The Unrivaled Leader : Part 6 – Stop Scheduling @!&#!** Meetings!

The title should be enough guidance on this topic.  This is as bad as sending too many emails.  Just stop.  STOP!

Literally, using the correct definition of the word literally, I can say that too many of my work days are non-stop meetings from the moment I walk in to the moment I leave for the day.  If I hadn’t blocked off some time for lunch, I would be meeting through lunch.   And in fact, sometimes people put meetings through my lunch.  And when I’m out of the office (on business or PTO), meetings are scheduled that I am asked to dial into.  There’s no escaping meetings!

The result of so many meetings?

  • I’m unprepared for meetings.
  • Meetings run over so I’m late to meeting+1 all the way to meeting+n.  People in these meetings are irritated at me for being late.
  • I end the day exhausted, and feeling like I haven’t accomplished anything.
  • I end up taking real work home so that I can complete my deliverables, in preparation for the next day of meetings.
  • My PTO is ruined because I have to tell my family to head out on their own while I take this 30 min call, which ends up being an hour or more.
  • My business trip or training is ruined because I have to duck out at some very crucial session time to take a 30 minute meeting.

And if you think having an agenda ready for each meeting will decrease the number of meetings that are scheduled, you’re wrong.  Agenda’s don’t take much to pull together.

And maybe you think that challenging people on meetings will cause them to reschedule or cancel them?  No.  Often the challenge is responded to with a name drop:  “Well, VP Mr/s. Smith needs this meeting and this is the only week they are available and you’re not available this other time so…”.  And then, often, VP Mr/s. Smith doesn’t even show up for the meeting, or shows up and is unprepared.

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When I See My Calendar

This is a problem all the way up the chain, and frankly I’ve found that while everyone complains about this, rarely does anyone do anything about it.  Oh sure, they might schedule meetings to deal with the plethora (would you say we have a plethora of meetings?) of meetings.

And worse yet, the trend now is to not even check to if your calendar is free for a meeting. Often I receive meetings on top of (or overlapping) existing meetings on top of…  I had one day where I had four meetings at the exact same time.  Professional courtesy is gone, I suppose, but this is just regular human courtesy, or perhaps laziness.

Has no one any workable advice on how to avoid meetings?

I care about you, and so I’m going to help you reduce the number of meetings you are invited to.   And I don’t want anything in return!  I’m the Buddha of “better work habits”! I’m the Jesus of “just giving you more time”.  I’m the Mohammed of “making your work life easier”.  I’m the…eh, Jim and Tammy Bakker of … not sure where I was going with that.

Below are some of the things that have worked for me.  Some are obvious, and maybe some are not.  Try out different ones at different times.

Top 10 Ways to Reduce the Number of Meetings

  1. Decline meetings.  Yes, just decline them. You have work to do that’s more important than that meeting. Just hit the “Decline” option and provide a comment that says you have some deliverables to work on.  Your declining (or declination? dejection? ) will often lead to other meeting invitees seeing this and declining the meetings themselves and being able to use you as an excuse why:  “well, Bill can’t make it so we need him there and I’ll wait until he’s available”.  Remember, you can use this technique, too.   But, this is especially easy if you have some reasonable rank in the organization.  If you’re a lay person and decline the CEO’s meeting request, you could have a lot of time in your future with no meetings.
  2. Decline but propose a new time. This is the kinder version of #1 above.  If the meeting has some merit, but you are otherwise indisposed, propose a time that works better for you.
  3. Set a cap on meetings, and then follow #1 or #2 above.   45 hour work week.  Two hours of meetings a day is 10 hours.  10 hours of meetings per week is almost a quarter (that’s 25%!) of your week.  That’s a lot of time in meetings.  So put a cap at 2 meetings per day, or 10 meetings per week and stick to it.  If someone places a meeting on your calendar and you’re over your limit, decide which other meeting should be declined.
  4. Have a no-meeting day.  Just take a day of every week and block off that time as “Busy”.  Decline meetings that are placed on that day.  This doesn’t eliminate people who just drop meetings haphazardly on your calendar, but it does help.
  5. Add random fake meetings to your calendar. Yes.  Take the time, or have your admin take the time to create a spate of fake meetings with realistic sounding names.  One time my admin created such a realistic name that I thought it was a real meeting and started stressing.  Imagine my relief when it turned out to be a fake meeting.  We high-fives! Just plop a couple of hour meetings each day across the week.
  6. Fake PTO.  Alright, maybe not fake, but go ahead and block off time in the future to take a vacation from work.  If you’re like me, you have to do this so far in advance anyway because you’re already booked up for the next two months.  Put “Hold for PTO” out on your calendar, mark the day off and wait.  If you end up taking the day off, then that’s a good thing because you get some time to relax and regenerate.  If you end up not taking the day off (but your really should, people!), then you have a reasonably unfettered day to complete your work.  Note that if you overuse this, people will ignore these blockages and put meetings on your calendar anyway.
  7. Setup no-meeting mornings. As an alternative to marking a whole day off, mark off your mornings only (9am to noon).  Studies show that you’re most alert in the morning so use that time to do difficult or important work.  You want to be a hero, and you are a manager (or above)? Create a policy for your department that is “no meeting mornings”.  That positive energy will carry long after you have to stop doing this because some other department complains because their manager won’t do the same, wah.
  8. Convert your meetings to stand-ups. Take a page our of agile development and have stand up meetings in place of using a room or going off site.  This does a couple of things:  1) these meetings are usually shorter because no one wants to stand up for long, 2) thus these meetings are more curt and specific, 3) you and your team look trendy and high-tech. Look at you with your team doing that stand up thing!
  9. Let your admin control your calendar and tell her #1 – 8 above.  The only thing attending to many meetings is stressing over how to manage all these meetings and decide which ones to decline.  If you’re the lucky person who has an assistant, as that person to follow my rules above.  First, you’ll relieve your stress because you’re not having to do this.  Second, usually your admin will care just a little less about hurting other people’s feelings and will end up declining a heck of a lot of meetings.  A good assistant is one that will stand up to others on your behalf.  But you have to stand up for the as well.
  10. Work from home. If you’re lucky enough to be afforded this option, do it.  It’s difficult to set up meetings with people who telecommute.  Yes, you can Skype or Hangout it, but that’s not usually used for real meetings.  And yes, often you have to come in for real meetings, but out of site is out of mind, and just by being out of the office  you’ll not be invited to so many meetings.

I understand some of the above are a bit extreme.  You need to decide what will work best for your organization.  Maybe you soften some of them up.  For example, you don’t want a reputation for adding fake meetings to your calendars: “Oh look, here comes Mr. I’m so busy I have to lie about my meetings guy!” But if  you call them “work times” rather than “fake”, then you’re just being more productive with the valuable time your organiztion provides!  That is so nice of you and should earn you an award.

Alright, give it a shot. Help address this blight on productivity right away!  Have any other ideas that worked for you?  Let me know in the comments!

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2 thoughts on “The Unrivaled Leader : Part 6 – Stop Scheduling @!&#!** Meetings!

  1. When I was in that meeting hell period, I would often accept meetings as tentative. That way, if it were REALLY critical for me to be there, they would contact me. But mostly they didn’t. I also tried to delegate as much as I could, which was really hard with no direct reports.

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