How To Get Rid Of Unnecessary Meetings That Chew Up Valuable Time

How To Get Rid Of Unnecessary Meetings That Chew Up Valuable Time

In this edited book extract from Solving the Part-Time Puzzle, author Belinda Morgan (lead image) looks at how reducing or eliminating meetings can drastically free up your time…

A couple of years ago, I ran individual coaching sessions with more than 50 executives in a large financial institution. When I asked this group about the key challenges of their roles, many identified meetings as a significant challenge. These senior leaders spent most of their days sitting in back-to-back meetings and spent nights and weekends doing the rest of their jobs.

This insane meeting culture is common to many large organisations. It’s a challenge for everyone, and when you’re working part-time the challenge becomes even bigger. You’re often expected to attend the same meetings as your full-time colleagues but fit them into your shorter workweek – and then somehow get the rest of your work done too.

In their book, It Doesn’t have to Be Crazy at Work, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson propose that the main reason people are working longer and longer hours is that we can’t get work done at work anymore.  The authors are the founders of the software company Basecamp. It’s a fascinating case study of how they created a company culture where calm is celebrated over crazy and where doing less is the foundation of productivity and success.

One of the ways they have done this is by intentionally making meetings difficult to schedule. The company rule is that meetings are only booked as a last resort – especially when they involve lots of people. So, what can you do to free up some of the many hours you spend in meetings each week? Here are some ideas:

Cancel unnecessary meetings

Are there some meetings in your diary that are a waste of time for everyone involved? A common example of this is team update meetings, where everyone takes turns to tell the rest of the team what they are working on and what progress they have made. These can easily be replaced with an email update from each team member.

Reduce the frequency of meetings

Are there some weekly meetings that could be held fortnightly? Or fortnightly meetings that could be held monthly?

Reduce the length of meetings

Donna McGeorge has written an excellent book on reducing meeting times called The 25 Minute Meeting.6 Read it if long meetings are a problem for you. In the meantime, experiment with the idea by reducing the length of some of your longer meetings. My top tip for succeeding is to make sure these meetings have an agenda and an allocated chairperson to keep the meeting on track. These are good meeting practices in any scenario.

Delegate attendance

Do you attend some meetings that could be delegated to one of your team? This is a great strategy if there is a development opportunity involved for the team member, such as meetings that would give them greater exposure to strategic conversations, different parts of the business, or more visibility with senior leaders.

Recently I spoke with a leader in a media company who had changed her hours from full-time to four days a week. Given that most of her days were spent in meetings, the simplest way to make this new arrangement work was to nominate one of her direct reports as her delegate

for all meetings that took place on her non-work day. This was a real win for both of them, as the direct report saw the arrangement as a rare opportunity to fast track his development and readiness for promotion.

Just don’t show up!

This one seems a bit out there, but it might be worth considering if you’ve got a calendar full of meetings that involve too many people! At the start of his book Essentialism, Greg McKeown shares a story of an overworked and overwhelmed Silicon Valley executive who decided to experiment with focusing his time only on what was essential. One of the things he did was simply stop showing up to meetings where he didn’t make a direct contribution. As the story goes, he experienced no pushback from colleagues and zero adverse consequences. What he did experience was the huge upside of having more time to spend on what was important

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Belinda Morgan

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