we find ourselves wondering why we spend so much time in them.

Everyone has their secrets for navigating the tricky landscape of meetings (and some are better than others.)

So, I rounded up strategies for decreasing your meeting load (and increasing your productivity) from four successful company leaders. Who knows, you might be able to try one of these tactics in your own office!

1. Creating “No Meeting” Timeslots

This is the oldest and easiest trick in the book, for anyone who struggles to schedule heads-down work.

And it’s worked for Andrew Fingerman, CEO at PhotoShelter:

“For just over a year, I’ve declined to hold meetings before noon. The impact on my productivity has been astounding. As someone who also has ADHD, I’ve found that mornings are imperative for work that requires my highest level of critical thinking. So, if someone desperately needs to meet with me in the morning, I almost always decline and ask instead if we can pick a time in the afternoon. The only condition on which I’ll cave is if the meeting perfectly aligns with my top priorities.”

At The Muse, we’ve embraced a similar strategy by implementing “Winning Wednesdays,” where, from 9 AM to 1 PM on Wednesdays, no one at the company is allowed to schedule meetings.

“The most common complaints were that people didn’t have enough consistent thinking time because meetings would interrupt so frequently,” says our VP of People and Talent, Toni Thompson. “There are a couple meetings people have told me they can’t stop, but if the effort cuts down on even 70% of unproductive meetings and replaces those with lots of productivity, creativity, and employee sanity, it’s worth it.”

2. Having Meetings Only One Day a Week

Mattan Griffel is the co-founder and CEO of One Month. To solve his own meeting issues, he decided that rather than blocking off certain times, he’d block off every day except one.

Contrary to The Muse’s own system, Griffel holds meetings solely on Wednesdays: “I don’t make a big deal of it. If someone asks to grab coffee on Tuesday, I’ll ask if Wednesday works instead. If that Wednesday is totally booked, I’ll ask about the next Wednesday (Sometimes I have to book two or three Wednesdays out),” he says in a recent Forbes article. Surprisingly simple, right?

The result, he’s found, isn’t just huge blocks of time to focus on other tasks, but that “[f]orcing people to wait until Wednesday will often filter out the unimportant meetings. It will eliminate people who want some of your time but aren’t willing to wait for it or to work within your schedule. That’s great for me, since I don’t want to meet with those people anyway.”

3. Revisiting the Calendar Regularly

“We’ve been regularly re-evaluating meetings on a quarterly basis to re-work meeting schedules where necessary,” says Dinah Alobeid, Director of Communications at Greenhouse. This means at each quarter, everyone at the company looks at their calendar and decides whether certain discussions can be moved to another channel.

You can easily do this with your own schedule. To help with narrowing down which meetings do and don’t occur, Alobeid suggests cutting down the time frame: “Start with 30-minute meetings and cut them down to 20 minutes when possible; the same goes for 60 minutes, why not try 45?” You may discover that you can accomplish just as much in a shorter time, if not via an email or a Google document instead.

Also, she says, “Spend time on Monday mapping out what you want to accomplish this week and which meetings need to happen to get the work done and move certain projects forward.” If they don’t feel in line with your priorities, remove them.

4. Holding a Meeting Purge

Alex Villa, Chief Operating Officer at Healthify, takes the above even further by organizing a “meeting purge” at his company:

“This is a specific point in time every six to nine months where we delete 100% of recurring meetings and institute rules by which they can be added back.”

So, what exactly constitutes bringing a meeting back onto the calendar for Villa and his team? “For non-recurring and client-facing meetings, you can keep or delete the meeting at your discretion. The deleted meetings can’t be added back for at least two weeks. After those two weeks, you can only add the meeting back if a majority of attendees proactively ask for it to be brought back (lobbying for your own meetings is forbidden!)”

The response at his company has been incredibly positive, despite being such an intimidating request: “Everyone loves it and can’t wait to delete everything. Without acknowledging the problem, you start to have the awkward situation of no one wanting to be the one to say, ‘This meeting isn’t useful, can we just cancel it?’ Ultimately we go through cycles of optimal performance where people strike a good balance of being able to collaborate while still having the time to do their individual work.”

While getting everyone on your team on board with this plan could be difficult, it’s worth testing for smaller meetings. Talk with your co-workers about removing any non-urgent check-ins for a couple weeks, and see if it negatively affects your work at all.

Solving meeting overload really comes down to prioritizing your workload, which is why the above strategies are so effective.

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