Updated: Mar 12
Fall, the season of change and letting go, is right around the corner in the Northern Hemisphere. How can you harness the spirit of fall to improve your practice of productivity in and around meetings?
Cancel That Meeting
Ah, meetings. The productivity literature is bursting with information about the staggering amount of time we spend in meetings, and their costs to our time, energy, and bottom lines. An organization’s leadership may be affected the most: on average, middle managers spend about 35% of their time in meetings, and upper management spends half their time in meetings. Surveys confirm that about 30% of meeting time is considered unproductive.
In some cases, unproductive meetings are due to poor planning and execution. But in other cases, unproductive meetings are actually meetings that should not have been held in the first place. With busy schedules and complex projects, it’s easy to fall into patterns of recurring meetings and grabbing time, just to ensure you’ve got everyone and everything together. The problem is when we can’t let go of the time or find alternative ways to collaborate that are better suited to the work we need to accomplish.
So, how do you know which meetings to cancel? And how do you still communicate with other team members to ensure that work moves forward?
Cancel or Reduce These 3 Types of Meetings
Here are three types of commonly occurring meetings. Do these meetings happen at your place of work? If you cancel or miss them, what can you do with that time instead?
1. Recurring staff meetings without clear agendas and desired outcomes.
At some point, you’ve likely been sitting in that painful weekly staff or “status” meeting, wondering about its purpose and feeling stressed about other work you need to do. You attend these meetings because they’re on your calendar and you’re expected to attend; it seems no one has ever questioned if these meetings actually need to happen on a regular basis. Without a clear agenda distributed in advance of (or even at) the meeting, you’ve not been able to adequately prepare. You look around the room during these meetings and see colleagues bored, daydreaming, and/or multitasking. It seems everybody understands that full attention is not required.
What you can do instead.
Cancel a staff meeting if no agenda is proposed. Knowing what colleagues are working on does not require a traditional meeting every time. That’s why at Meeteor we changed the format of our weekly alignment meetings. We used to have team leads share updates and what they needed from others. We now invite team members to propose agenda topics that require extended discussion among the whole team, like team process reviews, in advance. If there are no pressing items, we cancel the staff meeting for that week.
Use a virtual asynchronous check-in. We also connect regularly throughout the week in other ways. Every morning on our chat tool, Hipchat, we do a “virtual standup” in which we share what we accomplished the day before, what we plan to accomplish that day, and any roadblocks or missing pieces we need from colleagues to complete our work. We use the Meeteor task manager to manage our shared tasks. We can access others’ tasks that are relevant to our work at any time. We don’t need to wait for everyone to gather at a meeting to move work forward.
2. Meetings about work that does not require real-time response and discussion.
If the work does not require the whole team to contribute ideas and have a real-time discussion, then you can cancel that meeting. For example, in a live meeting to gather feedback for a design, only one person can share at a time; it can take more time to get through the whole group’s feedback than if people share their individual thoughts in advance.
What you can do instead: Use a shared document or collaboration tool.
In a collaborative tool, team members have the flexibility to share individual thoughts and build on each other’s ideas at a time that works for them within a specific deadline. We love using Google Docs to collaborate on writing with other team members or external collaborators. We use “suggesting mode” to track changes and allow multiple people to contribute feedback. The owner of the document can review these changes and decide which ones to accept, deny, or resolve. Microsoft Word and another popular document collaboration app, Quip, provide similar functionalities.
For giving visual feedback on a design, we use an app called Invision. After corresponding on Invision, we gather only key decision makers in a small, focused meeting to make decisions on any outstanding points.
3. Information sharing meetings.
Ever felt like all the meeting information could have easily been replaced by email? Many meetings are one-way shares of information that do not add any value to attendees other than the opportunity to ask the presenter questions in person. Participants in these meetings can easily become disengaged and start to multitask.
What you can do instead: Change the means of sharing information.
Share the information as pre-work so the meeting time can be spent in discussion, or email it to team members and cancel that meeting altogether. Make sure to provide people an opportunity to ask and get questions answered by email, in a shared document, or in person as needed.
Your September Challenge: Cancel That Meeting
To honor this coming season of letting go, we present a Cancel That Meeting Challenge: reduce your meeting load by one meeting for each week of the month of September. That means four fewer meetings over the next 30 days.
Here are three steps to guide you:
Look at your calendar and review upcoming meetings. Based on the suggestions above, which meetings could you cancel or miss? Estimate how many hours you would save if you don’t attend these meetings. Three hours? Six hours? More?
Cancel unnecessary meetings or decline or only tentatively accept the invitations. Ask yourself if the meeting:
Has clear desired outcomes?
Requires a conversation to be in real-time or could be replaced by other ways of working?
Is only for information sharing?
For meeting planners, try using an alternative form of collaboration or communication instead of scheduling a meeting. Gather feedback via a shared document and then determine if you still need the meeting at all, or if you can meet with fewer people to resolve the open issues.
For standing meetings without a clear agenda, providing a specific question for attendees to respond to is helpful. For example, ask your team, “What questions do you want addressed at our team meeting?” or “What do you need input on from the whole team?” If no one has anything to add, then cancel that meeting.
For meetings you’re invited to: review incoming meeting invites against the same three questions. If there is no clear desired outcome, ask the meeting leader if he/she can articulate what they want to accomplish in the meeting. In some cases, ask if you can provide input ahead of time on a shared document rather than attending the meeting. Request that the meeting notes be shared afterward so you can still stay informed if you miss meetings.
Continue these steps throughout September. At the end of the month, calculate how many hours you were able to take back and what you accomplished with the extra time. Then give yourself a high five! You deserve it for taking back your time.
We hope you enjoyed this article! Who doesn’t like to talk about cancelling or missing meetings?!? Please let us know how the September Meeteor Challenge goes for you. If something like this would never work at your company, let us know that, too.