If you’re like many people, you sometimes feel like you spend more time sitting in meetings than you spend doing actual work. If meetings are swallowing up all your time and leaving you without much room for the job you’ve been hired to do, it’s time to take steps to take back your calendar. Here’s how.
1. Start critically evaluating every meeting invitation you get. There’s something about a meeting invite that seems to compel people to accept – even if the items being discussed at the meeting are much lower priorities than the work you would otherwise be spending that time on. Instead of continuing to fall into that trap, ask yourself this about every meeting invitation you receive: “Is this the best way I could be spending that time, relative to the other priorities on my plate?” If the answer is no, consider declining or at least pushing for a shorter meeting time. You can say things like this:
- “I’d love to attend, but I’m swamped this week with X and Y. Can you move forward without me? If not, maybe we can schedule it later on this month.” (Much of the time when you say this, the person will find a way to move forward without you.)
- “My biggest priorities right now are X and Y. Could I get notes from the meeting afterwards rather than attending?”
- “My biggest priorities right now are X and Y. Could I send you some quick notes on this topic and bow out of the meeting itself?”
- “I think we can cover this in 30 minutes rather than an hour. Okay if we plan on that?”
2. If you think bowing out of meetings won’t go well, talk with your boss ahead of time. Say something like this: “I need more time to focus on X, Y, and Z, and I’m spending 15 hours in meetings every week — almost two full work days. So unless you object, I’m going to excuse myself from meetings if it starts to seem like the discussion isn’t essential to me.”
3. Make sure that you’re not contributing to the problem. Before scheduling a meeting, ask yourself: Is this something that could be just as easily conveyed in a memo or email? Is this a discussion that requires back-and-forth or just information-sharing (which could be done without a meeting)? Who really needs to be there? Should it be optional or mandatory?
4. Work to change your office’s meeting culture.You’re probably not the only person in your office spending too much time in meetings, and your colleagues might welcome an effort to change this. You might suggest:
- Using meetings only when group discussion is required, not simply for updates that could be communicated another way.
- Always requiring a meeting agenda, as well as clear starting and ending times.
- Requiring clear statements about what outcomes the meeting is designed to achieve. (If someone isn’t sure, they should cancel the meeting until they know.)
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